Ilana Kohn

Maybe it all started when Leif Jackson was “sickened” by seeing five 30-yard Dumpsters go to the landfill on a whole-house remodel. Whatever the deciding moment, Jackson is on a mission to redesign the Seattle company he owns with his brother Erik into one that is totally green.

Though Jackson Remodeling did its first green remodel in 2001, turning the company fully green means changes in personnel, marketing, and office practices; training and education; new company manuals and new vehicles; even an office redesign. It most likely will mean some lost business. But Leif and Erik are willing to gamble on a green future in every aspect of their company.

Employee Eagerness

The Jacksons hired David Johnston, a leader in the green movement and author of Green Remodeling: Changing the World, One Room at a Time, to visit the company. Leif wanted a big surprise kickoff and had a conference room painted green. Along with a copy of Johnston’s book, says Leif, “we gave each employee a jacket and T-shirt with the new logo: ‘Rethink remodeling. Design smart. Build green.’” To reinforce the initial enthusiasm, each week Leif offers “green for green” — a $20 bill for the best green idea, even something as simple as using cotton towels instead of paper towels.

Although all employees are on-board, one reticent carpenter was let go before the launch. “We had to set it up so people would embrace it rather than receive it with suspicion or ambivalence,” Leif says.

Existing customers are unaffected, but new clients are told that “this is the way we build,” Leif says. “We try to go beyond payback and get them to think in terms of green mortgage.” And because the higher cost is almost always offset by lower utility bills, “they’re better off from month one,” Leif points out. Although they aren’t going to convince everyone to care about the planet, Leif says, “we can sell them on the benefits of healthy, durable, efficient, comfortable homes.”

The self-imposed deadline of May 28, 2009, is the business’ 10th anniversary. At that time, the Jacksons plan to have Johnston return and grade the company.

To Market To Market

For green to have meaning, Jackson Remodeling has to practice what it preaches. “Everything we do from here on out will be green,” Leif says. In the office, they used zero-VOC paint and installed a water filter and gave up bottled water. They’re in the process of designing low-maintenance, native vegetation landscaping. They use biodiesel for their trucks and own yellow Smart Cars emblazoned with the company’s logo.

“We need to be conspicuously green,” Leif says. They also put out press releases, and instead of attending the main Seattle home show, they’re at the smaller Sustainable Ballard Fair. They created reusable grocery bags with the company logo, which are given away at local farmers markets. “People who spend money on organic food are the kind of clients who care about [green remodeling].”

All the changes mean a substantial investment, but Leif is certain that the efforts will be worth it. “In 20 years we won’t be talking about ‘green remodeling,’ we’ll be talking about the old, inefficient, unhealthy way we were remodeling,” he says. “Everyone will have to learn how to work this way whether they like it or not. It’s a good move to do it before it’s required and establish ourselves as leaders.” 

Editor’s note: Follow Jackson Remodeling’s changes in  Update: Jackson Remodeling’s E-Commitments.