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Dispelling 5 Pervasive Green Myths

When it comes to sustainable design, there are still plenty of clients who don’t think it’s worth their time. Here are some suggestions for dispelling five commonly held green myths

By Gail Griswold-Elwyn

When it comes to sustainable design, there are still plenty of clients who don’t think it’s worth their time. Here are some suggestions for dispelling five commonly held green myths.

Dispelling 5 Pervasive Green Myths

Although a variety of polls illustrate that environmental consciousness is at an all-time high among the public, there is still resistance to change. Driving this resistance is bad information—outdated and now-irrelevant that have become cultural truisms. Below are the five most pervasive myths about creating an eco-friendly business—and some suggestions in how to refute them in your discussions with commercial clients.

Myth #1: Green building, rehabbing, or redesigning is too expensive for our organization.

Not anymore. Five years ago, eco-friendly products and services were priced slightly higher than traditional products and services. However, as demand for these products grew in the commercial space, the pricing has lowered and is now competitive.

We have seen this happen with VOC-free paints, organic cleaning products, and natural, non-toxic options for cabinetry and storage units. In addition, government tax incentives for commercial green building or remodeling have significantly leveled the playing field for companies looking to take that step.

You must urge your clients to consider the life-cycle costs of a green investment. If the investment is greater up-front, what are they getting in return? Improved indoor air quality (which can augment good health and contribute to increased productivity)? Utility bill savings? Tax credits and deductions for your business? Increased revenue? A recent study conducted by IPSOS, a global market research company, reported that 79 percent of consumers would rather buy from companies doing their best to reduce their impact on the environment. Be your client’s advocate and educate them to be their own.

Myth #2: Going green as a company is so overwhelming; you have to commit so much time and energy to it.

Many executives think that going green is an all-or-nothing proposition—that not only do you have to recycle, but you also have to remodel, compost your waste and install timed lighting in every cubicle to make a difference. The intensity of the green movement has, in some way, contributed to this anxiety about green. So have the high-profile examples of energy renovations being publicized (the Empire State Building, to name one).

The truth is, going green is a process and can only be done little by little. Emphasize a staged approach with your clients. Suggest small changes as part of clients’ new green initiatives, like shutting down their computers when they leave for the night. In addition, advocate Energy Star-labeled, higher-efficiency office staples when designing for a green-minded client. Show them how LED task lighting can provide the same power with less energy. Include non-toxic finishes and paints in your designs and samples. Little by little, green choices will become automatic for your clients—and you can facilitate their realization that corporate green commitments can be easy to implement.

SEE: Check out some of the sustainable surfaces and materials that will be on display at the I&S Materials Pavilion at NeoCon.

Myth #3: Corporate green initiatives are hard to maintain.

People seem to think that green technologies and products are inherently more difficult (read: frustrating) to operate/use. They hesitate on committing to high-efficiency or geothermal systems because of unfamiliarity. And while it is true that a learning curve does exist, green technology installers have also been trained to educate users about the day-to-day operation and simple maintenance of the technology. Emphasize this to your clients when your designs include some type of green foundational elements.

You can also remind clients that green products for the corporate space are often very passive from the user’s perspective. For example, “smart” power strips offer an easier way to eliminate devices’ power draws when not in use. In addition, many cloud computing and virtualization models incorporate shared infrastructure and benefits of scale, reducing hardware needs. This means energy savings, but also decreases in the carbon emissions used to power and cool these complex devices.

Low-flow faucets and plumbing fixtures that sense and report on water usage are also fairly easy to specify and install. There are many smartphone apps that allow you to control specific devices and switches remotely to control electricity usage. Passive green suggestions to your commercial clients can help them warm to your more broad-based green design recommendations. Plus, you can emphasize the fact that a healthier work environment leads to increased productivity—which will positively impact your client’s bottom line.PageBreak

Myth #4: It doesn’t matter one way or the other if I adopt green practices in my business.

Your clients have bought into the fact that our environmental problem is so complex and dire that their efforts will not make an ounce of difference—and they are unfortunately not alone. According to a survey conducted by The Nature Conservancy, 29 percent of Americans believe that adopting greener lifestyles won’t make a difference on the environment.

This is incorrect; every effort makes a difference, especially since more than 40 percent of all the energy created in this country goes to the creation and running of man-made structures. It is imperative that you be informed not only about the cost-effective and established green design and building options (from passive options like VOC-free paint and low-flow plumbing fixtures, to more dramatic improvements like foundations constructed from insulated concrete forms), but also about corporate policy changes that clients can make on a smaller scale to help the environment.

Myth #5: Eco-friendly design doesn't fit with our organization’s brand.

Green construction and remodeling is for everyone’s brand. In fact, it has been around since settlers chose to orient their homes toward the sun to maximize light and heat exposure. Green building is about the efficient use of time, money, materials and resources. It is a way to make spaces more functional. Experienced commercial architects and designers will respect the character of the business and its neighborhood and, in most cases, clients will not be able to tell a green office space from a traditional one.

What’s more, though, is that a green redesign often bolsters an organization’s brand. This is not a hard sell; people want to do business with companies that are striving to do the right thing. Green certifications and well-marketed efforts often provide a significant competitive advantage (especially if your client competes for government-sector work). In addition, the green design of a space can improve office conditions; your clients’ consumers will want to spend more time in places in which they can breathe easy and feel energized.

READ: How to reduce off-gassing for better indoor air quality. 

According to The Nature Conservancy’s same survey, only 42 percent of American adults are familiar with the term “environmental sustainability” and even fewer than that believe it is possible to live that way. Although reports suggest that more than 90 percent of Americans are recycling, there are still some deep-rooted prejudices and misconceptions about what it really means to go green or adopt green practices—especially on a corporate-wide scale.

Know that your clients are intimidated by the propaganda, by the feeling that one change will not be enough to matter. They are scared, under-informed and, as a result, readily believe what is reported. In addition to bringing your professional expertise to clients, this new era of “green fear” calls for you to also become an educator of your clients.

Commercial clients are hungry for facts, and it is time to make going green in the commercial arena an accessible alternative by providing accurate information and highlighting the cost-effectiveness and ease of implementation.

Gail Griswold-Elwyn is president of Rethink Renovations, a firm founded in 2007 to offer green construction, design/build, and full lines of cabinetry and furniture that minimize environmental impact. For more, please visit the company's website or call (314) 323-8845.