Positioning for Green

by bkrigbaum@solagroup.com

Here’s an old saying for you: Sales is selling what you have, but marketing is selling what you don’t have. That may ring true, even inducing a few cringes, when remodelers consider marketing themselves as green companies. We have all seen what’s happening. Some companies make green claims that are unjustified, and these days everyone’s BS detectors are now on high alert for greenwashing. The question for our sector is simple: How can a remodeler, in good conscience, market himself or his business as a green business? And can they do so in a way that can hold up to scrutiny by a well-informed prospect/client, or even an inquiry from the press?

Well, here’s a path to creating a green positioning statement, and using it to fuel your marketing.

First, be honest with yourself. If you honestly know nothing about green building, don’t contaminate the pool of genuine green professionals by saying you’re green, too. I recognize that being green can provide a substantial marketing advantage — it’s a necessity in some markets — and I also recognize that many remodelers have been green for a long time, because — long before it was popular or required — they’ve been creating tight thermal envelopes and installing energy-efficient appliances and non-toxic products. But these days, you have to get more training and certification, especially if you find yourself stumbling through an initial prospect meeting when the client asks (increasingly common) tough questions like, “Do the carpets you work with comply with CRI Green Label Plus for formaldehyde and VOC levels?”

So, I suggest that you seek certification on three levels: for yourself, for the products you install, and for the projects themselves. Here’s how.

Professional certification

For certifying yourself, look to the NARI Certified Green Professional Program. Learn more info: www.greenremodeling.org. Costs: $550 for NARI members, $750 for nonmembers.

Another alternative for personal certification is the NAHB’s Certified Green Professional (CGP) program. Learn more: http://www.nahb.org/category.aspx?sectionID=1174. Costs: $395 for members, $445 for

Product Certification

When installing products, look for widely accepted third-party product-rating systems. For wood fiber and lumber, look for FSC or SFI (it’s actually hard to buy noncertified lumber or wood fiber). For adhesives, caulks, sealants and finishes, look for low- or no-VOC product ratings from companies like Green Seal, Green Guard, SCS, MPI, or labels that point to EPA compliance or compliance with the tough California laws. For foams and insulation (indeed, for all products) look for third-party verification that products are formaldehyde-free or low-emitting. For windows, roofing (yes, even three-tab), appliances, and anything that consumes electricity, use only Energy Star products, but note that even some Energy Star products are coming under scrutiny for being less than green.

Project certification

For certifying the resulting project, that’s a toughy, because the leading standards out there are focused on whole-house ratings, and they would be rating aspects of the house that are far beyond your control. You don’t want to fail an Energy Star test for the house where you just did the kitchen. You can look to USGBC’s REGREEN program (Regreenprogram.org). It’s a set of remodeling guidelines for existing homes. Though it doesn’t offer certification of the structure, it basically follows LEED guidelines. As a complying remodeler, you can advertise your REGREEN compliance. Energy Star (Energystar.gov) also rates homes, and they have a program to recognize green remodeling. Check out the Web site for compliance requirements.

After you have taken steps to seek third-party validation of yourself, your installed products, and your projects — and you are committed to disciplined adherence to these third-part recommendations — then you can cite these third parties in a green positioning document, a statement that points out your green efforts. Use third-party logos and descriptive verbiage to show what your company is doing to go green. When you are on solid ground, and conversant in the terms of green, consider putting together a press release for your local media to call attention to the steps you have taken to build healthy, energy-efficient homes.

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