BY BOB MIODONSKI
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF
AUSTIN, TEXAS — The other "green" in the green movement — the folding kind — is why construction firms should market their ability to deliver environmentally friendly buildings.
"Good work speaks for itself, right?" asked Jerry Yudelson, a national faculty member for the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. "Actually, it just whispers. You need marketing to tell people what you do."
Yudelson spoke Sept. 18 here at the Engineering Green Buildings Conference produced by HPAC Engineering magazine, a sister publication of CONTRACTOR. His audience consisted primarily of engineers and architects, but his marketing advice could apply to mechanical contracting firms as well.
Two big misconceptions about green buildings are that they cost too much and building owners really don't want them, he said. Industry statistics indicate dramatic growth in the green movement, he said, citing the number of LEED-certified buildings (288, including silver, gold and platinum levels); LEED-accredited professionals (23,300); people attending LEED workshops (more than 29,000); and USGBC members (more than 6,000).
"Most things in the industry don't grow this fast," Yudelson said. "It's starting to grow legs in a big way."
Accelerating the green movement are 10 trends, he said. They are:
- High oil prices and the new U.S. Energy Policy Act;
- Baby boomers and generation X-ers moving into key cities;
- An increasing number of successful green developments around the country;
- Sustained actions by local and state governments to promote green buildings;
- City regulations and policies to incentivize private-sector green buildings;
- Positive changes to the LEED program by the USGBC;
- A major new push by architects and others for more energy-efficient buildings;
- Growing action by institutional real estate developers to require LEED;
- The positive response by the American public to the sustainability message; and
- Growing evidence for the business case benefits of green buildings.
"Getting and keeping good people is the No. 1 business reason for green buildings," Yudelson said. "People want to work for companies that support green buildings. If people don't know what you stand for, why would people want to work for you?"
Other factors that build the business case for building owners to go green, he said, include: employee productivity enhancements; cost savings for energy and water; and public relations and marketing benefits.
Yudelson presented what he called "six good ideas for marketing your services" to these building owners. They are:
Idea No. 1: Differentiate your firm's offering. To do this, a company needs high skill levels of both communication and performance.
Idea No. 2: Become the low-cost provider. While this approach is not always good positioning, it can work if a construction firm becomes a " lowcost" green building provider through standardizing as much of their approach as possible, becoming efficient in delivery systems or both, he said. In other words, not every building has to be custom designed.
"Many school districts, for example, can't afford both extra design costs and green building measures," Yudelson said. "Hotels and retail are other good markets.
"Is this antithetical to good design? Perhaps not. Architects and engineers would work more closely with contractors and vendors to 'wring the costs' out of the system."
Idea No. 3: Become No. 1 in something. The first rule of competitive strategy is for the weaker firm is to become No. 1 in some market segment, he said.
"You must focus on being the No. 1 dog to someone, somewhere," Yudelson said. " Be No. 1 in something that counts. If you're not No. 1 in something, customers will go to someone who is."
Idea No. 4: Name it and claim it. This is attractive to customers who have a hard time making decisions among firms and need to report to their bosses and justify what they've done, he said.
"We give lots of credit to people in this country who name something," Yudelson said. "Find a signature green measure or approach to sustainable design that you can be the first to name."
Idea No. 5: Find out how your clients make money. Customers are asking their business partners to take on more than their traditional roles. Architects, for example, are being asked to design their clients' signs and logos. Branding firms are getting into architecture, he said.
"This is a major trend in retail, restaurants and resorts," Yudelson said.
Idea No. 6: Become a brand. A brand is always a safe selection in a world of confusing and complex choices, Yudelson said.
"One of the benefits of branding is lower marketing costs, but you have to get out of your comfort zone," Yudelson said. "As a brand, the client experience is critical. Clients talk to each other about the experience of working with you."
Construction firms should build an in-house green team and institute internal training and education, Yudelson said. Outside expertise and capable consultants should be hired as needed.
"Set goals for green projects, including LEED for green for client projects," he said. "Some firms start every project with an intent to 'green' it as much as possible, regardless of budget or client interest."