Eco-friendly construction is no longer exclusively the jurisdiction of iconoclastic clients or small, hippie-run companies. As the housing market has recovered, the industry has lured talent from every sector and is now growing at a rapid clip--sealing its place on our list of the top industries of 2014. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, total revenue across the industry should grow to $245 billion by 2016.
We asked three small companies in the green construction industry how they broke into the business and what they learned along the way. Here’s what they had to say:
Keep Costs Low
The first thing to know is this: No matter how good it may be for the environment, very few people are willing to "go green" if the alternative is cheaper. That’s especially true in the construction industry where, for commercial buildings, traditional methods could be millions of dollars cheaper.
Ann Hand, CEO of Project Frog, learned that lesson the hard way. When she joined the company in 2009, taking over from its founders, Project Frog’s iconic modular buildings only came in one shape and size and were substantially more expensive than the alternative. But, in terms of green benefits, the buildings featured plenty of natural light, which both cut down on artificial lighting and provided warmth during daytime (i.e., peak) hours. And because they were manufactured off-site they almost completely eliminated waste from the building process. What’s more, they could be constructed in a matter of days.
The design earned Project Frog accolades and extensive media coverage, and the company landed deals with schools and healthcare providers.
Still, Hand had trouble scaling. "No matter how excited people were about this new green building, they'd say, 'My budget! My budget!'" she says.
So Hand scrapped the original building design and began prototyping a new model that could not only come in a variety of shapes but would actually be cheaper to build than traditional construction.