Friday, October 22, 2010

Promoting Green Living as a Lifestyle

Imagine, if you will, walking through what looks like a fairly typical model home complex for a new green community. Perhaps it offers the latest in energy-efficient appliances, LED lighting, solar panels, drought-tolerant landscaping, and more. But in addition to that, the homes in question feature an array of sustainable consumer products – tightly secured to tables, cabinets and countertops, of course -- that the eventual occupants might use in their daily lives.

From household chemicals and children’s toys to food and personal care items, in order to obtain ratings on the greenest of the green, these shoppers would only need to scan product bar codes via an iPhone application or visit the Web site for a new company called the Good Guide. Started in 2004 by a professor of environmental policy at UC Berkeley named Dara O’Rourke after he realized he didn’t really know what was in the sunscreen being applied to the face of his two-year-old daughter (and which, after testing in his lab included a suspected carcinogen as well as a chemical which could disrupt hormones), O’Rourke’s goal is to bring academic-quality research on everyday products to the masses.

As I was reading this story recently in a national newsmagazine, I couldn’t help but think how easy it would be for homebuilders to leverage the mainstreaming of green products into their own sales and marketing campaigns. In September of 2010, the site for Good Guide tracked 300,000 visitors who reviewed its ratings on more than 75,000 items, so the interest is certainly there. It’s also an opportune time to provide objective research – sort of a Consumer Reports for green products – to a general public who overwhelmingly say they prefer environmentally responsible products in surveys but have grown increasingly wary of ‘greenwashing.’

To address its own environmental footprint, WalMart effectively became the most powerful regulator in the market back in July of 2009 by setting up sustainability requirements for suppliers and manufacturers. By 2012, the retail giant hopes to offer product ratings on its vendors’ ecological footprints to its customers with the idea that such transparency is good for business.

At a time when up to 70 percent of companies listed in the S&P 500 have issued their own targets to release greenhouse gases, managing the corporate green reputation is becoming almost as important as hitting financial targets. Moreover, following one of the worst oil spills in history and the eventual day of reckoning when oil supply can no longer meet demand (also known as ‘peak oil’), the awareness of investing in renewable energy has probably never been higher.

Few industries will be able to benefit more from these trends than homebuilding. For those builders which have strongly promoted solar energy, their homes have been selling at a faster clip then the rest of the market. According to market leader SunPower Corp., the additional cost for the solar systems are often more than paid for through higher absorption rates, helped in part by federal tax credits and California’s own Million Solar Roofs rebate program. To find these green homes, Web sites such as Listed Green® Homes and some local Multiple Listing Services now allow potential buyers to seek out sustainable new homes and retrofits when conducting their own online searches.

As homebuyers increasingly look for a sustainable lifestyle that accompanies a home, those builders and developers willing to invest in the technology and creativity to promote green products throughout the homes they’re marketing can potentially increase sales velocity while adding to the bottom line. At the same time -- like Wal-Mart -- they can also continue to reinvigorate their own brands for a new decade.

Friday, October 15, 2010

October column for Builder & Developer magazine now online

My October column for Builder & Developer magazine is now posted online. For this month's issue, which is entitled "The Changing New Home Interior" -- I discussed as new homes are becoming smaller, they're requiring design changes that increase both the efficiency of energy use and space. One primary example of this was the Home for the New Economy introduced in early 2010 at the annual International Builders Show.

An excerpt:

Owing to intense competition from discounted foreclosures, the end of demand for McMansions and a growing interest in sustainability, the Home for the New Economy -- introduced earlier this year at the International Builders Show -- promised a design that will compete with older sales homes in terms of both cost and utility. The only problem back in January? The home was built in digital format only as a 3-D rendering and had yet to be offered to the home-buying public.

Since then, however, the former concept home has become a reality at Warwick Grove, built by Leyland Alliance in Warwick, N.Y. Originally conceived as a real-world test project, Leyland has managed to sign contracts for several more in what is still a mostly traditional neighborhood.