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Speaking Sustainably

7 steps to get your piece of the green building market

Hint: You have to sell your sustainability story.

2015 marked the tipping point on several sustainability fronts, and building products appears to be one of them. Building product manufacturers who’ve been waiting to tell their sustainability stories until the market ripens should really stop waiting. Here’s why:

  • $234 billion — The expected value of the green buildings materials market by 2019.
  • $80 billion–$101 billion — The projected 2016 market for green homes.
  • 29–38 percent — The share of this year’s new homes that will hold some sort of green designation.
  • $960 billion — The amount building owners and managers could invest globally over the next eight years on greening existing buildings.
  • More than half — Builders who expect that by 2020, more than 60 percent of the homes that they build will be green. Over one-third of remodelers expect the same level of green in their projects.

To make sure your company gets its fair share of this very substantial pie, you need to tell a sustainability story — but there’s a hitch. You need to tell it in the right way to the right people. Here’s how to get started:

1. Compile 'chapters' of your sustainability story, including the reasons for your customers to believe it.

Are your products less toxic, more energy or water efficient, more mold resistant or sustainably sourced? What’s your company’s track record on greenhouse gases, water use, renewable energy and waste-to-landfill? Certifications matter. Do you have them? Tout them. Don’t have them? Get them, then tout them. They’re important to consumers, but also to architects and builders designing to meet ENERGY STAR, LEED or other certification standards.

2. Distill all of these into one benefit-oriented, emotionally compelling platform.

Craft a single theme line from which you’ll build all of your messaging. The right platform can act as a sort of title for your sustainability story and help you keep your messages on track. The Shelton Group has some effective examples of a sustainability platform.

3. Focus your messaging on product benefits – on what your customers want most – rather than on features.

After all, it’s benefits they really want to buy. The green building trend is not all about energy efficiency or the environment anymore. For American consumers, benefits such as comfort, quality and health lead the pack now. "Healthy place to live," "lower operating costs" and "contributes to a more sustainable lifestyle" are the top three phrases that we’ve found resonate with most consumers.

When it comes to building contractors, Shelton’s 2015 B2B Pulse study revealed they are interested in much more than the price of the building products they use. Here are their top concerns:

  • Energy and water efficiency
  • Municipal, state or federal requirements
  • Product innovation
  • Manufacturer’s environmental track record
  • LEED point contribution

4. When you speak about your products’ environmental benefits, be specific.

But at the same time, beware of speaking in overly technical terms or scientific jargon, which at best can confuse and at worst be a turn-off to your customers. Which leads to the next — and very critical — point.

5. Watch your language.

Steer clear of industry lingo that can work against the story you’re trying to convey. Our 2015 research proved what we’d long suspected: Much of the language of sustainability is lost on consumers. For example, "low VOC" is a wonderful attribute, but only 21 percent think they understand the term — and 54 percent actually said they found "low VOC" undesirable. Bottom line: Speak so your market understands you (our Buzz on Buzzwords report will help).

6. Tell your products’ whole story.

More and more, people care about what’s going on in your supply chain. If you’re sourcing your raw materials or parts from responsible sources, their story can strengthen your own — particularly if they’re certified.

7. Be comprehensive, but don’t overstate the benefits.

You don’t want to create a promise that’s impossible to live up to. (Our research shows that consumers tend to be unforgiving when you disappoint them.)

At Shelton Group, we’re crafting sustainability stories every day. We know it’s not easy, and you may need some help. But we also know that the green building trend is here to stay, and effectively promoting your products’ green attributes is the only way to establish a strong position in this important marketplace.

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