In 2002, Building Design & Construction Magazine took a hard look at sustainable construction and the “green building” movement in its “Whitepaper on Sustainability.” It found that builders and contractors were highly interested in learning more about the products, techniques and technology behind sustainable building, but they also had questions about what being “green” really meant. They wondered how to better measure the demand for sustainable buildings and how their company fits into the sustainability picture.
Two decades later, many companies in the building industry are asking the same questions. They know sustainability is a growing part of their industry, but are unsure of how to make it part of their brand’s story.
Here at MAYO, we love to amplify companies that have incorporated sustainable practices. We focus our work on creating effective ways to highlight their commitment through marketing, but we are also practical. We know everyone needs to win in order for sustainability to continue accelerating–and that includes monetizing.
MAYO is here to help you market your sustainable products and practices, which will help you build and differentiate your brand. For 2022, we’ll be sharing our insights on sustainability marketing in monthly posts aimed at answering the top questions we hear from construction and building materials companies about this topic. To kick it off, we’ll start with one of the most common questions:
What does sustainability really mean?
When it comes to design, construction and building, there are various certifications and standards used to define “green” or “sustainable.” According to the Environmental Protection Agency, green buildings are designed to reduce the overall impact on human health and the natural environment. This might include:
- Using water, energy and other resources efficiently
- Protecting the health of workers and/or residents
- Reducing waste and pollution from construction and use of the building
For example, a company may choose to use paints that are less volatile, feature landscaping that prevents stormwater runoff, or uses materials made from recycled or renewable resources. Some of these practices are baked into land use regulations, while others are builder or consumer preference.
There is often a misconception that “sustainable” automatically means “more expensive.” There’s two ways to look at this: in many cases sustainable products are more affordable in the long run, such as choosing sustainable decking or going with a more efficient HVAC system. The other aspect is the willingness to pay. If there are cases where sustainable products are more expensive, but the customer is willing to pay more, then there’s little reason not to offer it. Which leads us to our next common question.
Is there consumer demand for sustainable design and construction?
Tight margins and unpredictability make the construction and building materials industry tough enough as it is. Some companies do understandably feel wary about adding or shifting to a different product unless they know people are interested in buying.
While not focused solely on construction, the Accenture Strategy 2019 Global Consumer Pulse Research study shows that people under 40, Millennials and Gen Z, want proof of purpose when considering what to buy. More than 50% of people aged 18 to 39 said companies that provide credible “green” credentials and invest in sustainability are more attractive and nearly 40% said they are willing to pay a higher price for brands aligned with issues they care about.
This is an essential piece of data for builders. Millennials have entered the housing market en masse since 2020, making up more than half of mortgage applications in 2021. Young couples and families are shopping for a new home today, but will be shopping for a new roof, solar panels, or a kitchen remodel tomorrow. Millennials are also moving up into decision-making roles in the workplace, having more say on commercial real estate design than ever before. Considering their preferences will help your business prepare for future market demands.
“Millennials are going to be a huge part of the building industry market in the coming decade. Companies would be wise to start building credibility around sustainability and messaging that shows off your sense of purpose to attract this key demographic” said Matt Samson, MAYO’s Construction Industry Expert.
How do I make sustainability part of my business?
Start small. Ask customers where it falls into their priorities. Find groups in your community who value sustainable products. Offer a specialized line of products that align with their feedback. Worried about the higher initial cost? Promote it as an upgrade, energy saver, or made with materials that are less toxic. Share a calculator from one of your vendors that demonstrates savings over time. Focus on the positive aspects, not just the higher price tag. Consumer data show that these benefits are what younger consumers are looking for.
Some companies may struggle with adding sustainability to their company’s message. That’s where we come in, helping to tell your story. The last thing you want is to come across as inauthentic or pandering. When considering how to talk about sustainable products, think about the aspects that led you to choose the product. Is it high-quality, locally made, or guaranteed for life? Show that you invested time to research sustainable options and why the product you selected is the best.
“Companies in the building industry know how to talk about what they do, but sometimes need help talking about it in a way that resonates with customers. Having help telling that story, about quality and service, but also purpose, is going to go a long way in reaching that ideal customer” said Matt.
Adopting sustainable products and practices helps you stand out. It gives consumers more choices and tells consumers–even those who don’t select the sustainable option–that you’re a company that cares about the consumer.