ZNE pitch: no more apologies!

February 3, 2015

People involved with advancing zero net energy (ZNE) buildings spend a lot of time talking about how much ZNE buildings cost—or don’t cost—in an effort to convince the building sector that ZNE is not as expensive as they might think.

Given that perceived cost is one of the biggest barriers to ZNE adoption, you’d think that’s a smart strategy.

But as I explained to an esteemed assemblage of the nation’s leading architects, designers, builders, energy regulators and others at the Getting to Zero National Forum in Washington DC yesterday, trying to do so is one of the many messaging traps associated with ZNE.

Think about it: Our audience—the building sector—thinks that ZNE is too expensive, so we try to convince them that really, it is not THAT expensive?

I’m sorry folks, but that’s not a pitch; it’s an apology.

So what’s a better pitch? Well, to answer that, let’s think about our audience.

Though not monolithic, most architects, designers, builders and building owners don’t lose sleep every night worrying about the energy use intensity of their buildings, let alone global warming.

Even those who care about climate change and sustainability – drive a Prius, have installed a Nest, maybe have solar panels — don’t necessarily factor those concerns into their business decisions.

How people in the building sector make decisions.

How people in the building sector make decisions.

Research commissioned by Resource Media demonstrates that people involved in the building sector use a very specific decision-making framework when thinking about their buildings: profit, and short-term payback. This is especially in the commercial building sector. Even someone who cares about sustainability and the environment needs to be able to justify investments and projects based on proving profitability.

So how do we pitch ZNE in a way that appeals to our audience’s interest in profitability?

One way is to convince them that ZNE and high-performance buildings are where the market is heading, and that anyone who wants to maintain long-term profitability has to get with the program or fall behind.

Just as nobody wants to be last buggy-whip maker, no one in the building sector wants to be left with an outdated, albatross building in fifteen years.

Our research shows that people in the building sector already believe this is true. They see the proliferation of sustainability initiatives at the city and state level across the country. They read articles about the millennials’ preference for green living, and how they value sustainability. Even though they are making decisions today that might suggest otherwise, our audience believes that high performance buildings are the future.

Our outreach tactics and strategies need to activate this belief by demonstrating that high performance buildings as where the market is heading, with ZNE as the leading edge of the trend. That’s how we sell ZNE. The decreasing price point of ZNE can be a secondary message, but it’s not the selling point.

So, my advice: Don’t try to sell ZNE by saying it’s not THAT expensive. And don’t try to sell ZNE as a way to avoid catastrophic climate change and achieve sustainability.

Instead, play the pied piper and sing the song of long-term profitability and staying ahead of the curve. If we show the building sector this is where the market is heading, chances are they will take us there.

Keep abreast of the latest from the Getting to Zero National Forum at #GTZ2015.

Amy Frykman