In the late 1990s, I reported on or interviewed about 30 or 40 dot.com companies--BuildView and BuildNet come to mind—who claimed to have internet solutions that would change how the entire home building industry operated. I had to use a big excel spreadsheet to try to keep straight what all the different companies purported to do.
I spent months trying to convert what these dot.coms said they were providing into plain English for builders. Phone conversations topped an hour a piece and even then I got off the phone not really sure how to translate the internet jargon and business-speak into practical advice. I thought I was dense, but it turns out it wasn't my lack of intellect hampering the process; these companies had no real service to offer and were simply jumping on the dot.com craze—and adding a useless layer to the home building process (and in many cases didn't have the funds to provide what was promised). Most of the CEOs of these newbie firms were not even conversant in the basics of home building.
The 2000 bust killed 90% of these internet-based service companies practically overnight.
I have been with Green Builder Media as the editor in chief of Green Builder magazine since 2007. In the past few years, I have been contacted by builders with cool green projects, manufacturers interested in getting the word out on their sustainable products, and academics looking for data on sustainable building. It's been a nice little community. In the past six months, though, the dot.coms have reared their heads again, reincarnated as "green solutions" companies. Their calls start: "I have a green solution that all builders can take advantage of …" When I dig in, I find that many of these companies are very loosely, if at all, connected to residential home building. Once again, I get off the phone not sure what exactly the firm is offering to builders and how they will help them.
To be sure, new solutions like a software that helps you minimize the amount of framing lumber used on a site is useful. But what most of the others are offering isn't so simple. The best way I can explain it is that they are part consultant, part marketing arm, and part technology provider. It takes them an hour to explain themselves. And it makes me nervous.
If new companies are headed into the green building arena simply to get a piece of the sustainable pie, they will fail. Jaded journalists such as myself do remember the dot.coms and their empty promises to builders. This time around we simply won't spend the hours trying to understand and help promote the products of generic solutions companies. Unless, of course, they are truly useful or industry changing.
With all the noise in the industry—such as greenwashing and the warring green building codes and programs—the last thing we need is more distraction in the form of people trying to shanghai the green building process. Green building can't be patented or owned or controlled by anyone. Green building is simply building a highly efficient and durable home with environmental stewardship top of mind.
To builders, watch out for generic green building solutions. If a solutions company offers a targeted application or service that you specifically need, fantastic. But you might be better served by turning to education--many online and in-person training opportunities exist--before getting involved in a green solution that may or may not be applicable to your company. Also, check out the forums and blogs on this site and at www.greenbuildermag.com to ask questions of veteran builders about the evolution of their green companies.
To manufacturers: keep your green message straight to retain your reputation with builders and the media. And keep the new green products and education opportunities rolling. (We love them!)
To green solution providers: Be sure you understand the home building industry and its particular needs and are adding a bona fide solution—or you'll most likely suffer the same fate as the internet solution companies of the 1990s. While we media members are cynical and a tougher crowd than we were a decade ago, we do promise that if you are offering an authentic resource for builders to help them build the most sustainable homes possible (and you can explain it in five minutes or less) we will welcome your debut with open arms.