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Local firm working toward a greener D.C.

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Local gay businessman Joe Andronaco said his sexual orientation was never an issue in the workplace. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Ask someone how to save the earth from ourselves and you likely will get a range of advice. Trade your gas-guzzler in for a fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle, or better yet, an electric car. Attach solar panels to the roof of your home and use them to wean your house off of non-renewable resources. Invest in tree replanting efforts.

Local gay businessman Joe Andronaco has a less expensive, though admittedly less sexy suggestion that he says will not only have a greater collective environmental impact, but will also end up saving you money before too long: have your home inspected for energy inefficiencies, and take steps to address those inefficiencies.

“Conservation is something that doesn’t require new technologies or a major investment,” said Andronaco. And with an estimated 75 percent of the city’s carbon emissions coming from building energy use, the potential environmental benefit “is huge.”

Andronaco not only sees value in conservation, he also believes there is a good business opportunity there. Last year, he helped launch a company called Access Green, which conducts home energy audits in the greater Washington area. The company’s base product, the knowledge audit, provides homeowners with valuable information about their home – where air is coming into the house, which appliances are creating dangerous chemical emissions, and how their energy consumption stacks up against comparable dwellings, to name but a few of the items addressed in the audit.

“One of the biggest issues with green,” observed Andronaco, “is follow through. You can talk green all you want but are you going to get it done?”

For those who choose the company’s premium product, the fulfillment audit, Access Green technicians will come to your home and make some of the repairs and upgrades recommended in the knowledge audit, from changing out HVAC filters to caulking windows and doors. It is this marriage of green advice and implementation that Andronaco says sets his company apart as an innovator.

“We come with a trades knowledge to green,” said Andronaco. “We know how to practically do the things that will achieve the savings. There are lots of inexpensive, couple-hundred-dollar items that can save you thousands.”

Access Green is part of a larger corporation called USA Technologies, a $12 million business that Andronaco has led since 2003. The well-known local commercial heating and air conditioning company Argent, which received the Angie’s List Super Service Award for the past two years, is also part of USA.

“We really take a whole house approach to the way we do systems,” explained Andronaco. “Before you do something like put a new heating or air conditioning system into your home, you really need to do a whole house analysis.”

Access Green is the first company that Andronaco himself has launched, along with lawyer David Julyan and environmental lobbyist Sam Brooks, known by many locally for his spirited attempts a few years ago to win a seat on the D.C. City Council. Brooks and Julyan are principals of 360 Green, a firm that markets green knowledge and services to the business community.

Andronaco was born in Caracas to a Venezuelan mother and an American father. The family moved to Miami when Andronaco was eight and he lived there until going to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to get a degree in history. He got his start in business while working for local utility giant Washington Gas. After leaving D.C. briefly to get his MBA from the Wharton School of Business, which he received with honors, Andronaco came back to D.C. and again worked for Washington Gas before leaving to pursue his dream of being an entrepreneur.

Though Andronaco has been openly gay since his days at business school, his sexual orientation isn’t something that he trumpets in the workplace. So imagine Andronaco’s surprise when his mentor, USA founder Mike Berard, an elderly, staunchly Republican, Vietnam veteran he befriended while working at Washington Gas, called Andronaco into his office to discuss Andronaco’s “lifestyle.”

“He goes, ‘I’m not going to have someone run my business and be in a closet.’ I said, ‘Mike, some people might be offended.’ He said, ‘I don’t give a shit. If they have a problem, I’ll fire them.’”

Aside from one of the company’s top salesmen expressing misgivings about how company morale would fare with a gay man in charge, a line of questioning that Berard quickly shut down, Andronaco said he has received zero negative reaction in the workplace.

“Most people thought that especially these sort of roughneck good ‘ole boy electricians and HVAC guys would have issues, but they don’t,” said Andronaco. “People are multi-faceted and you can’t take them for caricatures that are created by the media and even by ourselves.”

The 43 year old is quick to stress that being gay is just one facet of who he is, and he is extremely active in the wider community. He sits on several local boards of directors, including Goodwill and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington, and is active with the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund as well. He is also on the D.C. Mayor’s Green Collar Jobs Advisory Council and the Sustainable Energy Utility advisory board, which partners with the D.C. Council to administer sustainable energy programs. In 2008, he was recognized by the Washington Business Journal with a Greater Washington Minority Business Leader Award.

A proud D.C. resident, Andronaco lives with his partner in the Northwest neighborhood of Crestwood. Their 1925 Dutch colonial home doubles as a training and demonstration facility for his company. Earlier this week, in fact, Andronico’s colleagues at Argent used his house to demonstrate how to install programmable thermostats.

Andronaco is also a strong supporter of the city and he sees expansion of the green economy as a way to boost the District’s tax base and address its high unemployment rate. He made a conscious choice to base Access Green in the District, along the H Street corridor in Northeast, and said he likewise makes a point of hiring city residents.

Access Green conducted more than 200 home energy audits last year. According to Sara Loveland, who left her job at D.C. Greenworks last year to be Access Green’s chief operating officer, 2010 is already off to a strong start.

The company is working with the Corcoran on its green roof and recently it scored a contract with the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative to be the sole provider of home energy audits for SMECO clients in Prince George’s and Calvert counties. They are also busy supporting legislation before the D.C. Council right now that would simplify funding options for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy products.

“The homeowner wouldn’t have to go through a credit application as long as they have equity in their home,” explained Brooks. “If they move before the loan is paid off, it’s attached to the house and stays there. “ This is an innovative way to finance energy improvements, particularly for homeowners, that Brooks said will solidify D.C.’s place at the leading edge of the green movement.

Brooks is quick to note that this legislation is one of the rare instances where the public interest is perfectly in alignment with the interests of “green collar” businesses like his, a trend he sees continuing.

“The better a firm like ours does,” he said, “the closer the government comes to realizing its object to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.” Moreover, he added, there is opportunity here for private sector companies like Access Green to provide market-based solutions to environmental challenges, rather than rely wholly on the government for leadership.

Said Loveland: “People are so dazzled by super sexy projects like solar paneling. Not enough attention is paid to conservation. We can generate all the alternative energy we want, but without conservation we won’t achieve the results we need to meaningfully reduce our carbon footprint.”

The Access Green knowledge audit currently runs $249 while the fulfillment audit starts at $599. For more information on Access Green’s products, visit http://www.greenerhome.com or call 202-559-6061.

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Virginia

Youngkin vetoes bill that would have expanded Va. bullying definition

Bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole introduced House Bill 536

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at a CNN Town Hall on March 9, 2023. (Screen capture via CNN)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday vetoed a bill that would have added sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to the state’s definition of bullying.

Lawmakers earlier this year approved House Bill 536, which bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg) introduced. 

“While I agree with the general purpose of the legislation, regrettably, the General Assembly did not approve my amendments,” said Youngkin in a statement. “Those recommendations would have expanded the definition of bullying to encompass all possible motives.”

“School administrators must work to prevent bullying and support our students’ mental health through a healthy learning environment, but the narrow definition provided in the legislation could be interpreted to exclude groups not included in the Virginia Human Rights Act, such as bullying victims raised with traditional values or those who are in foster care,” added the Republican.

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Rehoboth Beach

Selling Rehoboth: Lee Ann Wilkinson wins prestigious real estate award

Longtime agent on beach prices, her LGBTQ allyship, and more

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Lee Ann Wilkinson doesn’t see real estate prices coming down anytime soon at the beach. (Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

Longtime Delaware real estate leader Lee Ann Wilkinson of Berkshire Hathaway recently celebrated a major industry award after being named No. 1 in total sales volume for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Network. Wilkinson, a Blade contributor, centers much of her work in the coastal communities of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach. We caught up with her to discuss her long career in real estate, her LGBTQ allyship, and more.

Washington Blade: I learned your parents were in real estate, and you began working with them early on in your career. Did you initially intend to follow in their footsteps? 

Lee Ann Wilkinson: Not really. I majored in art. When I got out of college I couldn’t really find a job. So, my parents said, “You need to come work for us.”

Blade: I understand that as an art history major turned writer. Speaking of that: I know you have written some pieces for the Blade, about real estate trends, and the like. How do you pick your topics for these articles? 

Wilkinson:  People always want to know about real estate. Whether buying a first home, second home, a home to invest or retire in. It amazes even me how much interest there is. And it’s not just people looking to buy a $7 million home on beachfront property. It’s people looking to get something in budget for their family.

Blade: I know you have a lot of work in Rehoboth, the Delaware Valley’s historically gay beachside community. Was there ever a time you were NOT selling property to – I guess it was fair to say 40 years ago – mostly gay men? 

Wilkinson: Ha, I grew up coming down for the summer until my family moved here full-time from Norristown, outside of Philly. We had businesses and family in Rehoboth. I think Rehoboth has always been gay-friendly. We never thought about it. My grandfather had a house in Rehoboth before I was born. The gay population was always welcome.

Blade: Do you have a connection to the LGBTQ community beyond real estate? 

Wilkinson: Absolutely. One of my closest friends is a guy I went to college with at the University of Delaware, Joey. You know, Joey was maybe my first gay friend. In fact, we all went to the Easter Sunrise Service on the beach in Rehoboth. We have gay family members, so I have never thought that much about it being anything different.

Blade: I know you recently won a prestigious award with Berkshire Hathaway and were surprised to come in first place. Why?

Wilkinson: For the past 20 years or so we have been in the top 10. We started doing these national things with Berkshire Hathaway. To get in the top 10 was amazing to me especially going up against states like Florida, New Jersey, not to mention San Francisco or Bay Area agents. I just never thought we’d get to the number one spot. My only issue is — where to go now?

Blade: Where do you make your primary residence? Is that Lewes? Do you see the president on occasion? 

Wilkinson: I haven’t seen him at the beach. But he’s on the bike trail a lot. He pops up having breakfast. He goes to Mass at St. Edmond’s in Rehoboth on Saturday evening. But I’m often too busy with work on weekends to catch sight of him.

Blade: Having been in the industry 40 years, how do you find ways to get excited about your work? 

Wilkinson: I really am passionate about it. I really love a challenge. That’s part of the appeal for this job. I always like matching people with things. I really liked getting people the right bathing suits years ago. Selling, it’s just something I’m good at. I would get customers walking outta’ the store with three or four bathing suits when they only wanted one. 

Blade: Are you considering retiring in the next few years? Or will you always be associated with the industry on some level. Maybe as a mentor or silent partner? 

Wilkinson: Oh, no, I’ll always be involved. Three of my four daughters work for me. I am not retiring anytime soon. And if I did, they would be here to continue it on, and I am sure I’d weigh in.

Blade: So, this is very much a family legacy?

Wilkinson: Yeah. My parents are 87 and 91 now. Some 20 years ago mom predicted we’d see an increase in prices, people moving here, etc. I don’t know how she predicted it but mom is right.

Blade: Any current trends you’re noticing? 

Wilkinson: This cycle of people moving here, and prices increasing, and all the building happening. People think the prices are going to come down, but I don’t see that happening.

Blade: Tell me about that. Are the new building ventures changing the faces of Rehoboth and Lewes? After not visiting the Jersey Shore for over a decade I’ve been going the past few summers to my cousin’s place in Cape May. It’s a trailer on a nicely maintained campground and it’s what she can afford. And, there’s so much building happening there.

Wilkinson: Right? It’s about finding a second home you can afford. And, in terms of building projects, the good thing about Rehoboth and Lewes is they are strict on what you can and can’t build downtown. They aren’t going to tear down homes to build multi-family condos, not yet anyway. In Spring Lake, you are seeing townhomes. So, building is happening and we have some condos, but it’s great to not see “overbuilding” happening in these historically smaller cities.

To learn more about Ms. Wilkinson, or property in Sussex County, DE be sure to look for articles she publishes in the Blade and visit the Lee Ann Wilkinson Group website.

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Local

Blum named director of new LGBTQ program at Carr Center

Program to expand research, training on safeguarding human rights

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Diego Garcia Blum

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Diego Garcia Blum on his new position as director, Global LGBTQI+ Human Rights Program, at the Harvard, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. This new program will expand research and training on safeguarding the human rights of LGBTQI+ people worldwide. It will address the escalating crisis of violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals globally. The vision is to establish the Carr Center as a key international nexus for LGBTQI+ human rights policy, training, ideas, and dialogue

 “The heart of this program is empowering and supporting the brave LGBTQI+ activists working in challenging and often perilous environments,” Garcia Blum said. “Through our training and high-impact research, we aim to supercharge their efforts.”

Prior to this, he has had a varied and impressive career. Recently he served as a Social Change Fellow at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. He worked with the Human Rights Campaign, serving on its Board of Governors. Prior to that, he worked as a nuclear engineer at Orano, a French company. It is described as a global leader in nuclear fuel cycle products and services, from mining to dismantling, conversion, enrichment, recycling, logistics and engineering. He has won many awards for his work and education. The Innovation CORE award at Orano; The Dean Joseph Weil Leadership Award, University of Florida; Most Outstanding Master in Public Policy Student – Ellen Raphael Award, Harvard Kennedy School. 

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