Harris Cohn | Director, Commercial Real Estate at Carbon Lighthouse

The Innovation Conversation is a series of Q&A sessions between the real estate technology industry's top leaders and MetaProp Co-Founder and Managing Director Aaron Block.  Topics include thoughts on the future of property and technology, corporate innovation activities and executive development in the real estate technology space.


Harris Cohn

WHAT ARE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY RESPONSIBILITIES IN YOUR ORGANIZATION?

I am responsible for setting the strategy for Carbon Lighthouse's commercial real estate team and supporting the team members as they structure customized financial partnerships with commercial real estate owners. Carbon Lighthouse is a mission-driven company focused on stopping climate change. We are starting with the largest CO2 emitting sector - buildings. We’re making significant progress by aligning our drive to end energy waste with the commercial real estate sector’s focus on growing financial value and net operating income - we believe you can have strong economic growth and achieve environmental goals. Carbon Lighthouse identifies and implements technical solutions customized to each building in an owner’s portfolio, and provides an ongoing service to maintain the financial value resulting from those solutions. The end goals are 1) holding occupant comfort constant 2) reducing operating costs on energy, and 3) boosting NOI as much as possible. So, day-to-day I check on our key metrics to make sure we're making progress and ensure I’m supporting my team to successfully achieve these partnerships with commercial real estate owners.

 

DESCRIBE HOW YOU BECAME INTERESTED IN PROPTECH AND INNOVATION.

Buildings are so integral to how we live today. And they have so much potential to change our lives for the better. People have been creating them for millennia. Yet, buildings haven’t kept up with technology adoption like many other areas of our lives. Sure, this comparison might be a bit unfair; after all, it's much different to program an app than to physically construct a building. I became interested in PropTech for this reason - to see how far we can improve the physical aspects of buildings with the new technology so readily available today.

 

IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS, WHAT AREA OF THE REAL ESTATE INDUSTRY DO YOU THINK WILL CHANGE THE MOST DRAMATICALLY?

The robots are coming! Actually, I don't think they will reach into the real estate industry as profoundly as in other industries, but I do think there will be big winners and big losers when it comes to technology. One area that will be impacted is the people. The Urban Land Institute (ULI) and PwC recently released a survey that found commercial real estate executives are 4x less likely to care about technological innovation and therefore see no need to drive change within their own organizations. While that may be true today, there is a new generation of real estate leadership emerging who will think and act differently about technology. As the workforce moves toward more millennials, the commercial real estate companies that are able to embrace tech innovation will really start to succeed.

 

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY DRIVEN INITIATIVE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION TODAY?

It’s really our business model. We’ve found a way to align our environmental mission with commercial interests. We make it easy and profitable for commercial real estate owners to tap the hidden value in their buildings by eliminating energy waste. The more waste we eliminate gets us closer to our climate change goal and produces exponential financial value for owner portfolios. From a technology perspective, we’re data-obsessed at Carbon Lighthouse. We love to measure everything in our business just as we do in the buildings we serve for CRE owners. That has led to amazing insights and the development of training programs, best practices, and of course our proprietary software called CLUES®, which employs machine learning and artificial intelligence to find the best energy saving solutions for commercial buildings.

 

WHAT ROLE HAVE MENTORS PLAYED IN YOUR SUCCESS? HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE OTHERS TO DEVELOP STRONG RELATIONSHIPS WITH MENTORS?

Mentors are amazing and I believe you gain more value when you draw inspiration and guidance from multiple mentors. They have been incredibly useful sounding boards throughout my career and each key decision I’ve made has come with the input of multiple mentors. The key to developing strong relationships with mentors is to be prepared. Have an idea or thought you want to discuss before you show up to that mentorship coffee or meeting. Avoid easy-bake questions like "What's your career path been?" At the same time don't be afraid to rethink or reapply a mentor's advice. If you’re looking for a mentor, spend just 5-15 minutes researching potential contacts and figuring out what you want from them before you meet. You'll have mentors willing to give you so much more time and effort.

 

WHAT IS ONE INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT MOST PEOPLE DON’T ALREADY KNOW?

My team, Doughmance, placed third out of 30 teams two years in a row in a pizza making contest.  Our best pie is the Reverend Al Green, a Margherita pizza with chimichurri sauce on top.


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