The marketing dilemma

Given this ferment in the marketplace for green buildings, one would expect most firms to have responded strongly by now. However, that is not the case; most leading architecture and engineering firms are having trouble getting more than 25 percent of their technical staff to become LEED Accredited Professionals, the basic accreditation now possessed by more than 36,000 design and construction industry professionals.5 And many firms are not yet re-orienting themselves in the way I believe necessary for long-term success, as the entire design profession moves toward sustainable design as an overriding concern. This book discusses that dilemma and what to do about it.

I interviewed a number of leading marketers and design firm principals for this book. Steven Kendrick is an Architect and Principal of a leading California-based design firm, LPA Inc., ranked 28th nationally in 2005 among architect/ engineering firms.6 He is a strong proponent of sustainable design and talked of his firm's approach:

"We've updated our practice to focus on sustainable design. In 2006, we were challenged by the president of our firm to have everybody become LEED Accredited Professionals, and for a firm of over 200 that's quite a challenge. At this point [March 2007], 75% of our staff is LEED Accredited.

We don't look at sustainable design as a separate market. We apply sustainable design to all of the market segments that we're involved with from our private work to all of our public work.

We've had some clients now that have seen what we're doing with sustainable design who are now coming to us, even if they don't have a project at the moment, and asking us how they can get a sustainable quotient into their next project. We're also seeing some recruitment benefits from our sustainable focus. We've been able to bring a few people in who have achieved their LEED accreditation at other firms. Then they see what we're doing in sustainable design and they've come over here, because [at LPA] it's driven top-down and not bottom-up.

If sustainability is not in the firm's DNA and they don't start at the beginning at the grass roots level and just apply things to projects to make them sustainable, it's going to cost more and they'll never understand what's possible.7

How things change

A 2006 book by a Silicon Valley maven, Pip Coburn, presents compelling evidence why some technologies succeed in the marketplace while others never get off the ground.8 While the book primarily deals with the fate of new computing and electronic technologies for both consumer and business markets, the lessons it presents are broadly applicable to green building adoptions and to green building marketing.

In essence, the book documents two critical factors in the success of new technologies. One, the "Total Perceived Pain of Adoption" (TPPA) and the other, the degree of "Crisis" involved. The first critical factor, TPPA, deals with the full costs of understanding and deploying new technology. In Coburn's view, the problem with most new technologies is that they're developed by technologists (scientists and engineers, computer programmers and geeks) whose main interest is in doing with technology whatever "cool" things can be done. Their primary worldview is that anyone who doesn't see things their way is "un-cool" or a "dummy."

The second factor, Crisis, is equally important. Most new technologies don't get mainstream acceptance unless there's a "crisis" of some kind with current technology.

Without a genuine crisis of performance or economics, most new technologies can't overcome people's genuine concerns with the economic and technical risks of new approaches.

What's needed for the rapid adoption of new technologies is the combination of both factors: TPPA needs to be relatively low (i.e., pain of adoption needs to be far less than the gain from adoption) and the sense of organizational or personal crisis needs to be high. In this respect, Coburn's approach is entirely consistent with other classic works on the theory of innovation adoption, presented in Chapter 9. Things don't change just because new things are available; people need good reasons to make significant changes in business and personal affairs.

Think about some of the new technologies that you or your colleagues have adopted in the past few years. Quickly, Blackberries come to mind. The TPPA factor is not large, since the Blackberry™ is basically a marriage of a Palm Pilot, on the market for more than 10 years, and a cell phone of similar vintage. The Crisis factor lies in the need for increasingly mobile workers to stay in touch with the home office and with each other. Void, the Blackberry (or "Crackberry," to those addicted to it). Think of how you feel getting a return email, usually quite short, with the tag line, "sent from my wireless email Blackberry." Pretty left out, right? The TPPA is also not large because the cost of failure is small: just a few hundred dollars and a return to your previous "out of touch" existence.

Now think about the adoption cycle for green buildings. What about the TPPA and the Crisis factors? In the summer of 2006, I attended a conference hosted by three major professional associations in higher education. One of the presentations dealt with the use of LEED and green building approaches by 11 campuses in the Boston area, a location that many times is a "hotbed" of new ideas and quite receptive to new technology and green buildings. Of these 11 institutions of higher education, only three were actually members of the US Green Building Council, and less than half had completed even one LEED-certified building through early 2006. What became clear from the presentation was that neither the TPPA factor nor the Crisis factor is yet at work in green building adoption for higher education in that region.

Chapter 5 suggests that higher education adoption of green building practices is still in the "innovator" stage (less than three percent of new buildings or major renovations actively pursue LEED certification), but is rapidly moving into the "early adopter" stage (with LEED accounting for 3 to 16 percent of total new building or renovation projects), primarily because of campus pressure from below (students and faculty) and sometimes from above (presidents and chancellors).

But let's return to the Boston-area campuses, for example. As we stated earlier, the TPPA factor needs to be low, not high, for green building adoption to occur. Campuses that make green building investments have to see them as fairly easy and cost effective. What are the facts? Chapter 4 cites a 2005 national survey of some 665 design and construction industry executives, including owners, showed that they thought the additional cost of "going green" ranged from 13 to 18 percent, a killer in today's high-cost construction environment. Most of the Boston-area facilities would probably concur, yet a

2006 project at Harvard University delivered a LEED Platinum project with no additional cost.9

There is still the perception, true or not, that "LEED costs too much" for the benefits received. If users think LEED costs too much, what can be done to lower the perceived costs of LEED projects, other than actual experience? The job of the design firm is to deliver green projects on conventional budgets, so that clients will no longer fear "budget busting" results. Many are starting to do so, but it appears that TPPA is still thought too high by most potential users to justify using it on a regular basis.

What about the Crisis factor? Is there a crisis (problem) for which green buildings are a logical and compelling answer? In the opinion of many, such as New Mexico architect Edward Mazria, the need to get new buildings to be 90 percent or more efficient, compared with 2003 standards by 2030 (and 60 percent more efficient by 2010), is compelling, in terms of their cumulative global environmental impact. However, such large-scale "crises" seldom enter into day-to-day decision-making among design and construction teams and building owners or developers. What might constitute a Crisis for a facility director, project manager or architect is when the president of the university makes a public commitment to LEED Silver for all new projects. Then it's hard not to see a reason to go forward with a LEED project. Absent that imperative, most people try to achieve less lofty goals, such as basic certification (still about 40 percent of all LEED certifications), or to "design to LEED standards" without certifying at all (probably at least a third of projects that have sustainability goals). But whenever I hear this, I ask people to think of what our government's revenues would be like if we all just decided to pay our taxes "according to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidelines," without having to justify the amount to the IRS!

How should design and construction firms promote the rapid growth and adoption of green buildings and new green building technologies? Now the answer is relatively easy. Lower the TPPA, the Total Perceived Pain of Adoption, by continuing to work to make green buildings easier to build with a more certain outcome; in addition firms should publish case studies that reveal design team processes and choices that result in lower total capital costs for high-performance projects. One engineering firm did just that, publishing a case study of the engineering design of the world's largest LEED Platinum project. By making this widely available, it has distributed more than 9,000 copies of their report, a clear testament to the hunger for this information.10 You just might agree that sending 9,000 copies of a quality case study of a high-performance green project around the world, upon written request, would qualify as a sound marketing move! And in fact, the firm reports that it is now working on more than 60 LEED-registered projects, almost triple the number before the report was published.

As for Crisis, there's not much that green building advocates can do to increase the sense of crisis in energy and water costs for buildings and the continuing interest of user groups in more sustainable approaches for building design and corporate responsibility. Global warming concerns and $70 per barrel oil already do that job quite nicely. Unfortunately, the crisis is not yet pointed enough for most project teams to take action for high-level LEED buildings, unless some CEO or university president or political leader makes it their priority.

If you're among the many trying to figure out how to succeed in the world of green building marketing, take it as your task to figure out how to decrease TPPA and increase the understanding of Crisis. Your clients will reward you beyond your expectations.

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