During a physical therapy appointment the other day, my therapist, who knows I work for EcoHome and Building Products, began bombarding me with questions about building a new house. Kathy not only wants an accessible home (her teenage son uses a wheelchair), but she wants it to be green. I was amazed when she told me about the high R-values she desires for the walls and ceilings; the super-efficient HVAC system she craved; the low-VOC paints she plans to cover the walls with; and the brick she'll clad the exterior of the dwelling with. And she spewed out brand names as if they were the bones and muscles she internalized in grad school. Her knowledge of building materials is so extensive that I am afraid she knows as much as I do! Meet your new customer. Kathy has no expertise or relatives in home building or remodeling, but she's become very knowledgeable very quickly. And you can thank the Internet for that. From manufacturer Web sites to design blogs to e-commerce sites, the Web is packed with information about eco-friendly products. And that's not even counting the print magazines--from shelter pubs to celebrity weeklies--covering the green movement in some form or another.
There's no excuse for pros to not be just as well versed. While nearly every manufacturer has a Web site filled with new product catalogs, installation instructions, design tips, and other information, trade associations also offer general overviews of construction techniques, materials, and trends. Also, industry publications, including EcoHome, Building Products, and Builder, write about green issues in every issue and every week on their Web sites, and produce regular e-newsletters that compile green stories from around the Net.
You need to be informed and knowledgeable. Even if customers in your area aren't asking for green just yet, surveys show that chances are they will be soon. So, while the market is in the doldrums, this is the best possible time to educate yourself and your staff about green building and products. If you don't, the Kathys of the world will take their questions--and their money--to your competitors.
Jean Dimeo is Chief Editor, Online for EcoHome.