EXCLUSIVE: What famed activist Erin Brockovich has to say to real estate industry – Charlotte Business Journal

Erin Brockovich believes the whole country is amid a ‘Me Too’ moment — but it’s not limited to the movement against sexual assault and harassment.

Rather, she said, there’s a reckoning across many industries, levels of government and communities to bring about change on a grassroots level, instead of sitting back and hoping someone else fixes it. Brockovich, an environmental activist who successfully built a case against Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in the 1990s after discovering groundwater contamination in Hinkley, Calif., will be in Charlotte later this month as the keynote speaker of an event hosted by the local chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women, or CREW.

Since winning the lawsuit against PG&E, Brockovich has worked as a consultant in communities across the country on environmental issues, including in North Carolina. Locally, she has been involved in the controversy surrounding contamination from coal-ash ponds at Duke Energy plants and, she said Monday, there still remain "environmental issues big time" in North Carolina that she continues to monitor.

To those who work in real estate, Brockovich charges property owners to work actively with their local government.

But it’s not limited to those who own real estate, she continued — everyone from developers to general contractors to real estate agents should be in constant communication with their city council about issues they’re seeing firsthand and propose solutions that could be effective to solve a problem.

"We wait for blanket federal or state guidelines when so much of it starts at that local city council level," Brockovich continued. "Oftentimes, we give up and go away. Don’t. Keep pushing forward. Eventually, the squeaky wheel gets the oil."

Brockovich said, as one example, there’s often concern with the impact of commercial and residential property values if there’s an environmental or other issue going on in proximity to a development or an existing home. But instead of addressing the problem head-on or being transparent, Brockovich said, some are tempted to push it aside for fear of the repercussions or negative impacts on values.

She prescribes a set of guidelines called RAM — Realization, Assessment and Motivation — and often gives a home analogy when it comes to thinking about accountability and responsibility.

"You appraise your home, you come in and that home needs to be upgraded or repaired — you do that and the value goes back up," she said. "That’s the exact same thing we can do on a broader scale in the real estate world. Let’s be open and have a conversation."

Brockovich, who is working on a fourth book expected to be out sometime next year, said she’s studied several communities in which a few residents of a town or city noticed something going on — in Brockovich’s experience, it’s typically relating to water safety and quality — and got together to effect change within local government.

In many of the case studies, Brockovich said, an individual or small group of people leveraged social media to garner support or to spread knowledge about an issue to build exposure and support. Some concerned citizens ran for council, won and introduced referendums that ultimately passed to change standards for water quality and safety. She said that same type of movement can be applied to any industry as can be leveraged by both private residents and business owners.

"It’s carrying the torch and empowering yourself for change for what might be occurring in your backyard," Brockovich said. "Real estate is a big deal for all of us — whether you own a home or you own a business. When you find out something is wrong, it’s a huge domino effect on the economy. So let’s deal with it."

CREW Charlotte’s event featuring Brockovich will be from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. on May 15 at The Westin, 601 S. College St., in uptown.

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