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Commercial real estate owners who make green building investments naturally want to benefit from them — by attracting better tenants, securing longer leases, experiencing fewer vacancies, gaining a more positive public image and enjoying a competitive advantage in what is generally a commodity market.
To cash in on these benefits, however, building owners need to learn how to market their buildings to separate them from the pack. No single competitive strategy is right for every property. A company’s marketing needs to reflect its strategic vision, project management capability, available capital and corporate values.
The marketing also should reflect the reasons the building owner decided to build green in the first place. According to a McGraw-Hill Construction survey, about 70 percent of building owners build green to reduce energy costs, 60 percent want to make a positive environmental impact, and 53 percent hope to secure a competitive advantage. The task is to translate these triggers into a consistent set of marketing approaches that respond to tenant motivations.
In today’s environment, a company’s marketing must provide something remarkable just to get attention. Here are four strategies to consider:
A brand is a story told between marketer and clients, between developer and tenant. The storytelling should focus on the features of the project, including the experience of working in the space.
A brand sells an experience or a series of benefits to the consumer. People must be led from hearing about the value of the features to understanding how they will benefit from them.
A brand delivers on its promises. For example, in a LEED Gold-certified apartment building, the presence of a trash room with recycling bins on each floor would demonstrate daily that the building is green. A green roof on the second story, the bamboo flooring in the kitchen, and dual-flush toilets would reinforce the notion that the building delivers on its promise to be green.
A brand walks the talk. Consumers expect sellers to live by the values of what they are selling. A green developer should have offices in a green building. A green developer should be promoting sustainability in all its activities, not just in a particular project.
A brand communicates its differences effectively. The average adult is bombarded with up to 2,000 commercial messages daily. Getting through the clutter with effective communications is an art. Most savvy developers, owners and managers use public relations firms and sponsor a continuing dialog with the marketplace as an integral part of their marketing effort.
Almost without exception, there are no real brands in the green building marketplace today. While a developer can sell GE or Whirlpool appliances to residential buyers, the lack of name recognition for most green technologies forces the developer, owner or manager to become the brand. Most firms are ill-equipped to take on this role.
To compete effectively, property owners, managers and developers should understand how their marketing should evolve:
Jerry Yudelson is principal of Yudelson Associates, a consulting firm based in Tucson, Ariz. His forthcoming book, Green Building: A to Z, is a primer on green building terminology for developers, property owners and managers. He is also author of Developing Green: Strategies for Success.
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See a complete list of the top 50 green cities, as well as a description of the criteria.
Bill Clinton has announced the creation of a global Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program, a project of the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), which will assist cities in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
The program brings together four of the world’s largest energy service companies (ESCOs), five of the world’s largest banks and 15 of the world’s largest cities in a coordinated effort that aims to significantly reduce energy use in buildings.
Buildings are responsible for more than 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in most cities and more than 70 percent in mature cities, such as New York and London. This program will provide both cities and private building owners with access to funds to install energy-efficient products in their buildings. The goal is to achieve savings between 20 and 50 percent.
An initial group of 15 of the world’s largest cities has agreed to participate in the retrofit program, and offer their municipal buildings for the first round of energy retrofits: Bangkok, Berlin, Chicago, Houston, Johannesburg, Karachi, London, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, New York, Rome, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Tokyo, and Toronto. These participating cities have committed to work with the Foundation and its expert partners to develop programs to audit their buildings and to implement retrofits that improve their energy efficiency.
For the Northland Pines School District in Eagle River, Wisc., a LEED Gold certification for its new high school achieved two goals: Building a model green school and doing so in a cost-effective manner. The original goal for the $28.8 million, 253,000-square-foot school was Silver certification, but as the building approached completion, the school decided to go for gold. What’s even more noteworthy is that cost of construction for Northland Pines High School came in at $116 per square foot, 23 percent less than the median cost of high school construction in 2006.
Thomas Cox, principal-in-charge for Hoffman, the firm that designed and built the school, attributes this to an integrated design process.
He says the goal of a LEED-certified school was present early on, and members of the community who were aware of the rating system were the force behind it. During the vision stages, community members voiced the desire to have an energy efficient school that would use resources wisely and be sensitive to the Wisconsin north woods environment.
The high school incorporates this mindfulness in all aspects of the structure. Naturally lit classrooms, clean air monitoring, dual flush toilets and waterless urinals help the school conserve resources. And the recycled content tiles in the atrium common area helped cut down on the use of new materials.
A conscious effort was also made to use materials that would require less maintenance, like brick and concrete block as opposed to gypsum board. The cleaning products for the school were also chosen based on their green qualities — low-fumes and non-hazardous chemicals — as indoor air quality was a priority for the facility that serves up to 600 students.
“IAQ is a big emphasis for school buildings,” says Cox. “Bringing in as much outdoor air as possible is a motivation when designing the HVAC system.”
School administrators also wanted green to be an ongoing part of the culture at Northland Pines. One example of this is a photovoltaic system that generates electricity by tracking the sun. The system is monitored on computers that science teachers use in their curriculum to teach students about how energy is used. This effort to educate the teachers and students has resulted in a boost in morale, says Cox. That’s because everyone understands they are part of something positive.
“The building serves as a symbol of the school district’s commitment to efficiency, but also to education,” he says. “The school district cares about the environment and the community’s money — we’re walking the talk.”
When a school goes green, faculty and staff have a chance to educate students about the importance of building green. At Great Seneca Creek Elementary School in Germantown, Md., school officials seized the opportunity to educate students and the entire community about the environment and energy efficiency.
Around the facility, near mechanical equipment and in every classroom, are signs explaining the green features of the building. School staff hopes these signs become a focal point of learning for students. Faculty incorporates the building’s impact on the environment into regular coursework, using the school itself as a three-dimensional textbook. The school also offers building tours that include scavenger hunts and board games to encourage community members and students to explore environmental topics outside of the school.
Taking an active role in teaching the community about their school, fourth grade students at Seneca Creek created the Student Eco Response team — the “green team.” Students sacrificed lunch and recess periods to create an online virtual tour of their school, concentrating on the building’s sustainable features. Using what they’ve learned about the building in the classroom, students narrate the tour in their own words.
The students have good reason to be proud of their school. Great Seneca Creek was the first Maryland public school to apply for LEED certification, and the 82,500- square-foot facility received LEED Gold certification earlier this year.
Central to the school’s green design is the geothermal heating and cooling system. The system’s pipes are buried under the school’s athletic field where the ground temperature is a constant 58 degrees Fahrenheit year round. In the winter, a water solution circulates through the pipes, absorbing heat from the earth and heating the school. During the summer, heat is extracted from the air in the school and transferred through the system’s heat pump and into the ground. The geothermal system is expected to save the school about $.50 per square foot in energy costs and maintenance for a total of $60,000 in savings per year.
The school uses a combination of low-flow fixtures, waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets to achieve a 43 percent savings in potable water.
During the construction process, 95 percent of the packaging and construction waste was recycled. Most building materials were sourced as locally as possible — within 500 miles of the site. Cabinets, restroom partitions and other interior materials are made from recycled or rapidly renewable resources.