Marketing Green Buildings

May 1, 2007
Many engineers I have met think marketing is something left best to their firms' marketing professionals and that, somehow, marketing is beneath them.

Many engineers I have met think marketing is something left best to their firms' marketing professionals and that, somehow, marketing is beneath them. Alternatively, they think good work “speaks for itself.” The truth is, no one really knows what engineers have accomplished on a job if they do not speak, write, and tell stories about it. The sad experience of most engineering firms is that if they do not craft a positive story about what they have done on a project, others will create their own version, which may not put the engineering firm in the best light.

In the green-building market, publicity efforts are especially critical because the market is growing rapidly and most architects I talk to tell me they “hate” their engineers. Why? Because engineers do not “come to the table” prepared to make creative contributions to green projects. I know the dislike may be mutual, but for engineers who are paying attention, this situation creates great marketing opportunities to “steal a march” on their local and regional competitors by becoming the type of green engineering firm architects (and owners) like to work with.

In 2006, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), cumulative Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design- (LEED-) registered projects increased by 50 percent (to nearly 4,000). Cumulative LEED-certified projects increased by 67 percent (to more than 500). Nothing in the building industry grows at these rates, so isn't it worth paying renewed attention to the green-building market? Following are four practical marketing steps:

  1. Get your principals LEED accredited this year — no fooling around and no excuses. The typical refrain for holdouts is, “I already know and practice this stuff, so why do I have to take a test on it?” According to the USGBC, there are more than 35,000 LEED Accredited Professionals. There is hardly a good reason not to have this accreditation.

  2. Get your senior technical-staff members (especially project managers) LEED-accredited this year — no fooling around and no excuses. You cannot afford to send people to green-building project meetings who do not have this basic credential. “I'm really busy,” is a typical excuse to which a firm's owner should say: “This is your career, but it's our clients who want this. You've got to do it if you want a future here.”

  3. Make sure everyone in your firm knows how to produce designs that will cut energy use by 40 percent more than the current ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-2004, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, even if you cannot do it on every project. Architects and owners expect you to come to a project prepared to create high-performance designs without busting the project budget. Throw out the “standard solutions,” and start looking at each green project with fresh eyes.

  4. Study what others are doing to achieve high-performance buildings with on-site energy-production systems (including solar photovoltaic and thermal systems) and high levels of energy efficiency, water efficiency, and indoor-air quality, even if you have to invite outside experts to present this information. You cannot afford to be (or appear) unprepared when opportunity knocks. Make these new approaches and systems part of your repertoire as quickly as possible.

Marketing is about persuasive communications. If you are going to persuade people to hire you to design green buildings, you have to increase the information you have about how other engineers are doing the same.

In 2005, I edited a publication for Interface Engineering, a Portland, Ore.-based mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) firm, that presented the design process they followed and systems they used for what is the world's largest LEED-Platinum building, the 400,000 sq ft Oregon Health & Science University's Center for Health and Healing. More than 9,000 copies of this 50-page case study available through were distributed around the world, with all copies requested in writing. The project was certified Platinum in early 2007. I promoted the fact that the cost of the MEP systems came in below the contractor's original budget for conventional variable-air-volume solutions.

Marketing is about what you do before the next request for a quote or proposal comes out for a green project. It is about leadership, communication, internal knowledge management, and education and training. Make sure you are not giving anyone an excuse to overlook you as the green-building revolution gains steam.

Principal of Yudelson Associates, Jerry Yudelson, PE, LEED AP, has trained more than 3,000 people on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. A U.S. Green Building Council national LEED faculty member since 2001, he has chaired the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo since 2004. He is the author of the book “Insider's Guide to Marketing Green Buildings.” He can be contacted through his Web site at

Read more Engineering Green Buildings columns.