TIPS FOR HOME BUYERS: HELPING CONSUMERS MAKE GREENER CHOICES
Everyone has seen the guy at Whole Foods who’s scrutinizing food labels and searching for all the right buzzwords, such as organic, probiotic, and local.
Then the disconnect comes.
He loads his haul into a Hummer.
Similar behavior shows up in research conducted by Shelton Group, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based advertising agency focused on motivating consumers to make green choices. Its research examines consumer attitudes and behaviors to see what makes them tick. Its findings offer green real estate practitioners insight into how to more accurately read prospects. Here are solutions to five common challenges:
Challenge: When presented with a big obstacle, such as owning an energy inefficient house, people don’t know what to do and where to begin upgrades.
Solution: Guide prospects to professionals, such as HERS specialists, who can help them audit the house, identify the root of the problem, and prioritize projects.
Challenge: The solution and the number of steps to greater efficiency are simply overwhelming.
Solution: Shelton has a concept called “inch pebbles.” It entails making goals more attainable and less daunting. For instance, reducing consumption by megawatts is a daunting goal and it’s not an inviting, engaging message, points out Lee Ann Head, Shelton’s research vice president. Instead, consider spoon feeding small steps to prospects. Illustrate the value of making small changes, such as eliminating vampire energy, and the benefit of, say, fully loading the dishwasher before running it.
Challenge: The Whole Foods guy may feel a sense of moral superiority because he’s taken steps to reduce his carbon footprint. Yet his other behaviors may be ratcheting up his impact. Shelton refers to this as moral licensing, and Head says it’s akin to dieters’ behavior. “People have a limited amount of self control. They stay on a diet for four days and then reward themselves for it,” she comments. The person driving a Prius or someone who has installed energy efficient windows may feel justified cranking up the heat a few degrees.
Solution: Find ways to applaud people for the steps they have taken, but gently remind them that it’s not only important to purchase efficient appliances, but to operate them properly. Wash clothes in cold water, run dishwashers fully loaded at off-peak times, and kick the heat down a couple degrees in the winter. That way, their investments best work for them.
Challenge: Middle and upper-income prospects may not find a slight reduction in their utility bill terribly motivating. “A save-money-on-your-utility bill message may not be that compelling because they may feel that it’s not that large a percentage of their take-home pay,” comments Head.
Solution: Understand that they do want to feel fiscally wise, so tweak your message and make it more about ‘not wasting,’ suggests Head. “Telling someone they’re being irresponsible or leaving money on the table every month is a different slant. [Saying] that makes people feel they’re not being good stewards of financial resources,” she says. In addition, she notes the cultural shift toward thrift because of the recession. “Even if I’ve not been personally hurt, there’s still the fear that it could happen any day and there’s a sense that I ought to be doing something to prepare.”
Challenge: Green product information often baffles John Q. Public, who doesn’t really know what terms mean.
Solution: Language matters. Indoor air quality and energy efficiency are big consumer drivers, according to Shelton research. But it also found that the term “energy efficient home” was more compelling to consumers than the term “green home.” Healthy air is easier to grasp than the term low VOC. “When talking to the mass market, explain the concepts in terms that people understand,” says Head. One rule of thumb: Don’t say something that your grandma wouldn’t understand.
For more insight from the Shelton Group, see the September 2010 story, “Five Ways To Engage with Gen Y” and “Targeting the Right Prospects, Framing the Green Message,” a story that recaps a GRC and Shelton Group webinar in the August 2010 issue.
Green REsource Council Newsletter, December 2010
GREEN GOES MAINSTREAM IN TEXAS
Those are just some of the reasons that a green housing movement gains traction in a region.
Such has been the case in Texas.
Debra Waldman, director of professional development for the Texas Association of REALTORS®, ticks off a short list of Texas spots – including Denton County, San Antonio, and Austin – where sustainable lifestyles and green housing have taken hold.
As just one example, Austin residents have long been leaning green, according to Waldman. Recycling has become part of locals’ DNA, for instance, and the city’s network of bike trails makes it possible for them to divorce themselves from their cars and rely on two wheels for commutes and errands.
And in some parts of the state, people have seen firsthand what limited resources feel like because they’ve experienced water and electrical shortages.
“It’s not just one thing, but a bunch of contributing factors,” says Waldman, when talking about the incremental changes that have brought sustainability to the forefront in her state.
Thus, the real estate community in Texas is beginning to reflect that shift and its members are increasingly embracing GRC’s education.
During 2012, the state added 105 new NAR Green Designees, and for such efforts, the GRC recognized the Texas Association of REALTORS® with a 2012 EverGreen Award.
Waldman gives the nod to locals for the expanding number of designees and says getting green classes off the ground frequently entails a collaborative push among passionate teachers (see the December 2012 profile of EverGreen award winner Marjory Lokahi Gentsch) and local boards.
Moreover, she’s seen GRC classes steadily improve and become more relevant to members’ businesses. For one, she notes the three-level structure provides students with more comprehensive green knowledge, and classes are tailored to reflect regional differences.
“If you’re living in Iowa, the considerations are different than if you’re living here,” she notes. Texans need to do everything to shield their houses from heat gain, whereas during an Iowa winter, it’s the more light the better.
Such distinctions, along with a focus in Texas classes on water conservation and electrical efficiency, now are integrated in the GRC education.
And that’s important, Waldman believes, especially because of a growing Texas population that will generate greater demand for new housing. “No builder today is building energy inefficient homes,” she comments. That means REALTORS®’ education needs to be aligned with the market realities and they need the skill to market energy efficient features and to guard against green washing. “They really need to understand what green means,” Waldman comments.
It’s little wonder that she anticipates green education continuing to be a focus of Texas practitioners and Texas real estate associations and boards. “It’s something that we’ll incorporate wherever we can because it’s no longer a novelty and it’s gone mainstream,” she says.
Why Go Green?
There is a variety of reasons to go green, but most come back to supply and demand. We have a limited amount of resources available and more and more people using them up. If we want our future generations to enjoy the same standard of living we’ve experienced, we need to take action.
Green building is a great place to start, as buildings consume 14% of potable water, 40% of raw materials, and 39% of energy in the United States alone (according to the US Green Building Council). That’s 15 trillion gallons of water and 3 billion tons of raw materials each year! If that’s not enough to convince you, here are some other reasons to go green:
For The Environment
Want to make the world a better place? Implementing green practices into your home or office can help reduce waste, conserve natural resources, improve both air and water quality, and protect ecosystems and biodiversity.
For The Savings
Want to make your dollar go further? Green systems and materials reduce energy consumption, which in turn reduce your energy bills. They also increase asset value and profits and decrease marketing time; making your dollar go further for longer.
For Your Health
Want to live healthier? Green building isn’t just good for the environment; it’s also good for YOU. Sustainable design and technology enhance a resident’s overall quality of life by improving air and water quality and reducing noise pollution. According to a 2006 study by the Center of the Built Environment, University of California, green office buildings improve productivity and employee satisfaction in the workplace.
Renewable Energy Roundup
Cutting Solar Costs
Solar energy is roaring ahead. The industry goal of becoming price-competitive with conventional electricity is closer to being realized.
In fact, right now, there is an oversupply of solar panels, which is driving prices down. Meantime, manufacturers are working on new technologies that they hope will cut production costs and differentiate themselves. Thin films are among the new materials they’re banking on, though they are less efficient than at converting sunlight into electricity than more traditional silicon panels.
Companies are also entering into new types of partnerships. One manufacturer has partnered with insurance providers to offer insurance for its panels. Customers have the peace of mind of knowing that the panels are guaranteed even if the manufacturer goes out of business.
Interior Department Plans Solar Zones
The U.S. Interior Department has announced that it has identified 670,000 acres of land in six western states as potential locations for solar energy production. Divided into 24 solar energy zones, the land is suitable for rapid development of renewable energy sources and has the potential to produce as much as 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity.
There is some controversy around the land, however, with the ecological sensitivity of the areas in question. Officials are still evaluating the environmental impact of the large solar arrays.
Solar vs. Wind Power for Residential Use
Recent studies have found that on certain landscapes, when comparing small-scale wind turbines to solar panels in residential use, the cost-to-power ratio favors solar.
For instance, one study by CleanTechnica looked at generating 200 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month, which would be ample for a “frugal resident in a tiny house.” A small turbine with three-foot blades generated 20 kWh/month. Purchasing enough turbines to generate the requisite 200 kWh would cost $127,100.
Yet in this same situation a 200 kWh/month solar power system would cost roughly $15,000.
Using small-scale wind power would cost more than eight times as solar to generate the same amount of power. Of course, results would vary based on regional factors including the specific wind patterns and speeds, hours of direct sunlight, and other factors unique to that area.
Annual Solar Tour
Curious about how solar power works in real-world settings? Mark your calendar for the annual American Solar Tour, happening in communities across the U.S. on Saturday, October 3rd. The event is a chance to tour homes and buildings to see how neighbors use solar energy, energy efficiency and other sustainable technologies to reduce their monthly utility bills and help tackle climate change. Last year 3,000 communities featured some 5,000 buildings on the tour, many with building owners on hand to answer questions about their experiences with renewable energy.