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Market Shifting

How a Renovation Company in Washington Made the Transition to Green

Landis Construction's LEED for Homes registered gut rehab in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
Image Credit: Rob Moody, Organic Think Inc

Last month I had the great fortune to meet with Ethan Landis of Landis Construction Corp., a leading design/build firm in Washington, D.C. The company was founded in 1990 by Ethan, an MBA, and his brother Chris, an architect. They specialize in home renovations in the greater Washington area, and over the last few years, the Landis’ company has defined its commitment to green building. As Ethan explains, that definition is dynamic. I traveled up the Red Line to the Tacoma Park metro stop to spend a couple of hours talking to him about it.

Ethan spearheaded the green transition for the company while Chris took a more cautious approach. Four yars ago, they began, like a lot of companies, by looking closely at the building envelope and energy efficiency. As the initiative developed, Ethan asked himself how they could create a new green culture within their company. The answer came one fateful evening when he met Russ Clark at a social event. The two clicked immediately, and Russ soon found himself employed as the Green Program Manager at Landis Construction.

I asked Ethan about the single defining event that cemented the company’s shift to green. He said that it was when they decided to hire a dedicated green staff person. Sure, they got a person to handle the green workload and learning curve, but it also demonstrated to the rest of the team the company’s commitment to green building. Russ was charged with the goal of making the shift to marketing the company as green while also walking the walk. His biggest challenge was getting everyone on the same page on green-building philosophies within both the company and its network of subcontractors and suppliers. He began working on the accompanying philosophy, practices, and marketing efforts. Ethan told me that the result was the company commitment to approaching green building as an integrated process rather than isolated products.

Since hiring Russ, they have found their green offerings to be more and more in demand, currently offering them to all clients, with lots of takers. They analyzed and reviewed the origins of their projects in 2008, and more than 30% of their clients stated that they would not have come to the firm if they had not incorporated green practices. Ethan’s advice: Commit to green, and make it stick both financially and physically.

The Landis Construction office is what Ethan calls “LEED certifiable,” following the USGBC rating system without completing the actual rating process. After taking that plunge, Landis is working on its first LEED for Homes project in Georgetown. The company is striving for LEED for Homes Platinum, and should know the results fairly soon. I was able to interview Russ on-site and take a close look at that project. Watch for the video coming soon at Green Building Advisor, and I will keep you posted on the results of Landis’ performance tests and certification. A tribute to their dedication, Russ and the guys are constantly reviewing their Green Program so that they can evolve with the industry and the market, redefining and updating practices.

Ethan also shared some survival techniques that his company is employing in the down economy.

  • Make a full commitment to green, with a person in charge. This ensures that the initiative will advance every business day.
  • When developing the big-picture green goals, incorporate the livelihood and sustainability of the business as well. If the business didn’t weather the storm, neither would Landis’ green initiative. To them it meant adapting to a changing economic landscape.
  • Landis created and nurtured a new, green, holistic company culture: green office space, office practices, hybrid vehicles, events, and last but definitely not least, building practices.
  • They are a 100% renovation company, more in demand than new-home construction at this time. This was an existing characteristic of the company, and one that has kept them busy through the storm.
  • Even though Landis offers design services, it has begun soliciting other architects for leads to help support the renovation side of the company.
  • Landis is asking past clients for referrals. Sometimes this even keeps the company on the radar for return clients.
  • Landis has developed an active marketing plan that keeps the company in the minds of potential clients without becoming annoying (no cold calling).

Landis Construction has had two “rethinking” events over the last couple of years. First was the shift to becoming a green company in every interpretation of the term, reinventing all of its practices from the business and building perspective. Second, the recession forced management to take a critical look at marketing, and to begin gentle, sincere guerilla marketing tactics. One was voluntary, the other forced, but both have allowed Landis to stay relatively busy in our current economic climate.


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