Five Questions with Steve Glenn of Plant Prefab – Trade Observer
As one of the first prefab home builders to announce a net zero goal, sustainability is central to Plant Prefab’s DNA. In 2019, the prefab design and build company pledged to achieve full carbon neutrality in its operations by 2028. Founded in 2016, Plant Prefab is now opening its third plant in California with funding raised by Obvious Ventures, Amazon and others.
Commercial Observer spoke with Plant Prefab Founder and CEO Steve Glenn. He shared the story of how the company started and how smart building could transform post-Covid home building.
Business Observer: You found Plant Prefab in 2016. What’s the story behind that?
Steve Glen: We felt there was an opportunity to create a new business different from the existing precasters. We were going to focus on custom architecture, which means we would work with an architect on their specific design for a specific site. Most prefab companies at the time focused on standard homes and blueprints. They did not work with third party architects. But we wanted to provide a better way for the tens of thousands of architects who design clients’ single-family and multi-family homes for different parts of the country, especially urban infill [locations]. So we wanted to create a company that would be well placed to do that.
You have set Plant Prefab a net zero goal. Why is this important to you?
Sustainability is our fundamental DNA. The built environment, as a category, is responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions. If you look at all the energy for heating, cooling, and powering homes and buildings, it’s the greatest source of energy in the world. And therefore, the biggest source of carbon emissions. So if you’re going to be into construction, we rely on our designers and builders to build sustainably, which is possible. We felt it was essential, as a company, to commit to carbon neutrality. We didn’t want to be the first, just the right thing.
How did you find yourself in this business?
As a child, the first thing I wanted to be was an architect. In fact, I took a design program at one point and discovered that I really didn’t have the talent or the temperament to be an architect. But I learned about developers, and it helped me to understand that there are people who are developers and who set good examples. So hopefully one day I will be able to hire architects to do good work and facilitate great architecture. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
What are some aspects of the precast industry that interest you today?
First, why is prefab happening more and more here [in the U.S.]? There are other countries in the world, Japan, Scandinavian countries and Europe, which have a much more advanced prefabrication industry than ours. They had much higher costs for land labor and materials compared to the United States and so they had to innovate. In 2018, we had significant cost increases in the United States in terms of land, labor, materials, and even permit fees. As a result, there has been much greater demand from developers from individuals trying to find more cost effective building solutions. And at the same time, the investment community has really realized the potential here. And by the way, a lot of manpower left the market. These factors have therefore led to a substantial increase in the demand for prefabs. This is a more predictable solution in terms of construction time and cost. So that’s part of it. Second, durability. With increased awareness and demand for more sustainable solutions in all types of sectors of society, there has been both greater consumer demand for more sustainable construction and a requirement for municipalities asking you to build more responsibly.
Has Covid had a huge impact on your business?
Many believe COVID has helped the market grow because people are spending more time at home. They think more about their home and what they need. People had greater flexibility in where they could live and work. And as a result of that, many people left the cities and moved to areas where land costs were much lower. There has been a general increase in demand for housing and the market continues to be very strong.
Emily Fu can be reached at [email protected].