Go For The Green: 3 Tips On Getting Your Clients Committed To Sustainable Technologies

Photo © Alessio Guarino

Have you ever gained support for a sustainable idea in a client meeting but ultimately couldn’t get that strategy realized in the project? For any number of reasons such as lack of technical knowledge, budget constraints or project schedule, the leap between pitching an idea and getting it built is a challenge to many architects and designers. This is almost always the case, even in more established design firms with a sustainable focus. However, it is even more difficult for smaller practices and start-ups trying to convince clients of their expertise without projects of their own exhibiting these technologies. In this post I’ll outline 3 tips on getting your clients to commit to sustainable technologies so that you can convert potential technology into measurable results.

Today, sustainable technologies such as heat recovery, smart sensitive lighting control and efficient fixtures for restrooms and kitchens are being implemented everywhere as base systems in large commercial projects . The residential market is better than it ever has been in adopting similar strategies. But still a staggering number of projects that could implement these strategies don’t. Why? By now most of us, including our clients, understand that in order to create a positive impact on the planet, implementing sustainable strategies is a must and will ultimately be a measure of our success. So if we all agree, then why are we running into so many road blocks when it comes time for commitment. Let’s look at three sure-fire ways to super charge your presentations and ensure success in folding sustainability into your next project.

1.| Know Your Stuff


Sustainable strategies are not incredibly complex and thanks to years of successful projects by qualified, as well as curious, architects, engineers and designers they are no longer a secret. This means that our clients probably know quite a bit about preservation, collection and storage of energy and water. Maybe even more than we do. This was not always the case. For the last few decades architects and designers have been the harbingers of sustainable practice. But as companies are producing better products more efficiently, the general public is becoming more educated by user-friendly technologies that are more readily available.

This means we need to be diligent about collecting the right information and start becoming experts in sustainable strategies if we are to follow through and ultimately get them built. We’ve lost their attention, and probably a little respect, when that out-of-the-blue, in-depth question about flat-plate solar collectors hits us like a random exam question, of which we “kind of” know the answer. Sure we’ve studied architecture, and probably have our license. And yes, we as architects and designers know quite a bit about these technologies. It has been structured into our education for decades now. But if you can further develop your own understanding of these technologies and systems by diving deeper into the content you will be more readily accepted as a trustworthy adviser.

If you want to seal the deal and get your clients to adopt what you think is the right solution, you need to make your client feel like they are dealing with an expert. This doesn’t mean that you need to know exactly what gaskets go where, but you should be able to draw a diagram that can explain the concept to them, as well as be able to speak to the physical implications of adopting such a system. As homeowners, your clients want to know that their decisions to do the right thing for the environment won’t also create significant problems for them down the line. Leaks and cracks in their home or a significant upfront cost are just some of the obstacles that can get in the way of a potentially great project. This requires getting your clients to feel comfortable with your recommendations. Ultimately this will help build trust as well as reinforce their understanding that their contributions to energy collection, water preservation and ecological respect are headed in the right direction.


2.| Create A Phased Life-Cycle Plan


The key to a successful, sustainable project is clearly defining expectations and goals, which is also the first step in assuring you are on the same page. This is where a clearly phased life-cycle plan can ensure you are all on track to hit your targets and objectives. A successfully phased life-cycle plan allows the client to put their toe in the water while also having an outline for longer term energy or water independence. In the early stages of the project is when you have the greatest chance of convincing your client to adopt a myriad set of sustainable strategies. However, this is also the point at which many clients can become overwhelmed with not only the “living machine” you are proposing, but also how much this may all cost.  If you can break up the overall strategy into more manageable portions, your client may be more willing to start out small then upgrade as they need / want to. A strong phasing strategy  allows the client to do 3 things:

– Temporarily minimize their up front cost by selecting one or two systems.
– Analyze the results and make their own decisions based on actual performance.
– Hold out in poor markets and during developing technologies for a more consumer-driven market

3.| Follow-Up

One of the most productive things you can do as a designer is to follow-up with your clients soon after they have moved in, or have been using your product. Not only will this provide you with a wealth of information as to what worked and what didn’t, you will further strengthen your relationships and are more likely to be recommended when their friends and family are ready for a sustainable new home,  product or upgrade. Everyone wins in this situation, because ultimately we as designers are not in this to churn out product after product. Rather, we strive to make a difference in people’s lives by contributing our expertise through solving  interesting and complex needs. Learning from where we have been is a fundamental component of success. The more we can fine-tune our previous assumptions into actionable, focused new ones, the more likely we are to increase our value when contributing to the growing demand for sustainable solutions.


What do you think? Are “green” solutions too trendy? Have you found other techniques that help clients achieve their sustainability goals? We’d love to hear your thoughts, please feel free to comment below.


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