Every quarter, Allen reviews all projects against his green checklist. “If they're not [following the specs] on every one of their projects, they don't get their bonus,” he says. Some of his associates are up for bonuses of $80,000 to $100,000 annually. So “it really drives performance,” Allen says.


It can be just as challenging to get roofers, plumbers, electricians, painters, tilers, and other trade contractors to incorporate more environmentally friendly practices into their long-established business routines.

“It's tough,” Strong says “There's a lot of resistance on the trade side.” The trick, he says, is finding a trade partner who sees the business potential in changing their ways. For example, Strong often specifies PEX plumbing, which takes a fraction of the time to install, compared with traditional copper pipes, since PEX simply rolls out like a garden hose.

“We have to find a plumber who thinks, ‘Hey, I can do more jobs for more builders if I do it this way, and I can use a smaller crew size.' We're looking for enlightened people who won't groan when we ask them to look into PEX. We want to hear, ‘I'll check that out, and I love working with you because you always find new, funky stuff to do.'”

Strong estimates that 20% of his trade contractors are willing to work with him this way. To find the 20%, he says he's always interviewing and asking for referrals from his peers.

When he finds an outstanding green trade contractor, Allen rewards him. “We have an award luncheon to hold them up in front of their peers,” Allen says. “We say, ‘You're our A team. Thank you for helping our mission and our planet.'”

Some trades are trickier to green than others, says Gary Grobeck of Grobeck Construction in Omaha, Neb. He's found it most challenging to locate painters who are willing to use biodegradable paints. “These green paint products aren't mainstream, and the painters aren't in tune with them,” he says. “They just don't want to spend five days doing what's usually a three-day job.”

Making things easier for remodelers like Grobeck is a new Web site, GreenBuildingBlocks.com, which claims to have the largest national directory for green services, including trade workers. It's like a Match.com for green professionals.

Even after remodelers and trade workers have found each other, building the relationship is a gradual process. Remodelers say they ask a lot of their preferred subcontractors, including green certification, in some cases. The payoff for the trades? More business from the growing number of green remodeling companies. And, of course, green remodelers benefit from having true partners to whom they can direct more business.

“If it's a trade partner we want to work with, we're going to drag them to the water and make them drink,” Strong says.

Trouble is, sometimes it's a bit more dragging than he'd like.

Alice Bumgarner is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. When she's not covering the remodeling industry, she writes about food, travel, and parenting. Her work has been published in Salon, Sky, and Town & Country magazines, among others.