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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sustainable building and construction marketing

We are partners with Tree Canada and the Green Building Festival (Sept. 9 and 10 in Toronto). These are worthy initiatives, and reflect the sort of environmental participation and initiative you should consider for your business. But if you wish to achieve real leadership in environmentally responsible construction marketing, you will have to do much more.

Undoubtedly one of the major trends in the construction industry in the last few years has been increasing recognition of the importance of sustainable buildings and environmentally responsible construction practices. Virtually every substantial general contractor and most building industry suppliers are jumping on the bandwagon, recognizing the trend in public interest and concern for the environment. There are practical applications, as well, as fuel costs rise to astronomical levels -- energy efficiency saves money in life cycle costs, quickly paying back additional initial construction costs.

Some contractors and developers have staked out their market positions effectively as leaders in this field; notably, you can see how Jonathan Westeinde in Ottawa has positioned Windmill Developments in Canada, and Paul Spry of Spry Construction in Louisiana has used Youtube videos to relate his progress.

Sponsorship and affiliation opportunities of course are available through Green organizations. In Canada, we've partnered with Tree Canada (we plant about eight trees for every one we consume -- and recognize our advertisers for their support by planting a tree for each advertisement). We are also sponsors of the Green Building Festival in Toronto Sept. 9-10, and you might want to consider similar participation. Of course you can also explore LEED certification through the U.S. or Canadian Green Building Council organizations.

Nevertheless, I invite you to think with some imagination and resourcefulness in defining your place in the Green economy. You can look at it in two ways (both are reasonable to me). In the first, your objective is simply to show respect for the trend -- you are not trying to be a leader; you simply want to have enough 'goodness' in your picture that consumers and organizations concerned about the environment won't regard you as an albatross. (You also will need some basic capacities, if anything, to bid on many public sector projects requiring LEED or similar certification.)

If these are your goals -- and they are reasonable -- you don't need to do too much to achieve your objectives. I would advocate appointing an environmental 'Evangelist' from within your staff to gather the necessary certifications and documentation, and implement simple practices within your marketing strategies. then, when you do something interesting or relevant, issue a news release and of course let your clients know through your other conventional marketing processes, such as your website, e-letter, brochures, and so on.

But if you want to define leadership within the environmental space -- a potentially extremely lucrative place to be -- you will need to do much more, and think on a much higher level. To achieve this, you must not be 'number 2' in your market segment. If someone else has already taken the place as the 'environmental' contractor, you have two choices; default to the first option, or define a niche or area of specialization where you can grab the Number 1 position.

For example, if you build the first LEED certified project in your area, you can claim leadership -- if another contractor has already done that, you can certainly obtain LEED certification, publicize it, and so on, but you will simply be in a holding space; okay, but not a leadership role. So you either must focus more finely your niche, or do something different (while of course maintaining the LEED capacity as you will need it to compete for projects requiring certification in the future.)

Secondly, once you have satisfied you are the first to act, you must let everyone know, and build on it with sustainable and repeated marketing, especially of any subsequent accomplishments. Use the media effectively here -- coupled with newsletters, announcements and (increasingly) video. Blog about your participation in environmental projects and initiatives and let me know. Speak out, be assertive, and let everyone know.

Third, and this is vitally important, if you are aspiring to the leadership role, you must absolutely do what you say, and be consistent in your practices. You will have a serious public relations disaster on your hands if the market finds you are driving a Hummer and you serve bottled water everywhere while you espouse environmental leadership. These inconsistencies are not so important if you are just seeking an 'okay' status (option 1) but you cannot afford to risk being found out as a phony and hypocrite if you are going for the gold (perhaps literally, as in LEED certification).

I'll admit as a business we are more in the first option category than the second, higher, level of environmental marketing. Sure, we produce more trees than we consume (good) and we lend our support to healthy environmental practices (excellent); but we have a long ways to go to define ourselves as leaders in environmental construction. But then, again, we aren't producing publications specifically tailored to the environmental construction market -- others do this quite well -- and our place in construction marketing news and ideas is broader than the specific environmental niche. So 'okay' may be good enough for us here.

So, in thinking environmental and green, decide which of the two options you think is right for your business and pursue the one you think is best. Just be aware that you must absolutely 'do something' because ignoring this trend will be costly for your market share, as well as the environment.

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