Environmentally friendly. Eco-conscious. Green. These terms have become increasingly important for the building products industry. Yet, because no standard definition exists and regulations surrounding environmental claims continue to evolve, many industry leaders find themselves blazing new ground in the green realm. In an effort to capture a moment-in-time synopsis of where the industry stands on environmental practices and products, I asked representatives from various segments of the building products industry to respond to one seemingly simple question: “What does green mean to you?” One simple question yielded diverse and complex responses.
Karen Kaiser, Channel Marketing Manager for Louisiana Pacific Building Products (LP Building Products) and a Certified Green Professional, says that LP Building Products' environmental philosophy stems from its desire to help builders build better homes while remaining a respectable supplier and steward of natural resources. Kaiser explains that LP Building Products' definition of green is summarized by a three-prong approach: efficient use of resources, the long-term environmental impact of its products, and the development of energy-efficient products.
“Our products are inherently environmentally conscious because they are made of wood, a natural, renewable resource,” says Kaiser. “And we place great emphasis and value on our forestry management process to ensure that our raw materials come from well managed forests.” Kaiser also says that LP Building Products' manufacturing process helps to ensure that products don't hinder indoor air quality (e.g., no formaldehyde is added) and that any wood waste is meticulously gathered and used in bark burners to fuel the mills.
“When companies offer greener options – and substantiate their claims about a product’s impact on the environment – it’s a win-win-win proposition for buyers, sellers, and the planet.” Lesley Fair, Senior Attorney with the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection
In addition to being mindful of how natural resources are used and replenished, LP’s commitment to environmental responsibility also can be seen within its product lineup.
A. O. Smith, a leading manufacturer in the water heater industry, is another manufacturer who views green from the standpoint of energy conservation.
“To us, green translates to providing builders and homeowners with energy-efficient solutions,” says David Chisolm, A. O. Smith Brand Manager. “With an array of products ranging from hybrid gas and electric to solar thermal water heating systems, we offer homeowners a host of environmentally conscious water heating solutions.”
Chisolm says products used within the home can have a significant impact on energy conservation, with the water heater representing approximately 25% of a home’s energy usage. “The water heating system is important from a conservation perspective,” says Chisolm. “We are focused on embracing innovation and technology to make these systems as efficient as possible.”
With the plethora of energy-saving green products on the market, the builder is left to decide which products to use and, ultimately, how to present these options to the homeowner. This process forms the builder’s definition of green.
“To us, green translates to providing builders and homeowners with energy-efficient solutions.” David Chisolm, A. O. Smith Brand Manager.
According to KB Home, one of the nation’s premier home builders, the meaning of green all comes down to cost-savings for homeowners. “Our approach to green is to not only do the right thing for the planet but to help lower the long-term cost of homeownership by incorporating energy-saving features in every single home we build,” says Jeffrey Mezger, President and Chief Executive Officer of KB Home.
In addition to offering a robust package of energy-saving features as standard procedure, KB Home, which was recently named the #1 Green Homebuilder in a study by Calvert Investments, has each of its homes certified by a third-party inspector to ensure that the home meets the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA's) strict Energy Star guidelines. To become Energy Star-qualified, a home must have effective insulation in the floors, walls, and attic; high-performance, energy-efficient windows; tight construction and ducts to seal the home; efficient heating and cooling equipment; energy-efficient products like appliances and ventilation fans; and third-party verification that the home is Energy Star-qualified.
Using the data collected in third-party certifications, KB Home can now project the average estimated monthly energy costs for every home it builds. As a result, the company recently launched the KB Home Energy Performance Guide (EPG). Similar to the MPG sticker on cars, KB’s EPG provides homeowners with an estimated dollar amount for monthly electric and/or gas energy costs for each home as designed, as well as information on the home’s relative energy efficiency when compared to a typical new home or resale home.
“Until now there has been no standard way to communicate a home’s estimated monthly energy costs,” says Mezger. "We believe that providing the estimated monthly energy costs will not only empower our homebuyers but also change the way people shop for a home.”
Now that we’ve heard from the home building industry, let’s take a look at how the government views green. Lesley Fair, a senior attorney with the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC's) Bureau of Consumer Protection, confirms that more Americans than ever are factoring environmental considerations into their purchasing decisions.
“When companies offer greener options – and substantiate their claims about a product’s impact on the environment – it’s a win-win-win proposition for buyers, sellers, and the planet,” says Fair. However, Fair says that the industry needs to be cautious in order to avoid confusing consumers with deceptive green promises.
“Our approach to green is to not only do the right thing for the planet,but to help lower the long-term cost of home ownership by incorporating energy-saving features in every single home we build.” Jeffrey Mezger, President and Chief Executive Officer of KB Home
“Recent FTC law enforcement actions emphasize the importance of backing up claims with solid science,” says Fair. “When it comes to evaluating environmental claims, companies must back up all express and implied representations with competent and reliable scientific evidence.”
In summary, Fair explains that the entire industry – from the manufacturer to the homeowner – needs to be aware of the FTC’s guidelines so that they make smart decisions and remain in compliance with the law.
There you have it. Although the meaning of green and the regulations surrounding environmental claims will likely continue to evolve, one consistent theme surfaced throughout this exercise: the homebuilding industry is inspired and motivated when it comes to responding to and shaping the meaning of green.
Lisa Taylor is a freelance writer and marketing consultant. She has more than 16 years of experience as a communications professional and has worked with a variety of companies in the home products and building materials industry. Originally from Memphis, TN, Lisa earned a BA in Journalism from the University of Memphis in 1995 and a MA in Journalism from the University of Memphis in 1997. She spent the first 11 years of her career working in account service for Memphis advertising agencies Thompson & Company, Oden Marketing & Design, and Carpenter/Sullivan. Lisa then spent five years in Nashville, TN, with The Buntin Group, an Adweek Top 100 U.S. advertising agency, and Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, a leading manufacturer of building materials. Lisa currently lives in Denver, CO, and is Principal/Owner of Wazee Marketing.Website: www.wazeemarketing.com