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Business Advisor

Getting Retailers and Manufacturers on Board with Green Building

As we pull out of the housing downturn, green building is cementing itself as better quality. But how do we get our suppliers on board?

I recently returned from speaking to over 400 sales people at two different sales conventions for two very different, yet very well-known companies. The first company is a multi-state regional retailer of building products. The second is a national green products manufacturer/installer. In both cases I was there to give my perspective on the green marketplace from a custom builder-custom remodeler’s point of view. It was my goal to show them just how different today’s green builder looks from the typical builder of the last generation. Additionally, I wanted them to get a detailed understanding of how much the market has changed since 2005 so that they can use this current economic slowdown to get geared up for the next five years. Finally, I gave them a list of suggestions on what I wanted from my green suppliers and a “To Do” list of what I felt they needed to do in order to capitalize on the coming housing rebound. I will cover those items in my next article; for now I’ll share what each group had in common and how we as green builders and remodelers can serve ourselves by first serving them.

Some folks want to go green, but are unsure where to begin

The retailer whose sales force I met with first is trying to get greener but is not really certain where to start. The company leadership was almost hesitant about the level of commitment it would receive from their sales staff if I came across as too green and they warned me up front not to come out as a tree hugger for fear of alienating those in attendance! Was I nervous? Nah, in fact it was just like a regular sales call back home where one spouse warns me not to come on too strong with the green stuff in front of the other spouse. I know that routine well. The doubter says building green is too expensive, and they don’t want to do green because they think solar panels are ugly. Yet, with a little listening and asking the right questions, the spouse can usually be disarmed and an open productive dialogue begins to flow.

Others wonder if the housing downturn will sabotage green building

At the second meeting I was preaching to the converted. After all, these sales reps sell a well-known green product whose brand and reputation is impeachable. Yet in this crowd I sensed anxiety. I sensed a need for reassurance. It was as if the national housing slowdown was somehow making them doubt their role, their product or their company. Like the former group, these sale pros were thirsting for information on the NAHB National Green Building Standard and LEED for Homes. They wanted practical, down to earth advice on how “sell” to the green builder or homeowner. They also all wanted to know how they could better help their builders who were interested in learning more about green. What websites, what magazines should we be reading they wanted to know.

The big picture makes things clearer

The retailers knew little about green construction practices, and the manufacturer’s reps knew little outside their own area of expertise. That is, they knew their component well but not the larger system(s) into which it must fit. Across the board, there is a large deficit of building science expertise in the rooms. The retailers knew “green was coming” but they were not sure what that meant or how to prepare for it. The manufacturers knew green was already here but were not sure how to further leverage their position in the marketplace.

Green building is a hedge against market downturns

To both groups I offered assurances that the greenies were winning the war against obsolete building practices. I tried to motivate them to roll up their sleeves and get involved in this thing we called green building. I urged them to understand the old way of building houses was going away and to take advantage of this small window of opportunity we have to learn about building science in relation to high performance homes. I explained this would better position them in the future when the market turned around. Now I ask you to do the same with your local suppliers in your market. Because the more we can help them learn about green building the more they will be able to help us build green.

In my next article, I will share with you the “To Do” List I gave them


  1. EJ Palma | | #1

    Michael, will you be speaking
    Michael, will you be speaking in the Northeast at any time in this year? Are there any seminars for the small business remodeling and alteration builders specifically. The existing housing industry in the Northeast is prime for green building, but as you mentioned the basic public is either uninformed, unemployed or just plain scared of this new green entity. As you already know, some states in the northeast have been proactive in adopting green building, and have been involved in the green market for a long period of time. In recent years many of the metropolitan areas have begun to come on board. Many consumers are still skeptical and when you speak to them about the benefits of going green, or techniques of building green, they seem to become put off and treat you like it is a religion and you are a fundamentalist of some kind. Many times one spends numerous conversations just debunking the "myths" that have been propagated. Alex Wilsons' blogs have been very informative as to how to address these different problems and tailor ones approach to new consumers. I have always believed that passion for what you believe in is beneficial to display, and that seems to be the feeling in many of the blogs that are written and the responses to the blogs. Thanks E.J. Palma, Branford, Connecticut

  2. Michael Strong, LEED Associate, CGP | | #2

    Speaking in the Northeast
    Hey Edward, Unfortunately I have nothing booked for the northeast yet this year. LA, Orlanda and Hawaii yes, but I just can't seem to get away from the sunshine. Unless of course my friends in Manchester let me come back around Thanksgiving as they usually do! I would check for green education for small builders/remodelers at your local and state home builders associations. Go to to find the nearest association. If they do not offer anything, ask them to. In regards to homeowner education, yes it is tough out there right now but you know change is always tough and we are in a time of change both as an industry and for society. There is a market shift and larger cultural shift underway that will make the contradictions and greenwashing frustrating to deal with. That said, do not let the majority of homeowners that don't yet "get it" dismay you. Serve the minority that do because that minority is out there looking for you right now!

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