Outside of a very small minority of remodeling companies, green building practices represent a new frontier for the industry. While the design process, installation procedures, and overall mindset necessary to truly build green are indeed unique, it's important not to forget the basics when it comes to marketing your company as green.
Step one, of course, is making sure you have something to market. "If you aren't building green and doing it well, you shouldn't market yourself as green," said Marc Richmond, president of Practica Consulting, a green building consulting firm with offices in Berkeley, Calif., and Austin, Texas. But be careful. If you implement just one or two green practices, or all of the green things you do are standard in your area or mandated by code, don't advertise yourself as a green builder or remodeler. Go ahead and implement those practices little by little - both Richmond and green building consultant Carl Seville describe becoming a green remodeler as a long journey that should be completed step by step - but exaggerating your company's green-ness is a surefire way to turn off potential customers. "Clients are tired of greenwashing," said Richmond, using the popular term to refer to what to one Web site dedicated to the topic refers to as "what corporations do when they try to make themselves look more environmentally friendly than they really are." Build toward that goal, but hold off on labeling yourself as a green remodeler until you reach a certain level of capability.
Once you get to that point, simple marketing guidelines apply. Know your audience: Richmond said that, to the extent that there are typical homeowners who are interested in a green remodel, they generally are goal-driven people who have moved on to their second or third house, at least. And while homeowners most gung-ho about green - what Iconoculture's Corinne Asturias refers to as "extreme greens" - are certainly a logical target for green-related advertising, bear in mind that they represent only a small segment of the market. Once green remodeling becomes the way your company does business, you'll need to market it and sell it to homeowners with diverse attitudes about it.
To that end, it's important to choose your words carefully. Richmond cited a focus group from 2004 where some participants said that the word "green" to them meant "paying more money for an inferior product" and "not strong enough to do the job." Other words, like "conservation" and "efficient," ultimately refer to "less" of something and may evoke negative feelings in some homeowners. Richmond recommended using more positive language, such as "high performance," "durable," and "healthier" when explaining the benefits of green remodeling to your current and future clients.
"The right words yield the right results," Richmond says, and using the right products will get good results, as well. In the same 2004 survey cited earlier, respondents were asked, "What would convince you to build green?" The No. 1 answer was "trust," and Richmond pointed to remodelers who went so far as to guarantee that their green building work would lower energy costs and give homeowners a durable, better-performing home.
"Being certain in the performance of your homes means learning why things worked and why they didn't," Richmond said. Rather than try a green product in your client's home, only to find that it doesn't deliver, Richmond suggested remodelers be their own Guinea pigs, even if it means testing low-VOC paints in patches on your living room walls. Doing so gives the remodeler a chance to invite clients to his home where they'll be able to see how important using the right products is to that company. "Experiment on your own home, and not on your clients, so that when you offer something to your customers they can trust your knowledge and experience," he said.