Hunting for Green Money

IN THIS SERIES, LOCAL SUN PROFILES LIKE-MINDED BUSINESS OWNERS IN THE HOUSTON AREA. With Green Money Search, Natalie Campos Goodman finds money for Texas businesses looking to go green.

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg

Natalie Campos Goodman couldn’t breathe in Shanghai.

In Texas, her asthma wasn’t a problem. But while living and working in Asia’s largest city, Goodman carried bottles of medicine with her wherever she went. She didn’t stray far from air purifiers, and she coached co-workers on how to help with her inhaler in an emergency. She only ventured outside on days when the air quality wasn’t at its worst.

“I hated it,” says Goodman, who grew up in San Antonio and moved to Houston two years ago for work. “The medicine’s side effects were awful, and I still couldn’t breathe. Pollution levels were unbelievable. The experience really caused a huge stir within me.”

Natalie Campos Goodman

Goodman was working as a consultant for a global engineering company, advising an oil and gas corporation in Asia on how to make their multi-million-dollar design projects more sustainable. She spent over a year in Shanghai, and returned to Houston in the summer of 2015.

“It really got me thinking,” she says. “When I came back, I could have picked up and kept doing what I was doing. Instead, I started talking to everyone I knew about ways to go green.”

A 99.9% Failure Rate

Goodman, now the co-founder of Green Money Search, helps home owners, builders and developers reduce the cost of going green by connecting them to government incentives.

Green Money Search is currently the only comprehensive database in the U.S. of incentives for sustainably-focused new builds and existing building upgrades. Goodman helps clients find “green money,” see if they’re eligible and apply for the incentives. She then connects them to professionals who can help with their project.

When Goodman first started talking with clients about going green, most told her it would cost too much. What they didn’t understand, she says, is that the small, upfront cost pays off in the long term. That’s what she needed to drive home. One client with a small medical office in San Antonio asked Goodman to help her incorporate green practices into her office.

“I said, ‘what if I find and apply for incentives for you? Will you make these changes?’ She said yes. Now, I had a way to open the door to a conversation about going green.”

Not long after, Goodman realized no comprehensive database of government incentives existed. She would start one, she decided, despite the odds. She knew nine out of ten start-ups fail, and the odds are higher for women and for minorities.

“The stats were telling me I had something like a 99.9% failure rate,” she says. “But I went for it.” And, last year, Green Money Search was born.

More Than Mother Earth

Goodman comes to sustainability from a design background. She studied environmental design in school, dabbled in architecture and then pivoted to work at the Johnson Space Center, helping create a cost-effective way to reorganize the campus. “I fell in love with reuse, with renovating to fit new needs,” she says.

From there, she moved on to another one of Houston’s premiere institutions, the Texas Medical Center. In one project, she helped create a space for surgeons learning how to use robotic technologies. She also helped with disaster recovery work after Katrina, and worked on sustainability projects in the United Arab Emirates and South Korea for two years.

For now, Goodman is focusing Green Money Search solely on Texas. She hopes to scale it, state by state, and eventually internationally. For residential clients, she works primarily with home owners’ associations, though individual homeowners can conduct a free search for incentives on the site.

In a recent project, a client—an existing elderly care center in Austin—wanted to add solar panels to its roof. Goodman helped identify incentive savings of nearly $450,000.

“Going green isn’t just about saving Mother Earth,” she says. “There’s a cost savings. And, it’s also better for us. Green materials are typically healthier for building occupants.”

A Meeting with Mayor Turner

Goodman is often asked, “how can I help?” and she’s quick to offer ideas. A friend, who also loves the beach, likes to drink out of plastic straws. Goodman showed the friend a movie about plastic straws and how they contribute to pollution in our oceans. She suggested alternatives—paper or silicon straws, or giving up straws altogether. “I asked her, ‘can you make this one small change?’ And she dropped the plastic straw habit.”

Other small changes might include buying a brand of trash bags that’s more degradable, or purchasing clothing and toys made out of more natural materials. “Throwing things away doesn’t mean they go away,” she says. “We have to be very conscious of recycling. We have to think about how we’re buying things, what we really need.”

Her biggest hope is to soon be able to present data from Green Money Search to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. She knows Houstonians are interested in going green, but the resources just aren’t there. Houston has fallen behind other Texas cities like Austin, Dallas and San Antonio when it comes to offering local green incentives, she says. On greenmoneysearch.com, Houstonians can click on “I Want More Green” to log their desire to see more green incentives in their area.

“I want a list,” Goodman says, “to be able to say, ‘do you know that x number of home owners and commercial building owners in your district are interested in solar, and you’re not offering local incentives?’”

Houston has to step it up, she says. “We need to be need to be more conscious of how we’re designing and building, and, to encourage more sustainable development, we need to be competitive against other Texas cities that are offering local incentives. We’re here to help Houston do the same.”