These days, the buzz about “green” is evident everywhere — in politics, print and broadcast media, and in every retail channel. It is also appearing more frequently in the remodeling industry — in seminars, dedicated magazines, and professional certifications. Owners of remodeling businesses are asking themselves how to embrace the subject and make it an integral part of their company culture.
I remember the last time the green movement gained momentum. It was after the oil embargo of the early 1970s, and it spurred many in the remodeling industry to change their design practices to take into account energy efficiency and a more sustainable approach to construction. But within a decade, consumer interest waned, and many companies that had identified themselves with green practices were soon labeled as being outside the mainstream. As a result, some respectable companies went out of business or had to adapt by creating small “boutique” practices.
I am not suggesting that the current interest in sustainable building is a passing fad. For one thing, it is closely identified with persistent global issues such as climate change. But my experience with the earlier green movement taught me that success in the area of Earth-friendly remodeling isn't automatic. Here are my suggestions for how to position your company for sustainable success.
Educate yourself. Regardless of your current interest in green remodeling, you owe it to yourself, your team, and your clients to become educated on the topic. Dedicate one to two hours per week to learning about the principles, vocabulary, products, and processes involved in sustainable remodeling.
Define “green.” The next step is to establish what “green” means to your organization. Is it as simple as using more energy-efficient materials and equipment, or does it also include jobsite recycling? Is it limited to what you do on-site, or does it also guide practices in your office? Do you want merely to respond to client interest in green, or do you want to champion it? Start a dialogue among key members of your team to determine what green building means for your company.
Evaluate client interest. Green talk is cheap, but adding sustainable materials and practices can also add cost. If your clients are willing to pay for green remodeling, then you need to be prepared to provide it. But if your clients are not willing to pay a premium for green, proceed with caution. Dip a toe into the water before you jump in.
Take a stance. Once you have a working definition and have gauged client interest, the next step is to agree on a “mission statement” on green practices. This both creates alignment within your company and forms the basis for making decisions. In our organization, we adopted a balanced approach that includes a variety of green elements, from a commitment to training and education, to recycling, to the use of sustainable products and construction techniques. We also established a task force that meets monthly to discuss trends and products, and is our conduit to communicate information to other team members.
Go public. Don't keep your interest in sustainable building practices a secret. Begin to communicate your position more formally in marketing materials and client presentations, as well as to the media. Whatever your commitment to green, your clients will get the message. So will your team, some of whom may volunteer to assist with these environmentally friendly initiatives.
Follow through. All of these efforts will be wasted if you don't practice what you preach. Reaffirm your commitment in your regular team meetings and company newsletters. Think about how you can be more balanced in your daily personal and professional decisions. As the leader of your organization, you set an example for others whether you intend to or not. —Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md. In 2006 he was named a Maryland Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.