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    Who Cares About Being Green? Five Ways to Clap Back When Clients Don’t Care

    Sustainability may not be high on the list for some clients, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing the right thing.

    Unless you’re working for one of the villains on Captain Planet and the Planeteers (remember that, kids?), I don’t believe that there’s a client out there whose sole mission is to deliberately inflict as much damage to the environment as possible. Then again, as 2020 has so masterly demonstrated, stranger things have happened—but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

    Sustainability may not be high on a client’s list of priorities for various reasons. Think about it. If you’ve been tasked with delivering an exceptional (insert facility type here) on a Hail-Mary schedule and a shoestring budget, with multiple stakeholders breathing down your neck, a myriad of permitting and code requirements, and a vendor that keeps tacking on additional services, Sustainability is the least of your worries.

    On the other hand, I honestly believe that some clients just don’t know what sustainability means within the context of the built environment. That’s why they’re hiring you in the first place—to take them by the hand, reassure them that everything is going to be okay, and proceed to chart a way forward. That said, here are some ways to clap back when your client says they don’t care.

    Show Them What’s Possible
    Let’s assume this ain’t your first rodeo. In fact (per my previous article), if you’ve got your green cred together, it shouldn’t be too difficult to demonstrate your success in delivering sustainable, high-performing, and healthy projects of similar scope, type. and scale. Especially if a client is investing in their first piece of real estate, there may be a knowledge gap in terms of sustainable best practices and even hesitation towards these measures that stem from it. Therein lies the opportunity to show them what can be done, to highlight your expertise and past experience, and to prove your willingness to work with them to achieve their goals.

    Speak Their Love Language
    If Sustainability falls on deaf ears, speak to them in a language that they can understand: cost savings. What client doesn’t like to save money? Sustainability, for the most part, is about resource efficiency, which directly translates into cost efficiencies and long-term savings. For instance, it’s far better to invest in an efficient HVAC system upfront than to be saddled with staggering operational and maintenance costs in the long run. Furthermore, there are a number of sustainability measures that can be implemented at no cost to the client but with a high rate of return, particularly when it comes to occupant health and well-being. So crunch the numbers, put them into a fancy presentation, and show them point blank how much money they’re going to save.

    For some clients, Sustainability can be a dirty word (oh, the irony). To declare that their project will be the most sustainable facility possible is an open invitation to scrutiny and shame if it misses the mark. They might as well have a target on their back. A telling sign is the absence of anything remotely related to Sustainability in the RFP. Either that or they just don’t care (wish you had a heart ring like Ma-Ti did, don’t you?).

    So what’s a marketer to do? Use your words.

    Speak to Sustainability without saying it outright. Clients like clean air and water, right? Well, what about sit-stand desks or polished concrete floors with radiant heating and cooling? Or mass timber beams that gleam in the morning light? Wouldn’t that be something?

    Again, clients don’t know what you know and it’s your job to school them on what’s what.

    Show Them Who’s Boss
    At some point, you’ll need to have “the talk” with your client. You’re going to sit them down (with appropriate social distancing), ask them to take a deep breath, and tell them to repeat after you: “It’s the law.”

    With California’s mandate on Net-Zero ready, all-electric buildings, and the US government’s forthcoming Green New Deal, Sustainability is set to be enshrined in local laws and building codes in the near future. That said, it’s better to pay the piper now than to spend millions of dollars in fines and deep-green retrofits because Uncle Sam said so. One could argue that a strategic approach to mitigating the effects of impending regulation is to move to up a floor entirely because the baseline will only increase moving forward. At the same time, there may be some (state-specific) tax incentives for sustainability measures such as renewable energy, energy storage, and carbon capture projects.

    Helping clients navigate through the complexity of green legislation can result in positive outcomes for both their triple bottom line and the environment.

    And if all else fails...

    Do It Anyway
    Ultimately, clients hire us to do our best work possible. Beyond all the contract negotiations, risk assessments, bean counting, and value-engineering, it’s our responsibility to do the right thing.

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me leave you with this: buildings account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, the consequences of which disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people. We keep coming back to this statistic because we do not yet fully realize the severity of the situation. The decisions we make—our decisions—have a real and direct impact on the lives of others and the environment as a whole.

    That responsibility lies with us. And if the client says otherwise, would you really want to work with them?

    Phillip Gangan is the firm-wide Marketing Knowledge Manager for Sustainability at HOK. As a former journalist, Phillip brings his editorial expertise to HOK’s marketing, research, and public relations endeavors. He serves the SMPS SFBAC Communications Team as a writer and editor.


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