The trouble with green building

Speaking Sustainably

The trouble with green building

I make a point to do the things we ask consumers to do on behalf of our clients -- in part because I’m what our segmentation system would classify as an Active -- but mostly because I want a visceral, real-world experience of what it’s like to be a consumer making greener buying decisions. I’ve recently completed construction on a little lake house and we’re right in the middle of construction and build-out of our new office space. So my first-hand experience with trying to build a greener home and office space is this:

We’re relying way too much on the end consumer to move the market forward.

My experience has been pretty typical, from what I hear:  

  • My house appraised for 30 percent less than I've got in it because the appraiser "has nothing to comp it against" and can't give me financial credit for all the green features.  
  • Despite hiring a LEED AP architect, the principles of building science weren’t initially applied to the specifying of the insulation, HVAC system and windows. Thanks to help from one of our clients, I got smart enough to push the issue and ask the right questions only to finally have the HVAC guy say, “Ma’am, I’ve been doing this for 17 years and I’ve never once used a computer model; I just know from experience that I’ve designed the right system for your house.”
  • On the office front, which will definitely earn LEED Silver, maybe even LEED Gold, getting the right systems at the right price -- and ensuring we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot on our LEED designation -- required way more meetings and time than I expected.  And it required sticking to our guns and urging the professionals at the table repeatedly to “figure it out.”

If I hadn’t taken the time to get educated, gotten help and advice from my firm’s clients and stood up to confident-sounding construction professionals who were urging me to do things the conventional way, I’d have wound up with the same-old, same-old.

I’m not saying you should stop marketing to the end consumer -- we must normalize green building for them so they can comfortably adopt it. But we can’t rely on the consumer to push the architect, builder, appraiser and banker to get a green or more-efficient home or building built. It’s just too hard. And at the end of the day, our ongoing research has proven time and again that consumers will choose the more convenient, comfortable option. They simply don’t want to do battle with the construction industry to get a greener home.

So if you’re responsible for marketing an energy efficient or green building product, take a chunk of your marketing dollars and spend them on an out of the box campaign to show everyone in the value chain what’s in it for them. When we stop relying on consumers to tilt at windmills, we’ll quickly make green building the new normal.

Image of green home building by Victor Correia via Shutterstock