Boutique Green Building

Boutique Green Building is the dominant business model of most residential green building right now. It is a combination of three things:

1. bad business management
Usually you have a skilled artisan who is not naturally a good business person. So their efficiency is not great and they waste resources and energy. This drives costs up (sometimes you will find a boutique builder with good business skills but instead of lowering their prices they simply make more money charging the client exorbitant prices).

2. a monopoly over their field
Their service is a niche market and there are very few people doing it. This creates a monopoly where the company can charge pretty much what they want without competition.

3. small demand.
Because it is a niche market there is very little demand. They have to make up for what they loose in volume through high fees.

The whole business model sucks and is not sustainable.

As a Brooklyn green contractor one of our main focus is to wrench green building from the stranglehold of boutique green building. here is how we are tackling the three problems.

1. bad business management
This one is simple. Eco Brooklyn is a corporation and is run like one. We happen to provide triple bottom line services and our success is measured in how well we amass “wealth” in not just money but in social and ecological benefit. But if it is not constantly growing in the triple bottom line then we stop and fix the problem.

2. a monopoly over their field
We are addressing this problem by competing with normal builders. We consciously keep ourselves in the larger competition pool. If we can’t provide the service for the same price as a comparable non-green service then there is a problem with our service and we find another way to provide it.

The one difference is that we do take into consideration a more holistic view. A non-green builder may consider chemical laden cheap cabinets as the basis for what cabinets should cost. Our comparable green service, although possibly (and often not) more expensive up front, costs the same when viewed holistically. Our cabinets last twice as long (i.e. are half the price over the life of the cabinets), reduce the cost of health issues in the home, and reduce the cost of environmental damage.

3. small demand.
We are only interested in exploding the demand for green building. This is a massive focus. What we “loose” in profit per job we make up for in volume. It means that pricing and the service model must appeal to the mainstream. In Brooklyn, the mainstream for a green builder is middle class brownstone owners. Our goal is that a Brooklyn brownstone owner looks at our service and realizes it is the smartest choice they could make on all levels, financially, for the community and for the ecology.

These strategies are what we feel will render boutique green building obsolete. Boutique green building is holding green building captive, not allowing it to flourish into something that benefits the most amount of people.

This is not to say that local artisania, crafts, skilled trades, specialized jobs, one of a kind pieces etc is not the central part of our business model. It is, but not like current companies of this kind. We aspire to be like the craft companies at the turn of last century.

Or like the artisans in third world countries. When you walk the market of a small village in Guatemala you can find high grade, locally built materials like furniture and pottery for an affordable price. These are our competitors here in Brooklyn, NY! We need to be looking at their business model and seeing how we can take the good (skills, quality etc) and leave the bad (poverty, sweat shops etc).

It is possible. And it is the only way we can really revive the us economy for the long run.

About the author: Gennaro Brooks-Church

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