Why this sustainability-focused real estate developer is taking a cue from Steve Jobs

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A Portland home developed by Green Canopy. (Green Canopy Photo)

Green Canopy doesn’t fit neatly into one box. It’s an innovator but not a tech company. It’s an environmental organization but not a nonprofit. It’s a high-end real estate developer and manager of multimillion investment funds with an ethos rooted in sustainability and affordability.

The Seattle-based company manages those apparent paradoxes by emulating another innovator who thought outside the box: Steve Jobs.

Green Canopy CEO Aaron Fairchild brought up the former Apple CEO often and enthusiastically when GeekWire caught up with him last week about the company’s latest funding. He likened Jobs’ vision for the iPhone — a revolutionary pocket computer for under $600 — to Green Canopy’s efforts to make affordable, net-zero energy homes.

“They said, we have to deliver an iPhone at this price even though the embedded costs are much greater,” Fairchild explained. “So how are we going to do that? We look at that net-zero energy home through the same lens [and] we’ve developed more net-zero energy homes … than any other builder in Seattle. We’ve doubled the amount of net-zero energy homes sold in Seattle and Portland.”

Green Canopy CEO Aaron Fairchild.

Green Canopy is a for-profit homebuilder that develops residential properties in Seattle and Portland. The so-called “net-zero energy” homes produce enough power through solar panels and efficient systems to offset their energy consumption.

The company secured $5 million of an $11 million funding round this month, bringing its total corporate equity to $12.5 million. Green Canopy also manages real estate investment funds. Fairchild would not disclose who its investors are but said there are 68 individual shareholders.

Green Canopy plans to use the funds to open up the platform it uses to manage the building process to other real estate developers in the coming months. The platform is geared toward builders of affordable and middle-income housing, Fairchild said.

Of course, affordability is a relative. Green Canopy is working to bring down the costs of sustainably-built homes, which are pricey. A Green Canopy home in Seattle’s trendy Capitol Hill neighborhood sold for $743,750 in July.

Green Canopy’s overhead is much higher than other builders but Fairchild said the company is able to offset costs by removing inefficiencies throughout the development lifecycle.

“We look for fragmented marketplaces. When there’s lots of fragmentation that equals inefficiency in a system,” Fairchild said, noting that in Seattle urban real estate development, “we’ve been managing projects the same way forever and we haven’t gotten serious about process improvement.”

In addition to leading Green Canopy, Fairchild consults community organizations on real estate issues and sits on Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Middle Income Housing Commission.

Other similar companies in Seattle include modular housing startup Blokable, which just raised a $23 million, and Node, which builds prefabricated energy-efficient homes.

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