Podcast

Francis Koster: Deploying Our Investment Capital Locally Yields Better Returns for All

Strengthen your community; not Wall Street
Saturday, May 11, 2013, 11:21 AM

If you took $1,000 and invested it in a certificate of deposit in any of the three largest banks in America today, you would earn 1% or less on your money and have to pay income tax on that gain. Take that same $1,000 and put it in a secured government issued bond or mutual fund, and your rate of return might get as high as 2% in today's market. But if you invest it in your own community, you could earn an after-tax rate of return of between 5-7%. Three times as much.

We are conditioned to think that financial "investing" means sending your capital to Wall Street. There it will be put into paper securities (stocks, bonds, etc.), and hopefully when your next statement arrives, the dollar total is higher than you put in.

There's no connection between the investor and the investment. And in today's market, where safer investments offer nearly no return, investment capital is increasingly paying to chase risk it has little understanding of. And all the while, the middlemen -- with their 100% perfect trading quarters and record bonus payouts -- demonstrate that the system really exists to siphon off money from this 'dumb capital'.

Wouldn't it be much better to invest your capital where you live? Where you actually know how it is being used, and can actually see whether it's creating tangible value? Where, if productive, your investment is making your local community stronger?

Francis Koster knows this is possible. In fact, he knows first-hand that there are many such opportunities, and they often offer higher returns on investment than many traditional Wall Street options  Francis returns to the program to share his growing catalog of practical examples, collected from entrepreneurs and investors across the country and profiled in his new book Discovering the New America: Where Local Communities Are Solving National Problems.

Every week, Chris and I are approached by people who are uncomfortable keeping their money "in the system." They don't trust today's markets and/or they don't want to enable the parasitical Wall Street machine any further. They all share the same question: Where can I put my money where it will earn a return while doing good?

Koster's mission is finding acceptable answers to this question. He is one of the few pioneers exploring the emerging frontier of local, sustainable investing and cataloging his findings for all to consider and replicate.

Like many of the personal resilience practices we advocate on this site, Francis is revealing how tomorrow's "investing" will be much more hands on and direct than today's disembodied online brokerage experience -- but it will be much authentic, local, and economically healthy.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Francis Koster (34m:00s):

Transcript: 

Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson, and today we welcome back Francis Koster.

Francis runs the website TheOptimisticFuturist.com, and he's one of my favorite people to speak with because he dedicates himself to answering a very difficult but very important need, what are the new business models we need to invest in today to meet the coming future defined by the Crash Course with some degree of grace?

Francis scours the world for sustainable, reproducible business models that deliver positive return on investment to all stakeholders. And most of these are deployed at the local level.

His website presents well-documented case studies of these successes so that interested investors can learn how to reproduce them in their own communities.

I love how this builds resilience and gives a financial alternative to sending capital off to Wall Street. And most importantly, his case studies prove the point that to make a better world today, we do not have to wait for some new technology to be invented tomorrow.

Everything we already need in terms of technology, processes, and understandings we already have them. We just need to use it.

Francis, it's a real pleasure to have you back as our guest.

Francis Koster: I'm delighted for the invitation. Thank you very much.

Chris Martenson: Well, Francis, it's been a while since you've been on the program. So, can you give our listeners a quick summary of your mission and how is it you came to be doing this work?

Francis Koster: I did my doctorate at the University of Massachusetts a long time ago. And the central issue that I focused on was why leaders don't listen to warnings. And I did my dissertation on that topic, and I examined a whole set of valid warnings that had been issued and disregarded at great human catastrophe.

I worked, as you know, in the university setting; I set up and ran the renewable energy programs at the University of Massachusetts, was hired to run them at the Tennessee Valley Authority for a while. And then I switched when the energy prices dropped so much that the interest in renewables went away. I switched then to healthcare, and finished a substantial portion of my career there.

So, post retirement from healthcare I returned to my first love, which is why leaders don't listen to warnings. I focused specifically on the basic life support systems of air, water, food, and fuel, and the public health consequences of how we satisfy them.

And any time you start to alter behavior, you run into the financial metric system. Is it a good investment? Is it a good investment for whom? Who gets to capture the investments? Who's required to make it? and so forth. Our worlds then begin to overlap, and so I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to make win-wins in that environment.

Chris Martenson: All right. Well, listen. So, building off the idea of why leaders don't listen to warnings, here's a quote from you that's taken out of your new book. The quote reads, “Telling leaders that the sky is going to fall only makes them feel impotent, discouraged, and resistant unless you can also hand them an umbrella and a map to safe shelter. If a problem is pointed out without furnishing a solution, the recipient of the warning reacts psychologically by blocking that warning.”

I love the way you've learned that the best way to motivate people is to present that open door, not just the warning. A lot of those listening to this conversation right now have tried to influence loved ones or community leaders sometimes with little success. So, building on your PhD and then coming back to it, what learnings can you share that can help people be more successful in their effort to not just have people listen to warnings but to react in a positive way?

Francis Koster: Well, let's imagine a crowded banquet hall or someplace. The lights are on; it's multi-generational. There are young moms with toddlers crawling around. The family has gathered; maybe mom and dad are trying to control the kids. Grandma and Grandpa are sitting there beaming with pride. The civic leaders are up there on the dais, and suddenly somebody comes into the room and says I smell smoke in the hallway. Who do you think is going to respond the quickest?

Chris Martenson: Well, if I was in the room, that'd be me.

Francis Koster: That would be you, and that explains why you've got the particular life mission you've got. But the answer that is empirically demonstrated is the young mothers. The young mothers would act out of a sense of responsibility for the children. So they would begin to look around for exits. They'd begin to gather up the toys. They wouldn't necessarily bolt for the doors yet, but they would heed the warning and begin their preparation.

Then, they'd glance across the table at their husband and say hey, you know, unpack the stroller. Let's get ready here. But the immediate warning recipient would be that person who is responsible for helpless or otherwise not fully self-sufficient individuals.

The ones who would be least likely to respond are the ones up on the dais. And there's two reasons for this. One is, they probably have a private exit; they go back through the stage or something like that, where they had cocktails beforehand.

Secondly, they're relatively psychologically bulletproof. They have assets, by and large; more than the audience. They probably have education. They certainly have social status, and they don't have young kids anymore. Those kids are gone. So, our leadership class is essentially psychologically a little more bulletproof than the dependents that they are supposed to be taking care of.

So, what we would have is an aroused, young population and a slow leadership group. And the leadership group, if it chose to start to lead, would constantly be scanning the crowd to gain their approval and say is it okay if I approach the mic and begin to offer cautionary warnings? Wait a minute, maybe the guy sitting next to me on the dais, he wants to do it. I think I'll step back. There'd be some posturing, some checking, some sniffing.

And if a second person entered the hall and said the smoke is, you know, I – something's not right out there, you'd begin to see the moms gathering the kids up and heading for the doors, while the leadership class would be tilting their heads towards each other and trying to figure out what to do.

So, the short answer to your question is, the people who heed warnings the most are those who have a palpable sense of responsibility for others and who have the most perceived to lose.

Chris Martenson: Let's talk about this potentially aroused young population, as you put it. The story you're painting is that there's some sort of a sclerosis that sets in when people have been in a position of power for a while, but it's really the younger self-motivated individuals who might be leading the change.

So, thinking about your work, where you go out and you're scouring the world for these really clear, passionate sort of responses to the challenges we face, do you find that there are disproportionately young people starting to gravitate into the solution space versus the more entrenched players? Or how is that shaking out?

Francis Koster: Well, the responders, if you would, tend to fit a certain psychological profile. But the primary piece is this sense of responsibility for others. To tell a story you may have heard me say before, for many, many years there was a campaign to have the United States buckle up when you drove your car. There were all kinds of advertisements about buckle up for your own safety. And nobody did it. The results were less than 12% of all drivers buckled up.

So they changed the messaging. And the messaging became, if you don't buckle up, your kids won't either. And immediately, the compliance rate went up. People would act out of responsibility for others before they would take care of themselves.

Chris Martenson: Okay. So let's cast that into current situation where one of the things I follow very closely is the national budget scene. But this is being played out at the municipal levels as well, where there's clearly a mathematical train wreck coming. The people who are supposed to be in that primary responder role seem to be completely asleep at the switch.

And so there's some combination of psychological factors at work there, which are wanting to not step too far out of the fold, running out the clock in their current position, whatever those things are. Is that what you're saying is happening here?

Francis Koster: It's a substantial portion of it, because you know, the difference between leadership and or power and authority? A cop has power. He wears a blue uniform. He can enforce his will on you by pulling out his tear gas or his gun or whatever. Authority is more like stuff the pastor has or the bishop has or the college president who's granting the degrees. They wear a robe. You give them the authority to guide your life.

And politicians derive their authority from their constituents. If a pastor gets up in front of his congregation and advocates something that the congregation itself doesn't want, he will be out of a job. His entire authority rests on the consent of the governed.

And right now, we're in a situation where for many, many politicians, they don't have consent of the governed. They've got a badly divided polity out there. And so what I have done in my work is try and figure out what are the win-wins that they can present to their constituency.

On the one hand, the Tea Party is going to like this because… On the other hand, the leftists are going to like this because... And come up with win-wins that you can assemble and maintain your authority. And that's what I try and do. I try and explain to leadership that you can please all sides of the aisle and do social good if you'll just do these three things.

Chris Martenson: Fantastic. I think part of what you're describing, too, is that there is a sense of institutional or sometimes cultural inertia that keeps us doing things the way we have been doing things. That sounds challenging. But I think the other side of that coin is that there are opportunities that exist in there. And that's what I want to focus on now.

And let's get into maybe some of the more promising models that your work has uncovered. So here's another quote from you I really like. The quote is, “If you took $1,000 and invested it in a certificate of deposit in any of the three largest banks in America today, you would earn 1% or less on your money and have to pay income tax on that gain. Take that same $1,000 and put it in a secured government issued bond, mutual fund, and your rate of return might get as high as 2% in today's market. But if you invest it in your own community, you could earn an after-tax rate of return of between 5-7%. Three times as much.”

I understand there's an example involving John Deere you've discovered that illustrates this.

Francis Koster: John Deere, as you know, was a farm implement manufacturer. And a lot of their farmers in the Midwest and the bread basket of America were approached by windmill vendors John Deere used to not only sell tractors and hay balers, they would finance them; they had a whole separate financing company within their corporation structure the farmers were approached by windmill manufacturers who wanted to lease land from the farmers, and they told the farmers look, we'll put the windmill up and you can continue to plant corn around the bottom. You won't lose that much productive land.

And the farmers said well, tell me about how much money you're going to make off the windmill. And you know, farmers aren't stupid. And when they learned the rate of return on some of these windmill projects, they went to John Deere and said hey, I'll put the windmill up on my own land. Would you finance it?

And so we had this situation where renewable energy started to come into being because there was a financing organization with a known, trusted customer base that would make unusual loans. And so John Deere figured out a way that they could make money by serving their customer base, and the farmers could make money as well, and it involved taking advantage of tax credits and so forth.

If you move to the government sector, right now about 40% of every dollar that moves through our gross domestic product is a taxpayer dollar. Do you know that? About 40%. In the building stock of the United States, one third of all square footage in the United States is taxpayer-owned. And yet the system that the United States chose to use, the technique they chose to use to foster energy conservation and renewable energy, involved a tax code.

So by involving the tax code, what that meant is that one third of all of the potential users of renewable energy and energy conservation were denied access to the incentives. We designed an incentive system that only works for the for-profit sector as a nation.

So what's happened recently based on the John Deere model is, LLCs are now forming and they say we will put solar energy or wind energy or geothermal or energy conservation into taxpayer owned buildings. We'll take the tax credit. We'll take the accelerated depreciation. We'll make use of everything that the local power company has been able to do for years and years and years and we'll split the savings with the taxpayer institution.

So, the taxpayer institution has to participate financially somehow, usually out of their energy savings. The taxpayer institution gets a huge increase in efficiency and the private sector is incentivized to tap into this 40% of our infrastructure where there's been almost nothing done.

Chris Martenson: And so these are all retrofits, I assume, to existing buildings, systems…

Francis Koster: This particular model that I'm talking about doesn't have to be a retrofit. If you are building a new building and you wanted to put solar supposing you were building a new school and you wanted to put solar on the roof. And you have money to buy the school, but you went to this local LLC and said look, would you guys put a solar system on our roof? You get the tax credits. You get the depreciation. And at the end of a certain period of time, you give it to us and you get the tax deduction for the charitable contribution. And you will come out further ahead than if you had put your money in the bank or in a T-Bill.

Chris Martenson: So, this is happening? How frequent is this? And where is this happening?

Francis Koster: It's emerging rapidly. It's one of the you know, what I try and do is find success stories and talk about them so that people can replicate them. And there are several models out there that can be used. They all owe their mental birthright to the John Deere episode.

Chris Martenson: Interesting. Well, in today's yield-starved environment, anything that sounds like more than a few percent I mean, good grief. As of today, junk bonds are yielding in aggregate 5.2% and those are highly risky investments. So what kinds of returns are you seeing in these examples that we're talking about here?

Francis Koster: Somewhere in the six, seven, eight percent range. But it depends on where you're located. But if you would, put on a slightly different hat. You're in a community. You've got your choice to invest in junk bonds, or some other aggregated investment vehicle run by Wall Street, or you know, any of the big names in the financial industry.

Or, you can go to your buddy at the local school board and say hey, I was thinking of endowing a scholarship in honor of my daughter or something. Instead, I'd like to make you a deal where I'll put solar cells on the roof. And at the end of the period of time, I'll give it to you.

And the school board person is likely to say well, that's a wonderful offer, why don't you just give us the money now? And the answer is, if he does it through this LLC model, he makes a rate of return that exceeds what he would have made if he invested in the stock market.

So, he does good and he does well.

Chris Martenson: Does good and he does well. Let me talk about that doing good and doing well for a second. All right. We have a local high school. They're rebuilding it. What they're doing is what probably every municipality does. They're trying to save money you know, keep the cost as low as possible and they want to optimize and maximize their space. What are they probably missing in that story?

Francis Koster: Operating costs. Typically, the people who build the building don't pay for its operating costs. In a school, the single highest expense line item in a budget is salary. The second largest line item is typically energy. Now that includes energy for the school buses and energy for air conditioning and so on and so forth.

The second largest line item of school systems is energy cost. But when the bond issue comes up to build the local school, what they want to do is build the biggest building they can for the cheapest amount of money they can. So they skimp on the insulation. They buy cheap windows. They don't use an advanced air conditioning system. They use cheap lighting fixtures.

And so they cut the ribbon on something that looks glorious, but when it comes time to pay the energy bill, it's a great deal higher than it needs to be. And there have been all kinds of studies done. One in Statesville, North Carolina well, in Massachusetts, they went back and looked at the construction costs of school buildings, and found out that by spending an additional 2.5% on the front end of building a building, they earned 100% rate of return on that 2.5% every year for the life of the building.

Chris Martenson: Wow, 100% rate of return.

Francis Koster: Every year for the life of the building.

Chris Martenson: And that's in direct energy savings, right?

Francis Koster: In direct energy savings.

Chris Martenson: So, that means less oil burned, less coal burned, less carbon in the atmosphere…

Francis Koster: Right. Setting aside all the externalized environmental costs, just as a business this is where I say we can talk to the right wing and the left wing at the same time if you go to the school board and say look, I can guarantee 100% rate of return on taxpayer money by being a fiscal conservative, they'll listen.

If you go to the other side of the aisle and say look, we want to spend a little bit more building this thing. We're going to remove air pollution and so on and so forth, they'll listen.

And here's the kicker. One of the ways you get this 100% rate of return on the investment is you spend a part of that 2.5% by increasing the use of daylight in the school. And when you do that and this has been fully documented student learning rates go up between 12% and 17%.

Chris Martenson: A little daylight on the situation, huh?

Francis Koster: That's right. We're shining a light on it. So, the mission of the school is to educate students. You help them do that. The mission of the school board member is to try and provide an adequate building at a reasonable cost. We've done that. And we've cleaned up the environment at the same time.

Chris Martenson: So, that's a win-win-win. And what I found I was talking with another gentleman recently who was relating an experience where his church was building out a $2.5 million re-do of their church. He looked at the plans. This guy is an energy expert in the heating systems and cooling systems, in particular. He took one look at the design and said oh my gosh, this is going to – we're going to use a system that's absolutely going to kill us. Spreadsheeted the whole thing out, went back to the church board and said, look, if we just put this system in instead of that one, we're going to actually save more than the building cost over the life of it.

And they were surprised because they had hired a very good architecture firm. And it wasn't that this was a bad architecture firm; it's that this understanding of how to optimize around energy cost is just not well-embedded yet in our culture, for some reason, I guess.

Francis Koster: Well, there is a wrinkle to that, which is, I suspect, when they let the bid documents, they did not specify an operating cost per square foot. So no target was established. So, they went to bid and they said we want to build a church of 150,000 square feet or something. And it has to be gothic and it has to have so many square feet of stained glass or whatever it is that they specified.

But I'll bet that when they got to energy they simply said it “must be code compliant.” And codes are obsolete. Codes are 30 years behind.

So, if they said you have to be able to operate this for $1.25 per square foot per year, they would have gotten a different building.

Chris Martenson: Having the right measures in place. Is that the right measure to use?

Francis Koster: It's one of several.

Chris Martenson: One of several.

Francis Koster: Yes.

Chris Martenson: All right. So, this all sounds really fascinating for somebody who's got quite a bit of capital or can form an LLC or has the time to put into that. What kind of stories do you have for people who are looking to maybe divert $10,000, not to Wall Street but to their local community? What kinds of things could they do?

Francis Koster: Well, one of the forms that these LLCs take is that you get a principal investor who is what is called a “qualified investor.” Your readership and listenership likely knows what that means.

Chris Martenson: Yep.

Francis Koster: And in addition, they can take on secondary partners in the LLC. These become community investors, and they market the LLC as a form of invest in your local economy. And earn a bigger rate of return than you would if you shipped your money off to Wall Street. And you can keep an eye on your investments. Just drive down the road and look at it.

So, there's a much higher level of security and a much higher level of community pride and the development of social networks and so on and so forth, which have all kinds of secondary social benefits.

Chris Martenson: Now, you have a book out. It's called How America Is Getting It Right: Proven Local Solutions to National Problems. The identity of these LLCs, or how to form them, are examples in the book?

Francis Koster: I did not name specific I think I named two, as I recall. But if there's interest, I'll put some up on my website and people can go there and I'll route them I'll offer half a dozen different places people could contact.

Chris Martenson: That would be great, because even if to find the models to understand how those could be replicated within their local communities if not to just directly invest in them. Because there's a lot of hunger for this out there right now. Obviously, you know, people are distrustful of Wall Street and the stock market, and, I believe, rightfully so. They're distrustful of big banks, who never seem to lose. And they want to have more direct control over their investments. They want it to be tangible. They would like the returns to be there. They would like to have the returns accrued about the communities as well as to themselves for dedicating their capital.

All of these things seem imminently doable. What we're really lacking are the concrete examples of just exactly how to get that done. Because it seems complex.

Francis Koster: It is complex. But if you went to Wall Street, they'd be paying significant law firms millions of dollars a year to develop these things. So, there are some models out there. I mean, the town you live in, I'm willing to bet, has got a fairly significant number of people who invest and have set up LLCs. Mostly, they own real estate.

The guy who owns the local shopping center, that kind of investor, already knows how to do an LLC. His accountant already knows how to do accelerated depreciation. His tax attorney knows how to take advantage of federal and state tax credits. This knowledge is available within the community that your readership and listenership occupies.

It's not doing new stuff. What it's doing is taking old stuff and applying it to a new market that has been overlooked, which is the 40% of all building square footage in the United States, which is paid for by taxpayers.

Chris Martenson: This is the part that is fascinating to me because it seems like a no-brainer. It seems like if you can reach across whatever constituency you care to speak to and say look at how this is a benefit and it's going to save money at the same time. It's also going to make us more resilient. It's going to deliver us possibly a higher quality of life as well, as the example of having natural daylight in there obviously provides a quality enhancement to the experience as measured through educational return.

All of these things seem like things that are just no-brainers, and yet it turns out they are brainers, to flip that term around, because they aren't done all that often. There's an interesting psychological exploration to discuss why these things don't happen, and there's this opportunity set on the other side. How much room do you think there is to run on the side of delivering these positive solutions into places that need them?

Francis Koster: I think there's a great deal. And here's what I believe has happened over the last several decades. When I was a boy, the guy who ran the local bank knew my father personally. My dad was a fireman. My dad knew the local banker. There was a relationship there where my father knew who to tap into for local expertise.

And then we got into the consolidation of local banks into regional banks and national banks, and the presidents of those banks no longer were rooted in the community but they transferred every three years to a different part of the corporation. The expertise still exists at that local bank, but the relationship does not.

So, what I have found as I've talked about this with a number of different people is there are a great number of community banks. And when I go in and I lay it out for them, they get very thoughtful and they'll say well, I imagine I can find several lead investors for you. In fact, I know exactly who I'll call. But what we have not seen is that the younger activist group, by and large, doesn't live in the world of finance and would say hmm, I think I'll go down to the local bank. Not Bank of America or one of the big ones, because they're going to get shunted into a different kind of investment.

But a local bank is going to say well, I know the guy who made the loan to the shopping center or the movie theater real estate investor, and I think he'd be interested in this. And not only that, I bet he'd want to do it on his own shopping center. He just doesn't even know it.

Chris Martenson: All right. Well, let me turn now, in the time we have left, to this. You have a whole chunk on food security and what can be done on the food production side, I'm interested because I do know a lot of the younger people who have gravitated to that side because they've got health and vigor and the interest and the passion to be on the food production side.

A lot of them are actively seeking new models. And of course, there are some relatively well-established models; the CSA model, Community Supported Agriculture; we've got some direct farm-to-retail markets that are starting to pop up; of course, farmers' markets.

What else have you found on the food side? I know you've got some pretty interesting stories in your book there. Which one sort of pops out at you as one you'd like to relate here?

Francis Koster: Well, there are several. Let me tell of an essentially for-profit model and then a not-for-profit model. One is what amounts to an eBay for harvest. In this particular model, some central authority, a farmers' co-op or somebody, gets access to a piece of software and goes to the local people who buy food, restaurants and institutions, and said in October, if we could ship you bushels of corn, what day would you want it and how much would you want? And what would you be willing to pay for it?

So, a market is created. If there's a potential buyer, that goes up on the eBay for food. And then members of the co-op who produce food say, huh, I'll sign on to produce that many bushels of corn for that fellow, for that customer. And a deal is stuck using the computerized farm-to-market system, if you will, as a middle man, as a dis-intermediary. So, people don't have to sell their whole crop to Sysco and then Sysco sells it to the local institutions.

And that has had quite a dramatic impact in the niche food markets, where restaurants want to offer unusual things like two-foot-long string beans or special sized mushrooms or heirloom tomatoes. If the restaurant’s brand is rooted in no pun intended there rooted in unique foods, they can solicit farmers who want to grow unique foods and pay a premium price for it.

The other one that I think is particularly interesting in the not-for-profit sector is where you use a computer system and you go to everybody who says they're willing to grow food for a soup kitchen or some charitable, an orphanage or something. And instead of just letting them plant whatever they want to plant and take responsibility to get five tomatoes and a couple of string beans and some squash on an irregular basis to the recipient who looks at it and says gosh, we weren't planning on using squash today. But if we don't, it will go bad, this computer system says the orphanage would like this many bushels of something this day. We suggest you plant these seeds, which have this kind of ripening time so that you'll be ready. And essentially, a contract is written between the grower and the customer, even though in this case, the customer is not paying. It's a donation. But it's scheduled.

And what it does is vastly reduce the infrastructure of freezing, delivering, storage, and so on and so forth, because it's timed to be market-ready at the time the customer's expecting it.

Chris Martenson: So there you have a profit and a non-profit example. I see in your book you've got examples around shortening the food supply chain, which that sounds like a portion of, although your story in the book is a different one.

“There is Still Hunger Amidst Plenty” is one of your chapters. Helping small farmers and aquaculture, a story about a place in Albany, Indiana that's producing 2 million pounds annually and so on. So, there's different sections in your book here that cover fighting obesity, environmental contamination, climate change reducing building energy and water use. Some of those examples we talked about. And all of these are real, live examples that are operating today and seem to be working. Is that right?

Francis Koster: Yes. I don't put anything each of my articles describes a national problem documented academically, talks about the future implications of how it's going to get worse or who it's going to hurt, and then says here is a community that has figured this out.

You can go to XYZ city in Indiana, and look what they did, and here's their response, here's their results. And every chapter in the book, and there are 65 different articles, has about one-and-a-half successful examples. So there are over 100 successful examples of how local communities are reinventing America, making money while they're doing it, and cleaning up the environment while they're doing it.

Chris Martenson: That is just a fantastic story.

We're just about at the end of our time here. I just want to remind people again that you can go to the website, which is TheOptimisticFuturist.com. You can get the book Discovering the New America: Where Local Communities Are Solving National Problems, Francis, where do people find that book?

Francis Koster: It's on Amazon and it's on eBooks platforms.

Chris Martenson: Well, there you go, and thank you so much for being with us. The summary is that there are lots of things that we can and should be doing today that will save us money, deliver excellent returns, slow down the consumption of fuels, maybe deliver a higher quality of life. Heck, maybe even help save the world. I love those stories.

Francis, thank you so much for doing that work and for being on the program.

Francis Koster: Well, thank you. I'll look forward to doing it again. I appreciate the chance to spread the word.

Chris Martenson: Well, I'm looking forward to Part Two of this book, which will have another 100 examples. This is what's happening right now. It's a movement and it's exciting to see it documented and conveyed. People just need to know about it. It's great work. Thank you so much

Francis Koster: Thank you.

About the guest

Francis Koster

Francis Koster received his doctorate from the Program for the Study of the Future at the University of Massachusetts in 1982, where he studied the public policy implications of likely national and global futures and their impact on the United States. He focuses his attention on issues concerning the basic life support systems of air, water, food, energy, environment, and the public health consequences of how society meets its needs in these areas.  Following service in the National Guard and the Peace Corps, Koster began his career as a higher-education reformer in the ‘60s and ‘70s. His focus shifted to energy policy during the oil embargoes of the ‘70s, during which time he set up and ran the University of Massachusetts’ Toward Tomorrow fair; the university’s Alternative Energy Program; the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Renewable Energy program; and consulted with many of the nation’s major utilities on energy conservation and renewable energy programs. In this same era, working with the U.S. Department of Energy, he developed and ran the first assessment of how counties can attain energy self-sufficiency.  President Ronald Reagan cited this Franklin County study as a national model. Recruited to a rapidly expanding health-care organization in the 1990s, Koster established himself as a pioneer in the application of information technologies in health care. His efforts demonstratively improved health care through ubiquitous deployment of electronic medical records, thereby making patient information available over the internet; and “telehealth,” among many other initiatives. In 2008 he retired from the position of Vice President for Innovation for The Nemours Foundation—one of the largest children’s health systems in the United States, which now has more than 450 full-time physicians, two regional children’s hospitals, and more than 20 pediatric clinics.  Since 2008, Koster has provided services to the University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute, the Duke University Graduate School of Nursing, the Duke University Center for Health Informatics, the Catawba College Center for the Environment, and other clients. Dr. Koster is married to Dr. Carol Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in North Carolina.  Like other parents and grandparents their age, they worry over, and cheer for, four adult children and three grandchildren.

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11 Comments

treebeard's picture
treebeard
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 18 2010
Posts: 393
True but not true

I totally agree with his premise, but our culture is sociopathically short sighted, I am frusted beyond end with this issue.  As principal in an architectural design and engineering firm, I constantly beat on, diplamatically of course, clients to think longer term about their investments in the built environment.  But generally once they discover that fact that the up front costs are say 5, 10, 20% for a particularly system, regardless of the payback period, there is no interest. None!  The worst parties are "investors".  It appears that the upfornt costs is the only concern.  

I hope this model catches on, we as designers are at the mercy of our clients, but it seems to still be a long time out.  I keep waiting for that hundreth monkey.  I know that Cathrine Austin Fitts has worked on local investor circles, I don't know where she has gotten with that.  I never became a paid subscriber on her site to see where that went.  Any thoughts of organizing something like that through this site?

Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
Status: Diamond Member (Online)
Joined: Feb 4 2010
Posts: 2541
An antidote to my view.

I learned a lot. There is a lot more to this iceberg than meets the eye. There are several projects that spring to mind. Yet another book to read.

I look forward to seeing Mr Koster on TED. (He is not there. I looked.)

He should be getting an email from TED just about now. I am like that. Isn't the internet wonderful?

Oliveoilguy's picture
Oliveoilguy
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 29 2012
Posts: 403
Energy Efficiency

Great interview. I'll be learning more about Mr. Kostner.

I'm trying to figure out how this could work in my small community perhaps at my church or in the school.

Just went to a meeting yesterday at our local utility coop. Our rates are going up. They are changing the billing structure to a demand level system based on highest peak usage. If you suck lots of watts from the utility for even one hour that will be noted and used to set your billing rate. It becomes important to keep your usage even to stay in a lower rate tier. 

Solar systems will help take the edge off high demand. They typically generate at times of the day when grid demand is the highest. This is a way to mitigate the rate increases on an individual level.  People who work at conservation will pay slightly less per watt, and those who guzzle watts will pay more on a per watt basis.

Also energy audits will become more important with the need to understand surge power consumption, and where the high draw items are, like strip heaters that backup heat pumps.

Energy efficiency and local generation is a great way to invest. 

gillbilly's picture
gillbilly
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 22 2012
Posts: 388
Social Distance

Wonderful interview! The social distance between our federal politicians and their constituents is too great, and is one of the main problems, if not the problem. We have acquiesced to putting only wealthy "experts" in these positions whos experiential knowledge of the average citizen is limited. I can only imagine that our federal representatives and senators see their constituents as an abstract "mass" of people. Their way of getting a read on their constituents is through the indirect process of polls and surveys and then interpreting the data. So, at least for me, it's not surprising that local solutions are becoming the examples. It's great to hear how Koster is documenting and facilitating this.  When the political decisions directly effect your immediate neighbors, friends, and community, more thought and care is given...at least that's been my experience.

Treebeard, the sociopathic nature of the financial system (I'm not sure I would call it culture) will probably have to get worse before you see people expand their view of the horizon. When money via printing is literally being dropped at your feet, you don't see much farther than your toes. That system is still the driving force of people's economic thought patterns. Another big downturn and I would guess you'll see substantial uptick.

Chris, I know the high school you mention. The schematics show a lot of forward thinking...solar panels, a lot more windows giving natural light, energy efficiency, but of course, the devil is in the details. We shall see.

This gives me more hope for our communities, as well as  ideas to explore as I consider putting my name in to sit on our local school board (not sure I can logistically do it yet)...what am I crazy?

Oliveoilguy's picture
Oliveoilguy
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 29 2012
Posts: 403
Building for Smart People

treebeard wrote:

I totally agree with his premise, but our culture is sociopathically short sighted, I am frusted beyond end with this issue.  As principal in an architectural design and engineering firm, I constantly beat on, diplamatically of course, clients to think longer term about their investments in the built environment.  But generally once they discover that fact that the up front costs are say 5, 10, 20% for a particularly system, regardless of the payback period, there is no interest. None!  The worst parties are "investors".  It appears that the upfornt costs is the only concern.  

My clients are quite different. They almost always choose higher SEER AC systems with variable speeds. On windows we go with high quality Pella or Marvin for looks,  but mostly for efficiency. We insulate homes to the max, use thermal barrier roof decking etc.  Maybe it's Texas, or maybe my local area, but folks around here understand frugality and long term investment. We don't sell our homes as "green". We sell efficiency as a "no-brainer" cause the payback is so obvious. 

Last home had 30,000 gallons of rain collection, a 8kw solar system, and an underground storage room. I love building for smart people. The best clients are the ones who have worked hard for a living. They get it right away. 

Woodman's picture
Woodman
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 26 2008
Posts: 1027
I'm seeing increased

I'm seeing increased awareness among both engineers/designers and owners/clients about the importance of reducing long term costs by building with quality and efficient materials today.  It happens through local intitiative and commitment by all parties involved.  For example, in my office, we've been seeking waivers to old State rules and codes on things like excessive ventilation rates so that heating costs can be reduced, and the regulators have been accomodating. 

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1607
sent this to my son

My son is paying as he goes to college ( no loans) for a drgeee in business, while he works, He's seen the crash course, ad I knew he'd love this. He knows exactly the sorts of people who would invest in this. He, and my cousin--a venture capitalist--may follow the model with the public buildings getting retrofitted for energy savings via private company tax advantages. Thank you!

On a more general note, I simply loved the optimistic, outside-the-box approach Mr. Koster advocates. Kdos for a great interview, Chris.

treebeard's picture
treebeard
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 18 2010
Posts: 393
Clients

I think things are happening faster at smaller scale, single family level,  where people are building for themselves.  Investors and developers working at a larger scale have their proforma based on conventional income streams and expenses, they tend to be very risk adervse.  Not that investing in sustainable design is remotely risky, it's just not in part of the convention wisdom yet.  There are notable exceptions of course.

Things are changing, but it's all coming from the ground up, not the top down.  Seems the more you have the less you are, the less you have, the more you are.  They kid me, if things get bad, I'm coming to your house, but they don't do a thing with their projects!

westcoastjan's picture
westcoastjan
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 4 2012
Posts: 467
right on!

Way to go Wendy - that is exactly how we will get things done from the ground up. Tapping into the people like your son and his venture capital connections to take these ideas and run with them.

With your son in business school perhaps he (amongst others) can also rub shoulders with the accounting majors to get them on board with trying to help effect changes on the taxation policy side of things. Every person that we can get trying to effect change will be a part of the overall solution.

Thanks!

Jan

Nate's picture
Nate
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: May 5 2009
Posts: 461
night soil

treebeard wrote:

They kid me, if things get bad, I'm coming to your house, but they don't do a thing with their projects!

"I'm coming to your house if TSHTF" is something I here a lot of.  I've promised each of them a job delivering night soil to the farm fields.

msmithic's picture
msmithic
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 10 2013
Posts: 2
Stop Talking and Start Doing it..

One of life frustration is we never get around to doing it. There are always great ideas out there given by "they". You know, "They say....... (fill in the blank)". I live NE outside of Philadelphia, and I am ready to start doing something, If there are any reading this and want to partner with me, let me know. I am interested in Aquaponics, rising fish and vegetables year round. I need investors and/or people to help in the many areas of running a small local farm.

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