The success of programs like LEED for Homes has helped set residential green building industry on a good trajectory, but even Nate Kredich, vice president of Residential Market Development at the USGBC, will tell you the work has just begun.
“When you say ‘the industry,’ you’ve got California with a green building code already, and then you’ve got wide swaths of the country that aren’t adhering to any energy code and, arguably, not much of a building code,” Kredich says. “It’s hard to say, ‘Hey, we want everybody to be at net-zero energy by this date,’ because the journey to get there is just wildly different, whether you are in Oregon or in rural Arkansas.”
However, Kredich believes that the industry does need to have some consistency if it wants to take residential building to the next level. And that consistency needs to stretch to all corners of the green building world—from the builder to the policymaker to the utility and, ultimately, the consumer.
“We need to connect the dots between all the major parties,” he says. “Consumers trust their builder. They trust their retailer. They trust their Realtor. They trust their utilities. They trust the guys that do work on their home. Yet, ask each of them the same question, and you get a different answer every time.”
On the construction side, Kredich says one of the first orders of business is to coordinate a clear message that addresses both new and existing homes. “There is sort of a line or wall between new and existing homes, which really needs to come down,” he says. “If every new home over the next 100 years was built net-zero energy, we still have a flaming problem with 130 million homes that we have in our housing stock today. We can’t be telling a ‘green new-home story,’ we need to be talking about a ‘green home story.’”
In terms of policy, Kredich says he would love to see more consistency nationally but adds that he isn’t necessarily advocating national mandates. “Ultimately, it’s the states and the regions and the localities that need to make these decisions,” he says. “But we do think there are plenty of opportunities for leadership on the policy side for a lot of these localities to start ratcheting things up.”
He also thinks that the industry as a whole needs to start “pulling” the sustainability message through, instead of simply “pushing” it. “A lot of builders and developers are sort of sitting on the sidelines waiting for the consumer to start asking for it,” Kredich says. “We can’t make decisions based on today’s market. At some point in time, we are going to get back to an equilibrium. It’s important to remember at that point in time, you are going to have consumers looking for this stuff.”
Kredich adds that it’s incumbent on us as an industry to figure out how to deliver solutions and communicate their benefits in a way that is meaningful to the consumer. Right now, he says, the message is appealing but confusing, like a restaurant that smells of good food, but turns away diners before they even get the chance to eat.
“If you look at the menu and you can’t understand it, there’s a long line of people, and everything is disorganized—you’re just going to leave the restaurant,” says Kredich. “I think that is our biggest problem with green sustainability—even when we have them hooked, we are confusing them, and they are sort of abandoning the quest because it’s just too hard.”
The priority, Kredich stresses, is creating a clear message that gets consumers to care and to keep caring. “We have to figure out a way to get our message together and make sure that when people walk in the door, they are not turned off by it,” he says. “And, at the same time, get more people to actually start walking down the street and into our shop.”