Episode #96: Female Entrepreneurship & Sustainability with Carolyn Pistone
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This week Caterina is joined by friend of the planet and certified green business owner, Carolyn Pistone. Carolyn explains the importance of sustainability in business, how entrepreneurs can work to certify their business as a B-Corp, and ways business owners can improve the ecological footprint their businesses leave behind. If you’re looking for a guide on becoming a more environmentally-friendly, socially-responsible, green business, this is an episode you will not want to miss!
Carolyn is a committed Earthling dedicated to saving the planet using her real estate license! She is the President and Managing Director at Clear Blue Commercial. Clear Blue Commercial is the ONLY commercial real estate firm to be a certified Green Business, a certified Small Business, a certified Woman-Owned Business, AND a B-Corp. We support the many other businesses that will join our ranks and we are proud to be leading the way.
She has held various senior positions in the entertainment, real estate, and hi-tech industries. In addition, she serves on the Environmental Committee of the Sonoma County Alliance, the Climate Action 2020 Stakeholders Advisory Group, former President of the Board of Trustees for the Petaluma Community Foundation, and a founding board member of 100 Sonoma People Who Care. She is a proud REALTOR®, EcoBroker®, and Certified Green Building Professional®. These experiences have inspired me to work to build a supportive, innovative, and collaborative environment for clients, team members, and, yes, even the planet, to thrive.
She has dedicated herself to greening every property that we touch, helping to stabilize distressed assets, and to maximizing positive impact from commercial real estate to our clients’ bottom line, the communities the property serves, and the planet as a whole. We interface with large scale institutional investors, multinational corporations, as well as researching multiple incentives, programs, and grants that allow green investments to be even more impactful to the triple bottom line: people, planet, AND profit. As you know, the greenest building is one that is already built, so we have specialized in reducing energy costs and carbon emissions, while increasing indoor air quality, tenant satisfaction and community involvement.
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Expand Your Fempire Podcast #96 Transcript
Female Entrepreneurship & Sustainability with Carolyn Pistone
Welcome to Expand your Fempire with Caterina Rando, the podcast for women in business on a mission. Sharing ideas to support you to grow and thrive. Now here’s your host, Caterina Rando.
[00:00:00] Caterina Rando: Welcome back to another episode of the Expand Your Fempire Podcast. I’m your host Caterina Rando, and I am blissing because today I have one of my favorite people on the planet, a friend of the planet Carolyn Pistone. Carolyn is a woman who says “you know what? I’m using my real estate license to uplift the planet”. She is a certified green business, a certified woman owned business, she is a B Corp, and she has an amazing organization of property management supporting other building owners, managers, to eliminate their carbon footprint, to upgrade their green business practices. Carolyn we’re blessing to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us.
[00:01:22] Carolyn Pistone: Thank you. I am blissing to be here and thank you for that lovely introduction. I’m going to take you with me wherever I go and have you introduce me.
[00:01:30] Caterina Rando: Carolyn. The first thing I always like to talk about, tell us a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey. How did you get from the beginning of your career to where you are now?
[00:01:40] Carolyn Pistone: We should probably ask younger people that question cause it’s a kind of a long story. My career in its current incarnation did not start until I was well into my thirties. So I’ve had all kinds of other things that I did. I was an actress. I was a stand up comic. I used to teach traffic school. I gutted fish in a canning factory one summer. And I was a lifeguard for a lot of years and a camp counselor and all that fun stuff. Through a number of different incarnations, I was going to film school where I was getting my master’s in directing for theater, film, and television. And I got a job for the summer, they call it production assistant but it’s basically just a gopher. I was getting ready to leave to make my masters film, and I set up for the staff meeting and got all the snacks and everything. And the person who was the production manager got up at the meeting and announced that she was giving her two weeks notice, she was going to go to a competitor. She’d been poached. The person who ran the studio was pretty volatile in general, as is not unusual in Hollywood. And he said “you know, you don’t need to give two weeks notice, why don’t you just pack your stuff and go now”. And he turned to me and said “her job is yours if you want it”. And I was like ” yes, I want it!” Looking back now it was actually really smart that he did that, because first of all, he already knew that I would work for $8 an hour because that’s what I was doing. The industry was so new at that point that they weren’t even teaching what we did in any school. So it wasn’t like he was going to be able to go steal somebody from somewhere else. And it was a nice opportunity for him to, you know, give her a slap in the face on the way out the door. So I came in the next day and said “okay, what is it we do here?” And I discovered that even though computers followed right behind me my whole way through school — I went off to college with my IBM Selectric typewriter and thought I was like way ahead of the game– and I discovered that next day that all of IT reported to me.
[00:03:42] Caterina Rando: Oh my gosh!
[00:03:43] Carolyn Pistone: And that we were a technology based company. My IT systems administrator basically took me around and pointed under the desk and said “this is a hard drive and this is a monitor and this is a keyboard and then here’s how we do what we do here”. So it was a real crash course. The thing is everybody else on staff was at the meeting when that happened, so they all knew I didn’t know anything. It was some really good management education right there, because I had to learn fast and start contributing right away, because I knew I had no confidence of any of the other people there. I was well-liked, but that’s because I was really good at knowing who liked what snacks. And I ended up getting poached by a competitor about a year later, and through a weird series of events, two years later I was the head of operations for Dreamworks during their first two years. I found myself building the first new movie studio in Hollywood in 75 years. And that was an amazing, fantastic experience. I learned much more in that two year period than I did during my whole masters. When I left that job, I realized that I was integral in a 5 billion dollar startup company. And one of the things that happened that was my greatest education there was, I got the job, and they came to me in November and said “we need you to submit an operating budget for the next year.” I remember going home with my husband, my brand new husband, and saying “I gotta do this thing. I don’t know.” And he goes “well, how much do you think it’s gonna be?” And I was like, ” I don’t know!” He goes “more than a million?” And I was like “well, definitely more than a million.” He goes ” more than a hundred million?” I go “probably not.” But somewhere between 1 million and a hundred million. And the thing that was great about that is that I got to sit down with all the top leaders in the company and find out how they were going to do what they were going to do, who they were going to hire, how many people that would take, how much office space would that take. You know, we were serving everybody lunch every day at nine different locations and all these different things. I learned so much about how they were going to build their part of the business. Because it was a startup. So I submitted the budget and went “thank goodness I never had to worry about that again.” And then in January they hired a CFO. And in February, she sent me a memo asking for a variance report on my budget.
[00:06:20] Caterina Rando: Ok, what’s a variance report?
[00:06:22] Carolyn Pistone: That’s what I said! Like what’s a variance report? I don’t know. So a variance report basically shows what you actually spent versus what you said you were going to spend for the previous month. And you have to explain yourself, why is it different? I didn’t know what I was doing is not a proper answer. And after doing that for a year, what I discovered is I learned so much about how businesses in general run and how money flows and how real estate works, because everything has to happen in a place. It was the best education I could have. So as soon as I left there, I started consulting because it was the beginning of the dot com boom. And a lot of people that I had worked with previously were starting their own companies. And I was able to come in and be their start-up consultants, help them find a place to be, et cetera. After a couple of years, I ended up getting recruited by one of my clients which was a big startup company that ended up going the way of Enron and WorldCom. I got to experience the entire life cycle of a public company in the space of a year. I was literally the last person out the door in California. So when I started there, we were building, we were remodeling, we were hiring people, we were growing really, really quickly. And then all of a sudden we would have layoffs every Friday and I was dealing with the landlord. And I didn’t realize that every time you lay off somebody on your staff, you have to do their job. There was one Friday where there was a guy who found out that he was one of the layoffs because his name was on the cake. It got so crazy, and there were fewer and fewer people to actually do things, that the guy walked in, he goes “oh, I guess it’s me this week.” And then he’s like, ” I can’t believe the bakery knew I was losing my job before I did.”
[00:08:17] So after the end, my last two paychecks bounced. They took money out of our paychecks and never paid our benefits providers, so after everybody was losing their jobs, they were saying “you know, we know you had a kidney transplant, but hmm you know, you’re going to have to find a way to pay for it yourself. Or those twins your wife just had, not going to college.” It was really, really rough. And this was before there were any laws in place, so that everybody was taxed on the value of their shares at the time their shares were awarded and worth nothing. So then people lost their homes, they lost everything. It was awful. So I went home and thought, “well, you know, I was consulting before, I’ll just consult again,” but the whole landscape had completely changed. And I did not want to be the downsizing expert, even though I was one. And so I thought maybe I’ll go get a real estate broker’s license since I’ve been passing myself off as this real estate expert, you know, maybe I can do that somehow. So I went and I did that. I got a job in my local real estate office. And I spent my weekends sitting in empty condos, baking one cookie at a time And if it’s not a busy listing, you end up eating the whole batch. And I had a really bad attitude about it. And I came home and I was whining to my husband about it, and he sat me down and said “what’s your problem? You think this is beneath you, don’t you?” And I was like “well, yeah! I mean I used to be head of operations for a big movie studio and I was real important and I did all this stuff.” And he was like “well, get over yourself. It’s not been easy. This is good clean work. And the fact is that this license does not define you. It’s just another tool in your toolbox. And you’re always saying how you want to save the world and save the planet and do all this stuff, well do it.
[00:10:17] Caterina Rando: Did he encourage you to start your own company?
[00:10:20] Carolyn Pistone: He was always encouraging me to start my own company and because he really wanted to have a family business. And I didn’t come from that background, nor frankly is there anybody in my family that I would do business with. So I got a number of corporate jobs and I ended up getting recruited by Cushman and Wakefield’s, which is a huge company. And I ended up being the head of Southern California operations for them. And they were interested in me more for my movie studio experience than the real estate experience. But it was a great marriage of both of those things. And then I ended up going to another company and moving back to the Bay Area with my family. And I got recruited by CVRE to open an office for them in Petaluma, where I live. And they had been a client of mine so they knew me.
[00:11:11] And it was great. This was during the big recession, 2008, 2009, and so there were a whole lot of commercial buildings that were in foreclosure. And so they brought me in to build a team and then manage those properties. I had such a good team and we did such a good job that all of the properties that we were managing leased up and sold, and CVRE called me up and said “thank you so much, Carolyn, we’re going to close your office.” And that’s when I went home to Marty and I said “what if I kept it open?” And we’ve never looked back.
[00:11:53] Caterina Rando: And that was how many years ago? And Marty is in business with you, right?
[00:11:56] Carolyn Pistone: Yes. Marty said “I’m on board.” And I said, well, you’re going to have to get a real estate license. And he did, a couple of years later, but he did. It’s been a rollercoaster, but it’s been great. We have a great team. We have great clients, we’re in great communities and we’re getting to do great work. This is now the longest job I’ve ever had, and we’ve been in it for 10 years. We just bought a new headquarters that I’m sitting in now. And I come in here every morning going “I love it here.” So that’s been really wonderful. It’s really nice too, because when I was in corporate America, I found myself sitting in big rooms a lot of the time going “I could do this so much better,” and now I have a chance to do it my way, and do it in the way that I think business should be done and do it in a way that is adding value to the planet, to the community, to our clients.
[00:12:51] Caterina Rando: And can you say a little bit, Carolyn, about the initiatives that you started at your company, and the initiatives that you started in your client’s companies?
[00:13:00] Carolyn Pistone: Yes, absolutely. When I’m talking to wonderful like-minded people like yourself, I always lead with the fact that we’re a certified green business, and a woman owned business, and a B Corp, and we’re saving the planet using our real estate licenses. Everybody gets it. What I’m finding with clients is that even though our clients are all wonderful people who love the earth, they think that green is more expensive, which is hilarious to me because the alternative is devastation and starvation and drought and fire storm and no potable water and all these other things. Sustainability more than pays for itself. Creating a sustainable and resilient future, business can be the primary driver of that. I have been involved in some community and municipal committees where I came in and I was like, “here’s what we can do,” and basically got a lot of cold water thrown on me because I realized that this is something that moves at a much slower pace.
[00:14:09] Caterina Rando: How about with your client companies? Are they more receptive to embrace green business practices?
[00:14:16] Carolyn Pistone: I kind of sneak up on them, to tell you the truth. The hardest thing for me is to convince clients that there is such a thing as a win-win situation. So I get a lot of my clients by being not always the lowest bidder, but being close to the lowest bidder, so that they get that I understand what their needs are. For instance recently, I did, three years into a 10 year contract as a subcontractor for the state of California. And was able to go in there and do the management and then collect the rent and pay the bills and all this sort of thing. But I was able to put a hundred thousand square foot solar array on their roof that saved them 25% a year in their electricity bills. And that translates to about a quarter million dollars a year that it’s saving them with no money out of their pocket. You’re welcome taxpayers in the state of California. Didn’t cost me anything. Didn’t cost the landlord anything. Didn’t cost my client anything. All it did was provide cleaner, cheaper energy from day one. So it’s really hard for a client to say to me “well, green is more expensive and get away with it, because I’ve got the data to prove it. Starting back in 2015, we were doing turf conversions where you take out the lawn and the sprinklers and you put in drip systems and drought tolerant landscaping and mulch. We ended up doing seven of them in the course of two years. And today we have saved, just in Petaluma alone, 15 million gallons of water.
[00:15:59] Caterina Rando: That’s a lot of water, that’s great.
[00:16:01] Carolyn Pistone: Yeah it’s a lot of water. And the thing is once you do a conversion like that, it continues to save money every year. So we’re now amassing more data that we’re able to show our clients. And it’s funny to me because the clients that sign up with us, they get real excited about it. They sign with us and then they’re like “but we don’t want any of that green stuff.” They feel really excited about it during the bidding process. And then all of a sudden they’re like, they get real scared of it, cause they’re convinced it’s going to cost them money. Part of why we’re different than any other company that’s going to manage your properties is that we go out there and we figure out how to get you green, cheaper energy, how to save you water, how to add amenities like EV charging stations to your properties, without out of pocket from the client. It becomes something that can attract and retain tenants. For instance, if we put in four EV charging stations at your building and it’s identical to four other buildings in the same business park, and you’re a tenant that’s trying to retain employees, and you have a choice between working in a building that essentially has a free gas station or one that doesn’t and same price. And if we’re able to do other energy saving things in the same building, like doing LED conversion, maybe even do solar panels, do some more creative things with air conditioning and that sort of thing, we find the drop in energy usage more than offsets the increase in energy usage by the EV charging stations. And everybody’s able to charge up their car. And who knows what the next technology will be in, you know, coming down the road that I’ll find a way to be a guinea pig for.
[00:17:42] Caterina Rando: Carolyn, this is great. You’re doing some great work. You’re making a difference in your community. For our listeners, what greening their business super tips can you give them that they could get started on right now, that we haven’t talked about yet?
[00:17:58] Carolyn Pistone: Well first of all, one of the things that was very helpful to me is because I knew I wanted to differentiate myself in this way, I went ahead and signed up for the Bay Area Green Business Program, and there’s different ones in different counties, and I signed up for the Sonoma county one. Going through that process gives you all kinds of tips about it. And there is no cost to go through that process. There’s little stuff that seems like a no brainer but you forget, like print on two-sided paper. You’re gonna say half the paper by doing that, unless like me, you forgot that you printed it and you end up printing it twice. But little things like that. Also, you know, using scratch paper, or going paperless. It’s not unheard of now, everybody uses electronic document signing and all that kind of thing. It wasn’t happening when we first got started. And what I found with that is not only does it save paper and printing and all that other stuff, it saves a lot of time. Because people will click a lot quicker than they will sign, and people will read something off of their computer or their phone and digest it a lot quicker than if you hand them four copies and a blue pen to go through and go through and go through. It increases efficiency, it decreases vacancy in my case. So doing a lot of those really basic things, switching to LED lighting from compact fluorescent or incandescent is huge. And it’s actually nicer lighting, uses a ton less energy, and the bulbs last for 20 years. In a campus like the one that I have in Sacramento, we spend probably about $5,000 a year just on light bulbs. Not only do you have to buy the bulbs, but then you have to pay to dispose of the bulbs that are burnt out. It’s also a lot of labor. I’ve got a guy that probably spends 20 hours a week just changing lightbulbs, which is a waste of his engineering degree, and a waste of time and money and energy. So what we’ve started to do is change those out and use led bulbs, which upfront are more expensive, but once we’re done, we only have to change it for 20 years and our electricity bill just drops.
[00:20:20] Caterina Rando: Carolyn, one of the things that you’ve talked about, now we only have time to wet everybody’s whistle today about what is a B Corp, why you did it and why would a company want to be a B Corp?
[00:20:35] Carolyn Pistone: Having just gone through my third certification, I can think of a lot of reasons why a company will not want to because it is a cumbersome process. A B Corp first of all, is a certification and a designation. It’s not like you just pay your fee and they send you a thing. They really look at you with a microscope. But one of the things that you have to do in order to be a B Corp is you have to commit to greater positive impact than just return to your stakeholders or to shareholders. So it’s gotta be about more than money. So you have to prove that you’re treating your staff well, that you’re working on diversity, equity, and inclusion, that you are trying to have positive environmental impact that you are active in your community. They look at everything. For us, it’s a way of living our values and walking our talk. And I’m very excited, cause when we were first certified in 2014, I think the court number about 1900 worldwide. And we have just surpassed 5,000 B Corp companies worldwide. And many of them are in the North Bay, so I’m particularly proud of that, that we’re in a real good community here that really supports the B Corp movement. And it’s allowed me to do business with other B Corps. It’s also been a source of fellowship and sisterhood and social activism that has really made me and all employees know and understand that we’re part of something much bigger, that is making the world a better place. You know, I go to bed happy every night because of that.
[00:22:17] Caterina Rando: For any B Corp, the company must focus on people, planet, and profit. And then you have to prove it, which is how you become a certified B Corp. And this is definitely something, anyone that cares about green, that cares about their people, wants to look into.
[00:22:37] Carolyn, we could talk all day. You’ve got a lifetime supply of value and wisdom to bring any final thoughts for any women in business who want to keep thriving and soaring even more.
[00:22:50] Carolyn Pistone: Have fun. Absolutely. This is fun. If you get to do whatever you want to do, you better be having fun, because if you’re not having fun, you’re not serving yourself or your clients. And so really embrace how much fun this really is. And I have to say, Caterina, I have really looked to you as an example. First of all, you told me to be loud and proud, which has really helped me in my business. But also I look at how much fun you’re having and how much fun you are spreading, and how we’re blissing, and how I get candy in the mail and fascinators and sashes and scents and stuff. And this is fun stuff. I mean, it’s good for your business and it’s good for your clients, but it’s a way to enjoy your work, cause we spend most of our time at our work. And if you’re going to be loud and proud and bold enough to have your own business, make sure you’re having fun.
[00:23:46] Caterina Rando: That’s great advice for everyone here to listen to. Thank you Carolyn so much for being with us today on the Expand Your Fempire Podcast. Everybody green your business, have more fun, consider becoming a B Corp so that you can serve more people and uplift more lives. Bing bing bing, we’ll be with you next time. Love to you. Thank you.
We hope you enjoyed this episode of Expand Your Fempire with Caterina Rando.