For several years, I have offered my analysis about the green building industry for the coming year. Here's a recap of the last two years:
2008 was the year of green credibility. As the construction market was shrinking rapidly, manufacturers scrambled to re-brand their existing products to make them appear to have green attributes, even if they didn't. Although the industry was still unregulated for the most part, consumers began to demand more in-depth information to prove that these green claims were accurate. Prior to 2008, many consumers were buying anything that had “green” or “eco-friendly” written on the packaging. But in 2008, the majority of green-minded consumers started to question what green really means. And when this happened, manufacturers had to back up their claims or lose credibility.
2009 was the year of RGI, Return on your Green Investment. No longer did the ‘greenies' and ‘light-greenies' have disposable income to put into green things to make themselves feel good. No longer did they spend 10% more for a household item that may or may not affect the earth's climate. If consumers were going to spend 10% more for an eco-friendly household product, there needed be a clear sign that the extra 10% will be paid back via an energy savings, or an improvement in their quality of life.
I think consumers finally understand energy efficiency. Friendly to the outdoor environment, that's great. Friendly to our pocketbook, even better. But when builders market their homes as green, energy efficiency just wont cut it anymore. Green needs to go beyond that. Lets face it, how many consumers when building a new home or remodeling an existing, actually ask their contractor for the least efficient building techniques? How many consumers go into their local big box store and ask for the least efficient furnace or appliance? Due to a combination of the economy (RGI-2009) and consumer knowledge (green cred-2008), energy efficiency is now the new normal.
So, what does 2010 have in store for us? I've been saying for years that once everything is green, then nothing is green. In 2010, we'll be at that point. My prediction is that 2010 will be the year of The Healthy Home. Consumers will be looking beyond green and will focus on the health and welfare of themselves and their families.
A Healthy Home takes green to the next logical level. Building a healthy home means that it is healthier, safer, and is free from sources of indoor air pollution. There are various strategies to use in building a healthy home, but using only one strategy won't make a healthy home. A systems approach is needed that integrates the different aspects that comprise a healthy home. Using HVAC equipment that controls moisture to minimize mold, mildew, and provide continuous fresh ventilation is very important. The increase of natural light in as many areas of the house as possible creates a sense of well being for its occupants. Another important strategy is the use of less synthetic carpeting and more hard surfaces to reduce dust and allergen collection areas.
The most critical area to consider when building a healthy home is to avoid using toxic chemicals and materials. I'm not talking VOC's. The industry buzz right now is to reduce the amount of VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) found in most building materials and finishes. But, just because a product states it has zero VOC does not mean it is free of ingredients that are toxic (e.g., formaldehyde precursors, ammonia, acetone or odor masking agents, etc.) or that it is free from outgassing. For example, many companies promote “no odor” or Zero VOC paints to potential homeowners or those remodeling their homes. These paints were not formulated with a view toward human health issues and the elimination of toxicity. These “environmental” paints can contain toxic ingredients exempt from government regulations. The same holds true for thousands of common building materials.
With health insurance and healthcare reform headlining just about every newscast these days, consumers are getting weary of their own healthcare futures. Americans are used to taking matters into their own hands, when push comes to shove. Therefore, more folks will be looking into alternative forms of healthcare and ways to reduce illnesses. Making the home a safer, healthier space is a logical step.
Retailers need to recognize this trend quickly and adapt their marketing and merchandising to meet the growing demand from the consumer. If you step outside of the energy-efficient box, you just might find some new green shoots of potential sales.
Andrew Pace has been a pioneer in the green building industry since 1993, when he opened the first green building supply company in the Midwest, Safe Building Solutions. He is also the founder of Degree of Green® and Green Design Center™. In addition, Mr. Pace is an advisor to Green Building Product Dealer magazine.
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