The audacity of this recession is that it doesn’t care about where we live, what kind of work we do, or the urgency of the environmental problems we face. And as optimistic as I am about the crucial role for green building in reshaping the residential housing industry, it seems the halo that hovers over sustainable design and construction is not quite strong enough to protect those who have committed to it—despite our greenest hopes.
It’s a harsh financial reality that comes at a bad time for the environment. We find ourselves losing momentum as important markets shrink, resources are redirected, and even green building veterans struggle to survive. This, at a time when we need all hands on deck to fight the relentless environmental threats that will not slow down just because the economy has.
The financial effects are unmistakable and almost unavoidable. And while, thankfully, there are some local markets and niches with perceptible pulses, there are more facing life support every week. Unfortunately, the underlying factors feeding the housing recession go way beyond the scope and abilities of green building markets to confront and correct. So despite some wishful thinking out there about how green building can save the industry, systemic and structural failures within the banking, mortgage, and credit industries have put this problem beyond the reach of any simple market solution.
And yet the good fight goes on. Speaking with green leaders from architectural firms, large and small home building companies, trade associations, and green building programs across the country, I get the clear sense that while all are deeply concerned and making painful adjustments, none are retreating from their commitment to survive, their focus on sustainability, or their belief that when recovery is finally in sight, we will emerge and lead the industry to its own more sustainable future. The signs are everywhere, and I am truly confident much good will come out of these troubled times. The trick now is to stay in business long enough.
What can you do to protect yourself? This is the time to review the basics of your business operations. You are an architect, builder, remodeler, or contractor first, and a green business owner second; your survival will depend on your business management skills before they rely on your green building reputation.
Across the board everyone is looking at their overhead for ways to reduce costs, from closing central offices and operating "virtually" from sales centers and home offices, to pulling back on marketing and putting the brakes on new starts. And, of course, many have already laid off even longtime employees and are operating with skeleton crews.
Hard costs for projects are getting close scrutiny too, because any qualified buyers still out there are seeking bargain prices. And they’ll be looking harder for trust and confidence, expertise and precision, and customer service—which these days should include savvy credit advice and up-to-date guidance on tax incentives for energy efficiency and renewables.
I’m an optimistic realist ... or maybe a realistic optimist. Either way, I try to find the opportunity in the midst of crisis, and at the same time understand the kind of faith, focus, and hard work it takes to adapt to change and forge ahead in new ways. This is what it will take to pass the test we are faced with today, so that we can continue to fight the good fight tomorrow.
For full results of EcoHome's National Economic Survey, click here