#100 Trammell S. Crow, Founder of EarthX

Trammell S. Crow is the President of the Crow Family Foundation which operates and manages the Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art as well as the Trammell Crow European Sculpture Garden. Mr. Crow is the son of Trammell Crow, founder of the Trammell Crow Company, and his wife, Margaret. 

After graduating from Yale University, Mr. Crow began his career as a warehouse leasing in Denver and then transferred to Houston to develop residential subdivisions and subsequently, to lease retail space. He returned to Dallas to join the development team of the Anatole Hotel, and later worked at the Dallas Market Center when it expanded by more than 2 million square feet. By 1985, he developed the Dallas Communications Complex, the Studios at Las Colinas, INFOMART and the Dallas/Fort Worth Teleport. From 1986 to 1993, Mr. Crow was the Chief Executive Officer of Trammell Crow International. 

Trammell S. Crow is a member of the Board of Directors of the Crow Collection of Asian Art and is actively involved in Thanksgiving Square, a multi-denominational center for the promotion of gratitude and religious tolerance. 

Mr. Crow is also a founder of Texas Business for Clean Air, an organization of prominent business leaders throughout Texas who are committed to matters that affect air quality in the state. 

As the founder of EarthX (formerly known as Earth Day Texas), Mr. Crow has created the largest annual exposition and forum showcasing the latest initiatives, discoveries, research, innovations, policies and corporate practices serving to re-shape a more sustainable future. 

With a focus on inspiring environmental leadership across sectors and party lines, Crow serves on the board of directors for ConservAmerica and is a co-founder of Texas Business for Clean Air and Texans for Clean Water. He is also a long-term supporter of the Texas Conservation Alliance, the Nature Conservancy of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Log Cabin Republicans and the League of Conservation Voters. His philanthropy benefits various nonprofit organizations that are active in family planning, education, the environment, community initiatives and political causes.

Bigger Than Us Episode 100

This transcription has been lightly edited for readability.

Host Raj Daniels  00:00

Hello, and welcome to a very special episode of the Bigger Than Us podcast. I’m your host Raj Daniels, and I’m excited to announce that this is our 100th episode, and today I’d like to welcome a very special guest Trammell Crow to the show.

Trammell S. Crow is the President of the Crow Family Foundation, which operates and manages The Trammell and Margaret Crowe collection of Asian art, as well as the Trammell Crow European sculpture garden. Mr. Crow is also a founder of Texas Business for Clean Air, an organization of prominent business leaders throughout Texas who are committed to matters that affect air quality in the state.

As the founder of EarthX, formerly known as Earth Day Texas, Mr. Crow has created the largest annual exposition and forum showcasing the latest initiatives, discoveries, research, innovations, policies and corporate practices, serving to reshape a more sustainable future.

Trammell. How are you doing today? 

Trammell Crow  00:59

In the inimitable words of Tony the Tiger, grrrreat! 

Host Raj Daniels  01:04

I love the enthusiasm and energy. I love it. Trammell, I like to start the show off by asking, if you were asked to share something interesting about yourself, what would it be?

Trammell Crow  01:15

Oh, boy, what would be interesting about me, I’m not one of those people who thinks I’m not interesting. You know, I would say that I’m an introvert, by nature, and an extrovert by necessity. I’m an ambivert.

Host Raj Daniels  01:35

I love the term ambivert. I consider myself that to I’ve been tested several times, I’m INTJ all the way. But when needed have to be outgoing. And so I understand what you’re saying. 

Trammell Crow  01:46

Mm hmm. 

Host Raj Daniels  01:47

And I’ve met you a couple of times. And most recently at the high fear event at Love Field airport. I think it was October, and you were doing a very, very good job of being an extrovert at that time. So Trammell, founder of EarthX. For those that haven’t heard of EarthX. Can you give an overview of what EarthX is?

Trammell Crow  02:09

Yeah. We have just pivoted to go online. So that’s a separate answer. But EarthX started as Earth Day Dallas and then became Earth Day Texas. And then we decided the name actually did make a difference. So because our audience and participants were national, EarthX, we found our very first year 10 years ago, when we had 200 NGOs of environmental work and corporations, the city of Dallas was there telling people how to recycle. That at the end of it, when we had 38,000 people and 200 different exhibitors, we found that that was the largest Earth Day in the world.

So people don’t realize this. Earth Day, in a sense, is a myth. When it began in 1970, it was extremely important. It created a culture, set off legislation, and eventually, you know, created industries. But Earth Day celebrations if you will, are small community affairs now. And there are very few exceptions. We would have had 200,000 people this year, finally, which is something like 20 times larger than anything else. There’s not a big, meaningful awareness-raising event in Tokyo or Berlin. It just didn’t happen. So we are, I’ll throw out numbers, about 700 exhibitors, about 500 speakers, about 15 conferences, which is really unique, a hackathon, the growing is most dynamic environmental Film Festival in the world, and on and on, in Dallas, Texas. So we had to build a strong foundation, we had to appeal to all points of view. So I would say that all of that’s different. But also different from really any conferences that I’ve been to is that we try our hardest to have different opinions, friendly debates, and Republicans and Democrats on the same stage at the same time. And that’s pretty rare nowadays.

Host Raj Daniels  04:46

So the first time I heard about EarthX, I think it was 2016. I was actually a mentor at one of the events. There was a hackathon event taking place. And it was a team from UTD and I was asked to come in and mentor a team from UTD regarding the hackathon. And then last year, we attended the E Capital Summit, which was at the beginning of EarthX. Can you speak briefly about the E Capital Summit?

Trammell Crow  05:09

Yeah, again, we created ourselves. There are some number of these connection sessions around America. I’m not familiar with them all. Cleantech is a general term that you all use as well. There are some incubators, and connection sessions for ag-tech and property tech, and so forth. But we’ve taken a general approach, were early or late-stage companies, mainly vetted by the Austin Technology Incubator, come here, the day or so of conference of speakers, tough light speakers. And then this connection session, which we call office hour, we just had the fourth E Capital Summit online, it went surprisingly well, with about 90 startups and 90 venture capital groups, and family offices. But three years, three cycles, where we have been able to track somewhat, what kind of success and success of fundraising stages these groups have had. And I’m really, really proud to say that those companies that got started here, have gone on to raise over a billion dollars.

Host Raj Daniels  06:39

That’s pretty amazing. So take us back in time travel. It’s 2010 as the first event 2011, I believe it’s the first event. 2010, dow did the idea come to mind? 

Trammell Crow  06:51

It was like this. First of all, I had no concept that I’d be sitting here right now working on the same project, just on a different scale. All my life, I’ve believed that environmental issues were the most important in the world. when something’s extinct, it stays extinct. When parts per million are in the atmosphere, they stay for a long, long time. And it’s just like, some business guys saying, you know, we this, this nation is so overloaded with debt someday it’s going to crack and it never seemed to crack. Well, it’s going to, but it’s like a frog in boiling water. That is what I think is happening now as opposed to 50 years ago when I first started to learn the word environment.

And I finally, finally got involved after I retired on something called Texas business for Clean Air. It’s a group that we started when TXU was going after 11 coal fire permits for coal-fired plants with dirty technology. And there was already opposition to it. A couple of businessmen in Dallas came to me and recruited me. We started this group and recruited 200 people, leading business citizens in their own cities in Texas. And it didn’t win the war, but it put an excellent buzz to it and helped. That taught me that even here in Texas where we’re so apathetic and ignorant of environmental things, or we have been in the past that something could really happen here.

So when that was over, we disbanded. And I knew that henceforth my work would be environmental. And rather than studying my navel for months and months and figuring out what a lifetime strategy would be. I just said, What the hell. April is five months from now, let’s have an Earth Day.

Host Raj Daniels  09:16

Was obviously a man of action. But I want to rewind back to something you said. You mentioned becoming aware of the environment. So the crux of our conversation is the why behind what you do. How did you become aware of the environment, or what was the introduction that made you think you know what this environment is important to us?

Trammell Crow  09:35

It was a great “aha.” It was when I was 12 years old. But the media, and back then that was a Saturday Evening Post and the Dallas times Herald and channel eight was covering these environmental disasters that had never happened before. Cuyahoga River catching on fire rivers and lakes dying, pesticides and insecticides contaminating our milk. And it ramped up into that rather quickly after World War II. And by the 60s, it was just undeniable. So I guess is an impressionable youth, it caught my imagination, so to speak. And when I first learned the word, environment, I realized that that was that something that’s bigger than us.

Host Raj Daniels  10:41

So fast forward 50 years, retired, successful real estate career, you said navel-gazing. My job as an interviewer is to push a little harder, you could have walked off into the sunset and done 100 different things. What drew you back into this environment?

Trammell Crow  10:59

Well, I had good parents. They taught by example. They were kind and generous people. And realizing my lucky station in life, the old fashioned values, what you get you to give back. And I think that it’s not true enough in this world and America more than other places. But that is the duty of people with fortunate situations. So I’m driven.

Host Raj Daniels  11:37

I love the fact that you’re driven. You know, earlier, you mentioned the E Capital event going online. I know due to COVID, we couldn’t have the EarthX in person this year. What is EarthX doing right now to continue? And perhaps can you give us an idea of what next year might look like?

Trammell Crow  11:55

Well, because of the COVID. And canceling that enormous event, we pivoted and took about seven of the conferences online. And sitting there watching them, it just it dawned on all of us at EarthX, that it was the future. That may be a bunch of scientists, with the thick glasses on a long table, speaking science ease, and what the public would want to hear so much. But our professional audiences were many. And it was also public, I think it was almost 600,000 views. And we just realized that that was the role to take. So who knows about the event next April. There’s a bond, there’s a relationship with people who come from so far away to this event because they believe in what we’re doing in the second year, in the third year, and so forth. And we really, really miss them, my house, every now and then my house feels empty. But in the meantime, we’ll make that decision before the years out.

But in the meantime, we’re going the whole hog into what we call EarthX TV, website, and social media, we’ll have more private programming than any media source in the world. And that’s not hard to do. There are a few really good media sources out there. But for the most part, the major networks might have a couple of hours a week of decent environmental programming. So there’s not a single source for news. Not a single source for education. Not a single source to set your watch by in the doomsday book of countdown for endangered species. We’re going to provide it and the reception has been just very encouraging.

Host Raj Daniels  14:05

So am I hearing it EarthX TV news channel?

Trammell Crow  14:08

That’s correct. Earth x TV.

Host Raj Daniels  14:11

And when is that launching?

Trammell Crow  14:14

Well, as a matter of fact, on the 21st of September, Climate Week, next week, the first day. And don’t know how many hours of programming with our own, the regular program series that we’re starting, and with so many other people who have just heard about it, and have brought their content, gosh 50 hours.

Host Raj Daniels  14:41

So did I hear you correctly 600,000 people logged on earlier this year when it went virtual?

Trammell Crow  14:47

It was almost 600,000 and I, who knows nothing about the digital world and our team who had never done it before. Well, there’s been nothing like this EarthX with this many environmental groups and as many issues that we’ve ever known of. I mean, the International Union of Conservation in Nature will know when they have an event, it’s not like this. So I daresay that we might be in touch with more what we call environmental groups than anyone in the world, a farmer or a hunter, or a scientist. And they’re usually not connected like that. And as you know, the answers have to be synergistic.

Host Raj Daniels  15:43

Absolutely, and serving everyone’s interest. Speaking of interest, you know, we were talking briefly offline and something that I’m very interested in and I know a lot of my peers will be, is this new E4? Can you speak to the E4 program?

Trammell Crow  15:57

We’ve had energy conferences before. We’ve had responsible shale acquisition conferences before at environmental events, where some people are surprised, and some people are doubtful, but everybody has it rub off on them a little bit. Drilling companies coming in listening to experts talk about how to frack less bad for a day or two. So yes, we’ll have a hydrocarbon conference program, we’ll have alternative energy, renewable energy, and the grid, and I think, I think that that is a totality. I’m sure it’s not the most comprehensive thing in the world. But that’s a program that will be chock full.

Host Raj Daniels  16:53

And when is E4 launching?

Trammell Crow  16:55

The first program would be something like October, the 19th. The week of October 22, October 22, six months from April 22, is what we call Half-Earth Day. Everybody’s had a lot of fun with it. And we’ll have a wildlife conservation banquet on the 24th of October, a wildlife conservation conference, excuse me, a conservation conference encompassing wildlife, Africa, farm ranch and forest, the 19th to the 21st. The responsible shale acquisition, I think, on the 19th. And I’m sure there’ll be other things going on. I tell you, man, it’s just like, nobody’s done it before. I just finished talking to the International Union of Conservation in Nature. And they’re just trying to figure out what to do with us. And we’re a clean slate.

Host Raj Daniels  18:00

Which sounds amazing. You’ve come this far, 10 years on your journey. What are some of the most valuable lessons that you’d say you’d learn both about yourself and about EarthX on the way,

Trammell Crow  18:11

The first lesson I learned, was the end of our first Earth Day in the streets of Dallas. And we were tearing down the booths. And one of these environmental groups came running up to me and said Trammell, Trammell. You positioned our exhibit right by a corporation. Already, we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again. They said, Trammell, no, no, no, no, no, we’ve always wanted to know that multinational corporation, and now we know quite well. So the divisions between environmental groups in business and, and that on many levels, both sides want to be together, nowadays, business has wised up a great deal. So that’s, again, something that we really aim at every year. Bring them together.

Host Raj Daniels  19:09

And some of the personal lessons?

Trammell Crow  19:13

Well, the second thing that I learned was somebody said, perfect is the enemy of good. And I said, what? What’d you say? What are you saying, what does that mean? And what it means in this context, is primarily on the side of the environmentalist, that they’re not content unless a solution is damn near perfect. And that’s not how the world works. So oftentimes, we find so many types of environmental groups fighting against themselves, and that too, I see changing a lot. 

Host Raj Daniels  20:00

That is true. And I’ve heard that quite a bit. And going back to you being a person of action, you know that if you wait until it’s perfect, then you’ll never take action.

Trammell Crow  20:09

Yeah, yeah. And I’ve had to fight that tendency myself because we’re doing things we’ve never done. This EarthX TV, you know, this is worldwide. Our name and our reputation is out there. But it’s more important to get these issues out there quickly. And in this case, to get these issues out there before the election. And while people are still rabidly hungry for knowledge about health and the environment, and COVID, are crazy to know about the forest fires and what’s happening. So we’re going as quickly as we can, and like I say, Monday will be the big day, the audiences I’m sure will have to grow, the programs will grow and will get smarter as we go along. But well, it’s unchartered territory.

Host Raj Daniels  21:08

Well, if you ask me, that’s what leadership is. If you have familiar territory, you don’t really need leadership, but leadership is the people, the person organizations that people follow, to go through uncharted territory. So I feel like you and your organization are setting a perfect example of what leadership is.

Trammell Crow  21:29

We’re lucky to have been here in Dallas, without preconceived notions. And without the taint of, of the battles and divisiveness that have gone on. And you know, part of it Texas personality is a little “naive-tay” and openness, you know, and that’s what the world needs now.

Host Raj Daniels  21:54

Well, I am, I’m a transplant to Dallas. I’ve been here for about 30 years now. And I think it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. I just, when people ask me about Dallas, what I tell them is that, to me, Dallas is all about opportunity. That’s all I’ve ever seen here. And that’s what I believe Dallas has at its core. So you know, what you say resonates very strongly with me.

Trammell Crow  22:15

Well, the origins of Dallas are a good proof of that. We are not on a navigable river. We are not in the fork of a creek. We’re not in a port, or at the foothills of the mountains. There was absolutely no reason for Dallas to happen. Besides people said it would.

Host Raj Daniels  22:39

That’s a beautiful vision, isn’t it?

Trammell Crow  22:42

Human Capital.

Host Raj Daniels  22:43

Absolutely. So we’re 10 years in, let’s paint the picture. 10 years into the future. It’s 2030. What is the future hold for EarthX?

Trammell Crow  22:53

Oh my god, I don’t know. Well, I hope we’re out of business. I hope that the solutions will be in place and working. They have to be. Maybe we would be more like career training and job placement for the great opportunities that I think will be the biggest industry of the 21st century. Sustainability.

Host Raj Daniels  23:27

Do I hear EarthX University coming down the line?

Trammell Crow  23:30

Yeah, well, yeah. I haven’t let anybody use that term yet, because it’s too pregnant with possibility.

Host Raj Daniels  23:39

I mean, I could see it happening, the number of students that reach out to us on our show, that are looking for what I’m going to call entry into this cleantech green tech space because they want meaningful work. They want the career to mean something, they want to do work that’s good for the planet, good for the earth. I think there’s a huge opportunity there. Just yesterday, I was speaking to a professor from UTA regarding some of the wonderful work they’re doing out there, and some of the opportunities going forward to collaborate. So I don’t see why there wouldn’t be an EarthX University in 10 years.

Trammell Crow  24:12

The UTA is a great college. It’s a huge student body. What division? What college were you talking to?

Host Raj Daniels  24:22

I was speaking to Magna Tari. She’s the Sustainability Officer for UTA.

Trammell Crow  24:28

Oh, I haven’t met her.

Host Raj Daniels  24:31

So Trammell. You shared your parents’ notion of giving back. You talked about being synergistic, specific question for you. If you could share some advice, or words of wisdom with the audience? What would it be?

Trammell Crow  24:48

Hmm. I’m used to giving advice to my children.

Host Raj Daniels  24:54

Imagine, imagine for a moment the audience are your children.

Trammell Crow  24:58

Well, I was having a talk with one of my children this week, and if they could just learn by mistakes, and not saying that I really have done that, of course, we all know the definite definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again. But if there’s one of the most common themes that I hear with really successful people, is that that is one of the greatest values to them. And what it means is that you have to admit a little shortcoming. And you have to grit your teeth and be determined that you’re going to be disciplined, and figure out not how to do that again. And most of us aren’t that mindful or moving a little too quickly. So that’s my pearl of wisdom for the day.

Host Raj Daniels  25:55

And I appreciate that, as a man that runs an organization has a family, how do you encourage or create a environment of safety where people feel okay to make mistakes?

Trammell Crow  26:07

Well, I suppose that you really work on the process and not the result. You have a spirit or esprit de corps, that we’re here together. And we’re a team. And it’s not how many points you earn, it’s not the individual winning, that there’s some unconditional acceptance that underlies any other games we play in the world, you know.

Host Raj Daniels  26:38

I can see that. And in the spirit of team, I’d like to thank the people in your team that helped put this together. Specifically, I’d like to thank Kevin from eCarra

Trammell Crow  26:48

And we all need to use that. Don’t call Uber! Call eCarra.

Host Raj Daniels  26:55

Trammell, that’s the only company that we as a company use is eCarra. 

Trammell Crow  26:59

Yeah, me too. 

Host Raj Daniels  27:01

And also, Steve Evans, who’s part of your team has become a good friend. So I appreciate him also. And I really appreciate your time today. Is there something else you’d like to share before we go?

Trammell Crow  27:16

No. Well, I guess I would, after all, Raj with this audience, like I was saying at the beginning of the interview, we really want to know what people want this to be in this case, EarthX E4, what subjects themes, what should be a hot-headed debate? What should be a virtual tour? If they would contact us, and I would say that would be chauncey.lufkin@earthx.org for any suggestions about the future programming of EarthX E4.

www.earthx.org

www.earthx.org/earthxtv

Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.

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If there’s a subject or topic you’d like to hear about, send Raj Daniels an email at BTU@NexusPMG.com or contact me via our website, NexusPMG.com. While you’re there, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter where we share what we’re reading and thinking about in the cleantech green tech sectors.

Raj Daniels