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Our challenge: Communicating green building and sustainability value

 |  03/11/11 @ 6:49am

In 2010, my organization, Sustainable Rhythm, in partnership with the Northeast Ohio Green Building Chapter conducted the Opening the Door to Green Building Study to take the temperature of the green building market within our region and Ohio.  Over the past six months, Sustainable Rhythm has conducted similar studies in the province of Alberta Canada and in the Triangle region of North Carolina.  The interesting news:  the Ohio results were not that different from the other two regions.  The challenging news:  all three regions could really use an adrenaline shot of recent and relevant building data and stories to further promote the value proposition of green building.  In each region, the lack of evidence was cited as the most significant challenge in developing momentum for green building. 

The Results

Survey results across all three regions indicate that visibility of green-building practices is increasing, though the market is perhaps experiencing some growing pains along the way. Green building initiatives have been embraced strongly by service providers and product industries. While facility owners and managers as well as end-use consumers are lagging slightly in their overall embrace of sustainable building principles, the number of registered and certified projects across the range of prevalent rating systems is continuing to increase. In each region, at least 80% of respondents indicated their clients had "somewhat embraced" the messages of green building.  In Ohio, the level of respondents who indicated, "embraced or completely embraced" was at 20% compared to 36% in the NC Triangle and 28% in Alberta.

An increased volume of "green" projects appears to have affected organizational capacity, with 47% of respondents in Ohio, 46% in North Carolina and 60% of respondents in Alberta indicating that their organizations have added internal capacity to meet the demands of the green building industry.

The case for green building appears to be most credibly accepted by a range of stakeholders when described in terms of energy efficiency, and this trend appears to be on the rise.  The energy argument-and to some extent the potential overhead cost savings associated with energy efficiency and other features-are clearly resonating with an apparent "early adopter" set of markets, currently including Corporate Office, Healthcare and Government. The salience of both a strongly resonating value proposition in energy efficiency and significant penetration in key markets indicates a strong foundation for reaching other market profiles and increasing the visibility of the broader case for green building, including components such as environmental impact.  Consistent across the Opening the Door to Green Building (ODGB) studies, a health and productivity-focused value proposition remains a difficult one to communicate in a manner that resonates in the marketplace. The results also indicate that the market does not yet embrace the case for decreased environmental impact through the adoption of green building practices-scoring lower with survey respondents compared to some of the other cases, Ohio's overall results in this area were slightly lower than those seen in the other two ODGB regional studies conducted.


A "cost premium" perception for green-building practices, services and materials remains prevalent throughout all three regions, with over 58% (62% in Ohio) in all regions indicating that they believe a premium exists to build green rather than traditional construction.  However, nearly 61% of Ohio respondents acknowledge the potential for significant return on investment for green building (Alberta and North Carolina were at 48% and 49%), and this is notable traction within the marketplace through which to fortify evidence and increase visibility around ROI.   As the volume of green building projects increases with the momentum of amplified market and potential policy dynamics in coming years, an accumulation of data-based evidence will be a priority for both project cost variables (and how costs evolve over time) as well as building performance. (If you are interested in reading more and seeing the complete side-by-side comparison of the results, you can find it on my website.)


Moving Forward

So how can we address the need for data to spur adoption?  If anything the challenges that the studies have identified can act as a work plan and inform our collaborative efforts moving forward. I am always encouraged by the the recurring theme of expanding our audience for sustainability through story telling and connecting with the marketplace that I find in the increasing amount of blog posts here on GCBL, at E4S events, on Friday mornings at the Corporate Sustainability Roundtable events, at NEOGBC education sessions and networking events, and at in other conversations and events around our community.  A constant diligence to connect and share must always be at the forefront of our efforts.


During the research for the studies, I was struck by the passionate conversations and thoughtfulness of how we can improve our communications.  In each instance, it became clear that it was important to engage our audiences instead of projecting an "if you build it they will come" attitude.

As a Co-Chair of the Sustainable Cleveland Retrofit Workgroup, one of our priority action areas for 2011 is focused solely on gathering data and performance measurements and communicating the value proposition of green building and energy efficiency.  These efforts will identify the metrics of energy, waste and water savings and their resulting market value from projects around our region.  This will support and work in tandem with other efforts such as the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the USGBC's resource directory, the creation of the Energy Alliance, SC2019's 2011 Celebration Year of Energy Efficiency and the upcoming exhibits at the Museum of Natural History to name a few.


The initiatives to identify and promote more accessible and resonating value propositions will create new bridges to broader audiences in our region and hopefully more shared success.

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