Thursday, November 17, 2011

How can you turn your green expertise into green in your wallet?

by Lexine Schroeder, ASID Eco Committee member
Botanika Interior Plantscapes, ASID Industry Partner

Editor's note: These are Lexine's presentation notes from the ASID San Diego's Eco Committee's presentation “Green Your Bottom Line & Meet The Eco Committee” from November's ASID General Meeting at Illuminating Interiors. 

How do you turn your sustainable design knowledge and eco-friendly products into profit? 

First and foremost, you need to clarify what your green expertise is.  If you don’t have any, get some!  Free or inexpensive workshops are available through USGBC San Diego, CA Center for Sustainable Energy, and SDGE.

1)   What specific skills and abilities can you offer clients?  What experience and education do you have?

Your business card, email signature, and website should all include any certificates or credentials you have (Green Associate or LEED AP, or 3rd party product certifications if you are an IP)

2)   How will these things benefit your client and the planet?

(Hard to quantify, so use measurable things, such as how much energy will be saved, percent lower air toxins off-gassed, quantity of recycled material).

3)   It helps to write a “Green Mission Statement” so that your offerings are clear.  Put it on your website and any collateral materials you hand out. 

Example from one planter manufacturer: “Our focus is to design and manufacture architectural elements in the USA using post-consumer recycled materials and sustainable methods.”  It can be that simple!

4)   You can list the things you do to support your green mission statement on your website too: in-office recycling, recycling packaging or demolition materials, energy-efficient lighting in office or factory.

In this process, be careful to avoid “greenwashing”, which is promoting a product or service as more environmentally-friendly than it really is. 
1)   Be realistic about what you can and can’t do for your clients.  It’s always best to under promise and over deliver.  Don’t risk your reputation with false claims.

2)   Do your homework; don’t just take a vendor’s word for it that their product is green.  Ask for concrete details, percentages (Ex: pre- vs. post-consumer recycled), certifications, or use products made of simple natural materials that are sustainably harvested. 

To paraphrase ASID designer Laura Birns from a recent talk on sustainability, if what the vendor is claiming doesn’t make sense, it probably isn’t as green as they say.  And if it stinks, it isn’t green!
Take advantage of other opportunities to share your expertise and be seen as an expert:
1)   Update your business Facebook page with sustainable solutions and projects (or LinkedIn or Twitter).

2)   For IPs -- Eco Expo contest at IP Expo in Feb. – greenest booth and products gets free PR in Design Perspectives newsletter.

3)   Designers, IPs and students: Write an eco-tip for the ASID Eco blog, get guidelines from Amy – if nothing else at least read the blog and get inspired/educated! J  Follow it.

4)   Start your own green design blog or email campaign.

5)   ASID newsletter Eco page:  Designers, we are always looking for articles on your sustainable projects; contact Kristianne Watts at kw [at] kwdesigns [dot] com .

6)   Civic involvement in green causes -- volunteer and brag on your website, social media, email campaigns.

7)   Put a case study (with gorgeous professional photos) on your website; list the benefits of the sustainable elements.

8)   If you do a sustainable project, or one that has sustainable elements, tell the press!  Local media is increasingly interested in eco-friendly design solutions.  Green is sexy.
Finally, many clients don’t think to ask for green unless you ask them first!  Ask them if sustainability is a priority during your first interview or on your uptake form.  Their health and safety is your responsibility.  They will thank you!
In summary: Clarify your green expertise (or get some!), state the realistic benefits, know your products, and let people know what you know!  The result will be increased profitability for your business that you can feel good about.

Lexine Schroeder is owner and lead plantscape designer at Botanika Interior Plantscapes, a boutique indoor plant service based in San Diego serving residential and commercial buildings. Her mission is to bring the beauty of nature indoors, enlivening spaces while cleaning the air and providing a sense of well-being to her clients. Call her for a free initial consultation at 619-729-5715, or visit