New Buildings Institute

Sharpening the pitch for zero net energy (ZNE) buildings

United States

In an emerging market like zero net energy buildings, concise and compelling messages can be difference between success and failure. Resource Media conducted the research and helped us hone an effective and impactful story that helps building owners understand that zero net energy equates to value and makes good business sense.
Stacey Hobart, New Buildings Institute
Communications Director
The Situation

Resource Media worked with New Buildings Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the energy performance of commercial buildings, to tackle an interesting challenge: What is the best way to “sell” zero net energy buildings to the building sector? ZNE buildings generate as much renewable energy on-site as they consume in a year and are the gold standard when it comes to sustainably-powered buildings. In addition to their green credentials, ZNE buildings promise another kind of green: The opportunity to zero out annual utility bills, resulting in years and years of savings for residents and building owners. For people who have drunk the ZNE Kool-Aid, it can be hard to grasp why more builders and designers aren’t shooting for ZNE status. Yet, despite the huge promise of ZNE to address many urban sustainability challenges, demand has lagged behind ZNE’s potential.

Our Role

Resource Media conducted interviews with ZNE stakeholders—including architects, designers, builders and others—to better understand what is driving ZNE adoption. We then designed and analyzed findings from a survey of over 300 ZNE stakeholders to pinpoint the biggest perceived barriers to ZNE adoption and most compelling messaging to use with different audiences. Drawing on this research, and ethnographic research of building owners and managers in Seattle and Philadelphia, we developed messaging recommendations and shared them with ZNE practitioners at the Getting to Zero National Forum in January 2015. We demonstrated that ZNE practitioners tend to spend a lot of time talking about how much ZNE buildings cost—or don’t cost—in an effort to surmount the biggest perceived barrier to ZNE adoption: perceived cost. Trying to convince someone that something is not as expensive as they might think is not a pitch: rather, it’s an apology. Instead, we need to speak to the building sector’s concerns about profitability and staying ahead of the curve when it comes to new trend by positioning ZNE and high-performance buildings as where the market is heading, and therefore critical to maintaining long-term profitability.

The Impact

Our recommendations are helping leaders in the field reframe how they talk about the promise and benefits of ZNE construction. For example, at the 2016 Getting to Zero National Forum, New Buildings Institute will showcase leaders in the field and highlight the growing trends toward ZNE-adoption, helping to reinforce the message that leading builders, designers and others are embracing ZNE as a way to stay ahead of market trends.