Poems and notes of encouragement torn from desktop daily calendars are pinned to the bookshelf above the computer monitor. "Attitude." "Never give up." "Eat the frog–the rest of your day will be much better." Even a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald about finding hope in the hopeless adorns the office space. Above the daily affirmations, architectural books like Design With Climate and Why Buildings Fall Down share shelf space with three-ring white binders filled with state tax code and building ordinances. Pete Cooper is in front of his computer, unassuming wire-frame glasses perched on the end of his nose, working on a financing spreadsheet for a commercial PV installation. Hand-drawn sketches on yellow legal paper of a trellis and retaining walls needed for the high-rise rooftop solar installation are spread across his desk. He is in his element.
Pete Cooper cut his teeth in the world of real estate development working for corporate giants, but found something lacking, even detrimental, in their unending push to build without regard for future consequences. In 2006, he founded Cooper & Cooper, a real estate development firm focusing on projects with components of sustainability. Shortly thereafter, he started up Sun Energy Solutions with co-owner Jeff Nagashima, to complete his vision of sustainable development by creating usable spaces that create energy.
"Growth is going forward, but how do you take care of that need while taking care of the land?" says Cooper. "You have to do both and not many people are in the mindset of straddling both, to be part of solution on both contingents. That's the foundation of the businesses."
With a degree in finance and real estate, Cooper isn't afraid to boast that he's a capitalist, but tempers that with his personal mission to take care of the land in an environmentally conscious manner. In addition to taking on his own business ventures, as president of the Hawai'i Developers Council in 2006 he saw the need to address sustainable development within the community and formed the council's Sustainability Committee in 2007. His work to promote sustainable development did not go unnoticed, and he was appointed by Governor Linda Lingle to sit on the state's Environmental Council, which is concerned with matters in ecology and environmental quality.
Cooper's sister companies have evolved with the synergy of a talented, like-minded team, including LEED AP and Certified Green Professional Architect Steve Anderson and a handful of Cooper's dedicated relatives, from brother and sister to his own daughter. With a broad skill set of building from the ground up, Cooper classifies himself as not just a PV guy, but also a builder who has learned to incorporate PV into design and structure.
As much as Cooper enjoys the process of building, he leans on his experience in tax code and law, finding his true talent and joy on the finance side of the project, plugging numbers into a unique spreadsheet and proprietary software he developed to analyze all facets of a particular job–electricity, PV system size, property value, tax ramifications and loans. He uses the information to give his customers building and installation options to create capital as well as a more sustainable Hawai'i.
"If you understand tax law, then you understand how to make the best deal," explains Cooper. "Some guys are selling kilowatts. We're not in the business of selling kilowatts, we're in the business of creating cash flow for people by understanding what their particular tax ramifications are and then designing a system that serves them. We don't have to sacrifice quality because we're not constrained to get the last nickel off the table to win the bid. We can serve people much more effectively."
In addition to residential and commercial projects, Cooper's companies have teamed up with the non-profit organization Malama Learning Center to manage the overall development of the entire program. The building, which is a teacher in itself, will be constructed adjacent to Kapolei High School in West O'ahu as an educational extension to the students and a place of community outreach. According to LEED AP Architect Steve Anderson, they are hoping to finish up permitting and break ground on the first of two phases of development in October 2010.
When Cooper's eyes aren't focused on construction documents or spread sheets, he finds himself absorbed at home in his aquaponic garden, his latest pursuit. In fact, he recently made a trip to the Big Island for an aquaponic gardening seminar. Chances are Pete Cooper isn't keeping his newfound knowledge locked up in the backyard, but instead is working on way to incorporate personal food production into his model of sustainable building.