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Green Building News

A Green-Product Retailer’s Tale of Unsustainability

In Salt Lake City, the Green Building Center went out of business after struggling with the recession and competition from big-box stores and others offering cheaper, but perhaps less green, alternatives

Image Credit: Green Building Center

Based on news accounts of its closing last month, it seems fair to say that the Green Building Center, in Salt Lake City, had, during its first few years in business, successfully attracted customers who valued ecologically sound products and supported green construction and remodeling practices. When it came to weathering the recession, however, the store, which opened in October 2003 and expanded to Utah’s Park City in 2008, didn’t have the resources or breadth in its customer base to keep its doors open.

As the store’s founder, Ashley Patterson, told the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune, the demand-crushing effects of the downturn alone have, since the summer of 2008, reduced traffic to the store just as severely as they hammered Utah’s real estate market, which, the Tribune notes, saw new-home construction permits drop to about 4,400 in 2009 from a high of 15,400 in 2006.

Price and a green imperative

But of course other factors came into play. While the Green Building Center’s core customers were local builders, remodelers, and homeowners, Patterson told the Deseret News that the store could have done more to forge relationships with high-volume builders and architects. Beyond that, though, there were shifts in the green-products retailing that made it increasingly difficult for Green Building Center to compete on price. One of the most obvious examples: green-labeled products finding their way onto shelves at big-box chain stores, whose economies of scale and discounts can make competing difficult for independent building-supplies retailers.

Pricing became the key issue. Patterson noted that her store’s commitment to environmental responsibility meant carrying products that were made according to high ecological standards and, very often, with U.S. labor. Alternative products, meanwhile, often were made by manufacturers in overseas locations where labor is relatively cheap and additional cost savings are achieved by ignoring environmental issues.

“I grew really weary,” she said, “and everybody who worked here, we grew really weary about people almost mad at us because stuff wasn’t cheap.”

One Comment

  1. Nick Rogoff | | #1

    Parallels between Green Building and renewable energy
    I find this section of the article really interesting: "Pricing became the key issue. Patterson noted that her store’s commitment to environmental responsibility meant carrying products that were made according to high ecological standards..."
    Green building, not surprisingly, has run into the same problems facing renewable energy. High prices are seriously hurting demand, especially in the midst of a recession that has been particularly hard on the building industry. Interestingly enough, renewables (wind in 2008-9 and solar in 2010) have seen tremendous growth through this time frame because of very targeted federal and state-level policies. In 2009, we saw almost a 39% increase in the growth of wind in the US due to federal tax incentives combined with state-level RPS standards. Growth in the future of renewables is now pinned on hopes of a national RES standard and other federal legislation.
    My question is this: what are the federal and state level policies that can help fuel the growth of green building? LEED, Energy Star etc do a great job of measuring, rewarding and promoting green building and energy efficiency, but they don't seem to be fueling as much growth?

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