Why don't builders take credit where it's due? By Roberta Maynard

I attended a conference not long ago on the subject of sustainability. The theme of the meeting had to do with the fact that earth-friendly concepts can't operate in a vacuum, independent of economic considerations. While this makes perfect sense to CEOs, it did take time for the environmental community to come around to that realization. Now, it's largely accepted that just as a business' primary mission must integrate and elevate environmental initiatives -- if they are to succeed -- those initiatives must also function within the context of profit making.

Several speakers representing corporate America were at the conference to explain how they had aligned green goals with profit goals. A vice president from British Petroleum told the group how the company uses its involvement in environmental issues to enhance BP's brand. In the course of the two-day program, other executives weighed in from Toyota, DuPont, ALCOA, Ford, ExxonMobil, UPS, Pitney Bowes, Pfizer, Cargill Dow, and, I might add, Home Depot.

I scanned the list of 150 or so attendees looking for home builders, developers, or building materials manufacturers. There was only one: Collins amp; Aikman Floorcoverings.

Why?, I wondered. What an opportunity for a big home builder to show off its progressive side. Here's an industry at whose doorstep is laid most of the blame for urban sprawl, an industry that could stand to benefit from greening its image. Not that doing so would be a stretch for many in the industry. Some 650 builders participated in the Energy Star program last year, and hundreds belong to the two dozen green building programs run by builder associations. John Wieland and Tom Bradbury, to pick two examples, are individual sponsors of Atlanta's Southface Energy Institute.

But who knows about it -- apart from those who read the local community newspaper? How many tout those relationships in their marketing materials and on their Web sites? Surprisingly few, I discovered. Last year, Forecast Homes sent out the word via a press release when California gave the company a green building award. And when K. Hovnanian announced that all of the homes it builds in New Jersey will meet the state's Energy Star program, it held a conference call and sent out an expensive color brochure. Hedgewood Homes, in Atlanta, has done at least as much in this area as any production builder. Pam Sessions, the company's president, crafted the entire operation around building energy-efficient homes, and, equally important, created a strong marketing program. (Take a look at www.hedgewoodhomes.com and earthcrafthouse.com.)

Sessions would have fit in at the conference on sustainability because she's found a way to make money building green homes. Featured in this month's cover story, her fast-growing company is profitable at least in part because she used marketing effectively to tell the world what she's up to. There's value in those bragging rights.

Roberta Maynard, Editor, e-mail: rmaynard@hanley-wood.com

BIG BUILDER Magazine, March 2002