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VOL. 125 | NO. 200 | Thursday, October 14, 2010

U of M Ramping Up Sustainability Focus

By Sarah Baker

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Starting in spring 2011, the University of Memphis will offer a breakthrough real estate graduate program that will emphasize sustainability and ways to reduce carbon footprints.

The Memphis Metro Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) chapter earlier this week held a panel discussion – composed of three professors from the U of M’s Department of Finance, Insurance and Real Estate – on new directions such as these in commercial real estate.

Ronald W. Spahr, Grant Ian Thrall and Richard D. Evans spoke to a room full of commercial real estate professionals about how the university’s new direction will influence the manner in which business is conducted in the Memphis market.

The department offers the Master of Science in business administration degree with concentrations in finance and in real estate, as well as the doctorate in business administration with a concentration in finance.

Both Thrall and Evans are involved with the Martha and Robert Fogelman Family Sustainable Real Estate Fund, the result of a $2 million gift from the Fogelman Family Foundation and established at the U of M in the spring.

Instead of teaching, Thrall is spending his first semester with the university writing the curriculum for the new sustainable real estate classes that are being created under the auspices of the fund.

The word “sustainable” is used a lot these days but has a fuzzy meaning. Thrall described sustainable as “building standards that are meant to last.”

Thrall’s main hypothesis is that sustainable cities are more economically viable. He also called real estate a public and private relationship, and said the U of M needed the help of organizations such as CCIM, Society of Industrial Office Realtors and Memphis Area Association of Realtors.

“Memphis is a sick patient, and it needs help,” Thrall said.

Shawn Massey, partner with The Shopping Center Group and a director with the Memphis chapter of CCIM, was the panel discussion moderator.

What came out of the discussion was how much the Fogelman College of Business and Economics and the university are behind the promotion of sustainable real estate development, which includes the reduction of carbon footprints.

In fact, the U of M and the Fogelman family have made considerable effort to change the overall direction of the real estate program to a more sustainable real estate program patterned after a similar program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“The main emphasis is the eventual reduction in the carbon footprint for real estate developments going forward in the city of Memphis, but also from all of its graduates throughout the country,” Massey said. “They have put a lot of money and muscle behind the program to make it successful.”

Massey, who has also served as an adjunct professor at the U of M by teaching the master’s level class in real estate development for the last 12 years, said when he went through the program many years ago, all of his classes were in business.

Now, however, the U of M is allowing people with a master’s degree in real estate to take classes in urban planning, biology, ecology, and architecture and engineering, to name a few.

“Someone can structure their program if they really want to develop a real estate major with a high green or sustainable emphasis the opportunity to do within multiple departments at the university,” Massey said.

And having two Chairs of Excellence in the program was pretty amazing, Massey said.

“It’s very unheard of in the country for a real estate program to have that quality of professors on faculty,” Massey said. “The city has always been a real estate town. There has always been a lot of wealth in Memphis in real estate.”

And to keep that tradition alive, it is important for the commercial real estate community to work closely with the university to “stay the top of its game.”

Thrall announced the upcoming plans for the Conference on Sustainable Real Estate, set for March 24-26, with topics in the works such as green energy, sustainable architecture design and building sustainability.

Spahr also announced several items on the U of M’s agenda. One of the university’s main targets is to have a presence of programs both online and on campus. In addition, the school is in the process of creating a joint degree program with the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

The next CCIM meeting will be a joint meeting with SIOR on Nov. 17 at Memphis Country Club with keynote speaker Bill Logue, CEO and president of FedEx Freight.

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