I spent three days in Las Vegas speaking in the Owens Corning booth at the annual NAHB International Builders’ Show last week doing presentations about the sustainable American Dream – and laying out what Americans want in their homes relative to conservation and sustainability. Here’s the gist:
--They want all the stuff we mean when we talk about sustainability, they just don’t call it that.
--80 percent say they would choose an energy-efficient home over one that’s not, provided all the amenities are the same.
--40 percent say they would pay a little more for a home built to better-than-Energy Star standards if that extra amount in their mortgage were offset by lower utility bills.
--84 percent think energy-efficient homes are healthier homes.
--They want better homes, homes that look beautiful, feel comfortable, are built to last and provide owners a sense of control in areas such as utility bills and security.
--They don’t want trade-offs…no sacrificing aesthetics for efficiency, no sacrificing comfort for aesthetics.
--They want this all baked into a home when they buy it. They don’t want to have to make a bunch of upgrades after the fact. They want builders and others to essentially “do it for them.”
--When we market to them about it, we need to avoid the technical jargon (which may not seem like jargon at all to those of us in the industry) and talk about benefits.
--62 percent don’t feel confident they could correctly explain the term “efficient home” to a friend (and if they don’t really get it, it’s hard to make a buying decision.) So we need to talk about comfortable homes instead.
--86 percent don’t feel confident they could explain the term “high-performance home,” so we need to talk about "better homes" and "way-above-average homes" and "homes that make your life better."
Given that I was speaking daily on this topic for Owens Corning, the company clearly was trying to get a sustainability message out to their builders. It has crafted the concept of the ComfortBuilt home that couches efficiency and sustainability in a comfort message (which is the benefit and driver to the end consumer). Owens Corning officials also worked closely with Newtown Home Builders to craft net-zero homes (called ZEN) – which were lauded with awards during the show. These homes also sell faster and have fewer cancellations.
The trouble is that Owens Corning was one of only a handful of manufacturers I saw directly communicating to builders about sustainability. Knauf Insulation had a nice chunk of real estate in its booth devoted to it, Kohler (also a Shelton client) had a panel devoted to its sustainability communications platform, Believing in Better, and every HVAC manufacturer mentioned efficiency and touted a smart thermostat. SolarCity was there in a big way (and their booth was well trafficked), pushing its Builder Program…but I didn’t see much else. Which caused me to wonder why.
Do building product manufacturers think that sustainability is baseline now, so ordinary, so “baked in” that they just don’t need to talk about anymore? Have many building product manufacturers just given up on sustainability or decided they don’t need it as part of their corporate branding or product strategy? Or, worse, have building product manufacturers just decided builders don’t care, so they’re not talking about it?
I’m a little worried it’s the latter. Here’s the bottom line: Much like the average American, perhaps the average builder doesn’t know to ask about sustainability or ever use that word, but they are for sure interested in selling homes. And the homes Americans want are sustainably built (though Americans don’t call it that).
I think building product manufacturers have a lot to gain by packaging up their philosophy and actions around sustainability into an easy-to-understand, easy-to-communicate communications platform. McGraw Hill predicts that by next year, 29 percent to 38 percent of new homes built will carry some sort of green designation. That means we’re hitting the mainstream…we’ll be sending the market a signal that this is how we build homes. Now, not every builder is going to be there yet…so manufacturers can do a lot to help. How?
Make your products inherently better–more efficient, less toxic, less embedded energy, more mold-resistant--and tell builders about it so they understand that the products they typically use in their homes are now actually better than they were a decade ago. Connect that story to the story of what the consumer wants (as I laid out above). Help builders tell a benefit-laden story to their prospective customer. And, of course, literally help builders build better homes. This will not work if you’re asking them to completely change the way they’ve always done it. Give them two to three changes to make to a multi-step process. Help them master those steps, then give them another few steps. Help them eat the elephant of building better homes one bite at a time.
Manufacturers, get your sustainability house in order, start talking about it, and start working with your builders to use it to everyone’s advantage. If you do that, everyone wins.