Michael Roberts – Creating a Healthy Environment and a Healthy Bottom Line
Michael Roberts is the classic American entrepreneur. The son of hard-working middle class parents, Roberts was educated in the St. Louis public school system. He worked his way through college and law school to become one St. Louis’ leading businessmen and one of the most successful and respected African-American businessmen in the U.S.
As a businessman and public official (Roberts served as a St. Louis alderman from 1977-1985), Roberts has maintained a strong commitment to both his community and the environment. Locating his company headquarters in the heart of the African-American neighborhood in which he was raised, Roberts has created thousands of jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities and preserved numerous St. Louis historic landmarks for future generations. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Michael Roberts is a futurist, an environmentalist, and a capitalist – inclinations that he feels all work in perfect synergy. “I’m looking for where the business opportunities are going to be in the future. If we take the position that we can create quality of life without destroying the planet, there’s money to be made doing that.” He firmly believes in a healthy environment and a healthy bottom line. “My daddy worked for the post office for 39 years. We weren’t rich, we weren’t poor. We just didn’t have any money. Well, you can accomplish a lot more with capital than just by work alone.”
Roberts and his brother, Steven, his partner in an estimated $500 million business empire that encompasses real estate, hotels, broadcast, telecom, entertainment, publishing and aviation holdings, have always been eco-conscious. “We started out building green before anyone knew what LEED was. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Sustainable building was reputed to be more far more expensive than typical construction practices. In our experience, it only added about five percent to our cost, and now, as people become more ecologically conscious, they’re seeking our properties out. ‘Green’ brings another form of green,” he says.
The Roberts brothers are marketing several residential projects that are designed to meet strict standards for environmentally responsible building. Roberts Place Homes consists of 26 new-construction building that make up the largest development of sustainable single-family homes in St. Louis. Built to NAHB Green Home Building guidelines, Roberts Place Homes are constructed of insulated concrete forms and include innovations such as geothermal ground-source heating and cooling, and tankless hot water, with finishes that focus on renewable natural resources.
“What we’re building is the new affordable home. This is what green building is all about. Normal utility bills in homes this size would range from $250-$400 a month. In my homes, your utility cost is $35-65 a month. Money you’d have spent on energy can now be redirected – towards your kids’ education, towards better housing. We feel that for every home we build, we are able to save 7,000 trees. We’re reducing the carbon footprint. Then come the energy credits, the tax savings.
“Eventually we want to blend solar with geothermal heating, or blend solar with battery backup. I’m working with a group of scientists that have the battery technology right now that could ultimately run our homes, schools and factories — but they don’t know to market these ideas, so they brought me in because I’m a business guy.”
This “business guy” recently topped off the first residential high-rise to be built in St. Louis in 40 years, and the first new construction building in downtown St.Louis designed to achieve LEED Gold certification. With an exterior made from energy-efficient glass and insulating concrete, Roberts Tower will feature interior walls, carpet, and countertops made of recycled materials. All appliances will be highly energy efficient. Such ecologically progressive technologies have never been used on this scale in St. Louis.
As our interview came to a close, Michael Roberts touched on his most recent visit with a friend from Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood whose rising career he helped support. “I was at the White House about a month ago,” he said. “President Obama is repositioning the mindset of our political environment. He’s putting forward a sense of community, the idea that we all have to work together, stay targeted, stay focused, so that everybody’s mutual goals can be accomplished.”
Blue Plant Green Living enjoyed a half hour of Mike Roberts’ undivided attention as he was being driven from St. Louis to Memphis to meet with a group of legislators. He broke away briefly to introduce himself to a number of Congresspersons in the same easy, friendly, regular-guy manner that characterized our conversation.
Roberts excused himself from the group of dignitaries and came back to the phone to thank us for the “fine work” we are doing in “educating people about how we ought to treat our planet.” Right on.