Green Seeds Must Bear Green Fruit

I do a great deal of traveling and speaking on green topics, and there’s no doubt that green building is generating unprecedented levels of excitement and acceptance in today’s design and building trades. These days no one thinks you’re a flake if you talk about the carbon footprint of the supply chain, or nontoxic alternatives to volatile organic compounds. And this has changed from even two or three years ago.

Moreover, all the consumer spending trends, and the remarkably successful efforts to codify green building in building codes, point to the fact that the green building movement is here to stay as part of our personal and professional lives for decades to come.

For building professionals who have long wanted to go green (I’m talking to those in their 50s and 60s in my seminars who still have their ponytails), they now have a certain look about them. This is a look similar to that found on a revolutionary who, long in the wilderness, is gleeful and even a bit surprised to finally find himself in charge of the government. Many of you have been waiting for this moment since back in 1978 when you first read about those newfangled SIPs and nontoxic borate wood treatments. For this group of green designers and builders, there is a real eagerness to wheel in a fully formed green building program.

If only that eagerness were shared by all your clients — the ones with the checkbooks who fund your vision.

Make no mistake; all the consumer spending data is strongly leaning toward the mainstreaming of the green movement, especially when reviewing the data I’ve pulled from McGraw Hill which reports on green building. Here are a few tasty nuggets:

  • 70 percent of buyers said they were “more or much more inclined” to buy a green home over a conventional home in a down market.
  • 85 percent of the green home buyers said they were more satisfied with their new green homes than with their previous, more “traditionally built” homes. But an even more telling data point is this next one because I believe it reveals what people are actually willing to spend.
  • 63 percent of green homeowners said their green purchases were motivated by lower operating and maintenance costs.

So as much as you want to turn your clients green, you still have to justify your specifications with actual return on investment. As eager as clients are to go green, they may not be as eager to spend more based on an urge to preserve the Earth or to buy products that have decades-long paybacks. So, you still have to demonstrate the economic benefits of going green.

Don’t throw away those Internet links to the payback calculators for upgraded insulation packages. Keep those hot links to EPA.gov, and to CoolRoofs.org, so you can demonstrate not just the societal benefits achieved by going green, but the personal benefit of buying premium products. As eager as you are to have buy-in from buyers who believe in lowering the carbon footprint of their house, you still have to show the savings a CFL or LED light fixture will return on the power bill for the premium upfront cost. The same holds true with the added costs of running sealed ducts through conditioned spaces, upgrading to a reflective roofing system, installing radiant barriers, buying a water heater wrap, or using Energy Star-rated products.

But don’t be discouraged. Here’s another stat from McGraw Hill that shows you are on the right track if you are going green: 82 percent of Americans surveyed believe it is “important for companies to implement environmentally friendly practices.” They want to do business with this new green version of you, but it has to make financial sense for them to commit.

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