Hitting Eco Brick Walls With Clients and how to Overcome Them

I just had a contractor come visit our Brooklyn Green Show House. He was up from Virginia visiting family and decided to check it out. He isn’t a green builder but wants to move in that direction.

Where he’s from he says there is very little green building interest and he is very frustrated with his clients. He says it is like hitting a brick wall when he tries to propose green alternatives. This is the kind of eco brick wall you DON”T want.

It made me realize how lucky we are to be a green contractor in New York and Brooklyn because by comparison our clients are a joy. They are hungry for green renovation. They eagerly accept our green building suggestions and are actually appreciative of it.

I realize this is partly the filtering process since by the time a client calls us they already know they want a green renovation for their brownstone, but I think a lot has to do with the sheer number of people in NY who are aware of the benefits of green building, which means my job of educating them is already well on its way.

As a green contractor dealing with people who already see the value in green building I can jump to step two of the education process, which is not about the benefits of green but the benefits of one green technique over another. This is a much more enjoyable process, much less sales and more interesting  investigation into the great green options.

Here in Brooklyn and NY we’ve come a long way in green building awareness, which makes a green contractors job more what it should be: finding the best green solution for the specific given situation. We have more energy and time to do this because we’re not running around trying to convince clients into going green in the first place.

Ah the joys of being a green contractor in NY and Brooklyn!

My suggestion to this contractor was to hit his clients in two ways:

1. Morally (aka emotionally)

Building green feels great! It is morally right to build green. It is the best for them and the world. It is what will make them feel good about themselves. They will be better people if they build green. This is very compelling and everyone wants this. This one is easy. Yes, but…

2. Financially (aka logically)

Once you point out to them what they already know – that green building is morally right and feels great – you need to immediately counter their fear based logical  “Yes, but” answer which will follow: “Yes want to be happy but am too scared.”

They may say it in different words but that is what they mean. They might word is as, “Yes I would love to help the planet, but I can’t afford to.” or “Yes I want to live a greener lifestyle but I don’t have time.” etc.

Bottom line, they are scared, and it is almost always based on money. They of course are wrong – more money won’t solve the fear – but that is a whole other discussion. For now we just want them to build green so they can have a better home and hopefully reduce some of the stress in their lives.

And the way you do this is you reassure them: you show them the financial benefits of building green, and there are many. It is usually a discussion about up front costs vs. long term costs, which in itself is a very grounding experience. Getting a person to start thinking long term about their life instead of the terrified day to day survival allows them to calm down and become more centered.

This discussion is a logical one and if done correctly it becomes clear that building green is the only logical solution. In fact you would be financially stupid, or illogical NOT to build green. This reassures them and helps dispel fears that green building is too expensive or risky.

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Through these two approaches the client can see new possibilities both emotionally and logically. They feel good about their actions morally, their life has more of a purpose beyond themselves. Not only are they renovating a home for themselves but they are making the world a better place. Hey that feels good!

Logically they are also closer to feeling in control of their lives financially. They feel that they are making decisions  that will directly benefit them financially. All of a sudden a green home renovation has become a tool to gain control over their life, to push back the fear brought on by not knowing where or how your money is being used.

And finally the two together allow them to do something most people never thought was possible: they can afford happiness! And I don’t mean they can afford to buy it. This is not about consuming. I mean they can have their cake and eat it. They can have happiness without sacrificing financially. They can have more financial stability without sacrificing what is best for the planet.

I have found it is about showing that there is no conflict in looking at the green renovation from the view of the triple bottom line: People, Planet Profit. And in fact it is the same attitude I have with the business. Businesses are like people, with the same aspirations and fears. By keeping the triple bottom line in focus for every decision we can keep on track.

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One comment on “Hitting Eco Brick Walls With Clients and how to Overcome Them
  1. Gennaro,

    Tell your Virginia contractor to hang in there! We are northern VA architects and we have seen a sea change in interest in sustainable design in this area in the last two years (although we still have moments of envy of our colleagues on the West Coast and in cities like yours!).

    I have been reading along lately following your progress in the PH retrofit. Congratulations on such a success! I look forward to one day getting to see the project. We are scheduled to begin construction on our first PH in February– very exciting for us.

    All the best for 2010.

    David Peabody
    Peabody Architects
    Alexandria, VA

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