How to Convince a Client to Go Green

Architects discuss techniques for promoting sustainability and building performance in a project.

Architects shouldn’t get discouraged from pursuing sustainability measures in projects because their clients assume that going green will be too costly or express little interest. Here are some strategies to help make the case for high-performance design.

Prove Green Isn’t Cost Prohibitive

One common barrier to pursuing sustainability is a client’s perception that going green will add significantly more cost. But that’s not always—or even often—the case, says Rebecca Dunn Bryant, AIA, co-founder of the architecture firm and green building consultancy Watershed, in Fairhope, Ala.

“We’re a part of the country not known for being early adopters,” she says.

To counter the pushback she often hears from clients, such as “I don’t think you can do that here” or “It’s too expensive for me,” Bryant keeps case studies on hand of affordable and achievable high-performance designs. Her firm recently worked on two houses located on Alabama’s Gulf Coast: a LEED Platinum private residence and a LEED Gold project for Habitat for Humanity. Though the cost of the Platinum house came in around $600 per square foot, and the Gold house came in at just $60 per square foot, “[T]heir sustainability metrics were very similar,” Bryant says of the two projects. “The price difference was driven by the selection of finishes and architectural details and the market forces in the two locations—not the level of sustainability.”

By having concrete examples to reference, Bryant can show skeptical clients that going green does not necessarily require a huge budget.

Say, “Yes, and …”

When Clay Aurell, AIA, principal of Santa Barbara, Calif.–based AB Design Studio was working with a client on a new beach house, he saw an opportunity to expand on the client’s original scope.

Solar Panels

“They wanted solar,” Aurell says. “We said, ‘Yeah, we can do that, but let’s also think about how we can heat and cool the house passively, and how we can use the solar panel to its best effect.” He and his team showed their client a broader view of what sustainability can mean in a house and additional ways they could achieve the types of environmental goals that the clients had sought through solar panels. Aurell introduced the client to other materials and building techniques that reduce resource use, explained the benefits of sourcing materials locally and how paint low in volatile organic compounds can improve indoor air quality.

To make the case for this additional scope successful, Aurell focused not just on explaining how the building would be sustainable in its construction, but also on how it would perform better and save money in the long term.

“[Initially] their knowledge of being green was solar panels,” he says. “At the end of the day, what we ended up having was a building that responded to the sun’s orientation, that had a green roof, a radiant floor system—and the solar panels they originally asked for.”

 

Less is Green

Sustainable design is not always about meeting environmental certification standards or installing state-of-the-art technologies. Sometimes it’s as simple as making do with less.

“Most people have more house than they need,” says Carib Daniel Martin, principal of Carib Daniel Martin Architecture + Design in Kensington, Md. “And too often the house is not designed in the way they need.”

Green Construction Workers

When clients approach his firm intent on beginning a new construction project, Martin starts by asking about their current residence. Often, he says, what people really need is a renovation or a redesign, and not a complete teardown. Martin estimates that he uses that approach in about 75 percent of their work, and though it doesn’t work out logistically in every situation, “for about 50 percent of our new-home clients, we end up convincing them not to tear down their home,” he says.

While opting to rebuild rather than to demolish and build anew has clear environmental benefits, it also offers savings in time and money—on construction, permitting, and insurance. “That’s how I start the conversation,” he says. “Then I always end it by saying that we’re not adding to landfills and, by they way, you’re minimizing your impact on global warming.”

At the end of the day, he says, if the performance-driven option is also the one that makes the most sense, clients will go for it.

This article was originally published in ARCHITECT October 2017