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From Flush To Fish



Given that today is Earth Day, I’d like to share the story of how I migrated my career from commercial real estate to a path that took me to where I am today.

The year was 1990, the 20th Anniversary of what is now known the world over as Earth Day. That year, Urban Ecology, an environmental group founded by Richard Register hosted an event called, The First International Eco-City Conference in Berkeley, California.

At the time, I was part of an executive team with a portfolio of nearly $200 million in shopping centers in Southern California. Over the preceding two or three years, I had become interested in the environmental movement, so when I learned that 3,000 people from all over the world would be convening in Berkeley to compare best practices on how to make our cities more sustainable, I told my partners that I would be spending a four-day weekend there to see what I could learn.

I heard many interesting and inspiring stories that weekend. The most inspiring by far was told by an East German delegation. Apparently, they had been able to take their entire apartment block “off the grid,” which I initially assumed meant “off the power grid.” As they continued speaking, they shared that they had also taken themselves off the water/sewer grid with the help of a patented technology that they had licensed from John Todd of the New Alchemy Institute in Cape Cod.

Over the next half-hour or so they described how they were able to take their entire complex’s black water (if you don’t know what that is, look it up!), pump it into the basement (presumably with Pump #2!), and gradually pass it through a series of nine large tanks of water. Each tank contained successively larger species of aquatic flora and fauna.   At the end of the nine-tank run, out emerged fresh drinking water and fully grown tilapia fish, which they then sold at the local farmer’s market to raise a little extra money for the apartment block.    

The moment I heard this story, my whole world went wiggly. At the time, my partners and I were basically living a Joni Mitchell song (“Pave Paradise, Put Up a Parking Lot!”) in Los Angeles. These East Germans were living in an urban setting just as I was, but their spin on living in harmony with their community was totally different than anything I had personally experienced in Southern California.

Long story short, after that weekend I returned to Los Angeles a changed man. I told my partners that I would do one more shopping center with them, after which I’d retire and reboot my career to pursue objectives that were a bit more sustainable than “malling” America.

Over the last two and a half decades of successfully pursuing that new career, I’ve had the privilege of interacting with the energy decision-making of more than three billion square feet of North American real estate.   The insights gleaned during that time form the backbone of many of the workshops we teach today on selling energy solutions more effectively.

Last week I received an email from one of our graduates asking what advice I’d have for young people who are still trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up…or grown-ups who are now realizing that what they thought they wanted to do when they grew up has turned out to be a lot less fulfilling than expected.

Reflecting on the story of that Earth Day way back in 1990, I have half a dozen tips for those folks:

  • Get passionate about something. When I heard about what those East Germans were able to do, despite their very limited financial resources, it became clearer than ever that ingenuity and passion often trump financial resources in accomplishing a goal.
  • Take the time to understand your audience’s values. If you know the yardsticks with which they measure their own success, you’ll find it easier to craft a message that captures their attention.
  • Take the time to reframe the benefits of what you are advocating so that they can be measured by those same yardsticks – and hence, truly appreciated by your audience. For example, it’s a lot easier to “sell” sustainability if you understand (and communicate effectively) how sustainability helps your audience get what it already knows it wants.
  • Learn to communicate effectively. Professionals who know how to speak and write effectively will be better equipped to communicate their dreams. And remember, listening is one of the most important parts of communication.
  • Commit to taking massive action, measuring your results, changing your approach, and taking massive action again. We begin all of our workshops with a simple quote: “Successful people do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do.” Research proves that one can accomplish mastery of virtually any skill by doing it for 10,000 hours. Some might say, “But that will take five years!” Others will realize that 10,000 hours could also be done in two years if you were to invest 5,000 hours a year doing it!
  • Embrace your inner sales professional. Sales is now the second-hardest role to fill in this country, right behind skilled trades. I’m unaware of any college or university that teaches students how to sell. There are sales management courses, but that’s not selling.   Meanwhile, U.S. colleges and universities graduate 89,000 psychology majors each year when there are less than 2,000 job openings each year for psychologists. One might say that a psychology degree is great preparation for selling; however, that’s not the point. One of the reasons my team and I dedicate our lives to teaching professionals how to sell is that we’ve seen this critical void in the workplace. Lack of sales professionals is hindering the economy. And it’s a block on getting worthwhile sustainability initiatives approved!

In closing, let me suggest to any young adult who is passionate about making the world a better place that pursuing a career in professional sales, and then focusing that career on a solutions provider that advances sustainability, could very well be the best thing you could do to achieve your social, environmental and economic goals.

And for all of those professionals seeking to transition to a more interesting and promising career path, realize that the energy industry is a growth industry, and that personally putting your shoulder to the wheel effectively selling the bounty of commercially available solutions that are out there is one of the best ways to participate in advancing industry (and your personal net worth).

We feel so strongly about the power of efficiency-focused professional selling that we’re happy to give a free electronic version of our Wall Street Journal bestseller, Selling Energy: Inspiring Ideas That Get More Projects Approved! to anyone who asks.   Just visit to claim your copy in whatever ebook format works best for you. And by the way, if you have a son or daughter (or a friend or colleague) in need of a bit of career direction, please feel free to forward this blog so that they too can benefit from this free ebook offer.

In the words of Anthony Robbins, the famous motivational coach and speaker, most people spend more time planning a two-week summer vacation than planning their lives. If you’re serious about leveraging your interests and skills to create true value in the energy field – a field where the workforce is typically long on passion and short on communication skills – then take the time to download a copy of this book and read it. As was the case with me, a decision you make today on Earth Day might just change your life.

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Posted by Mark Jewell