There's been a huge shift in recent years to making products and services more environmentally-friendly. From the packaging we use to the rise in popularity of reusable coffee cups. This practice is moving to the home, with sustainable living developments and green homes becoming more and more common.
With customers and developers already on board the eco-friendly train, what do real estate marketing teams need to know in order to get the most from the new craze?
“Homeowners are becoming more conscious of the environmental footprint of their homes.”
What is sustainable living?
To know how to market a product you need to know what it is but, as of yet, the sustainability marketing definition is loose at best.
Environmentalist Lester Brown says that sustainable living in the 21st century is a "shift to a renewable energy-based, reuse/recycle economy with a diversified transport system", and a lot of that has been taken onboard by property developers.
In general terms, it's about homeowners being more conscious of the environmental footprint of their homes. If, however, a supposed eco-friendly home turns out to be a fraud, the backlash will be severe. If you're going to go down this route, you need to commit fully.
There are a lot of different ways to introduce sustainability practices into your building methods, but some of the most common areas to consider are:
One of the most common sustainable marketing examples comes from the prominence of renewable energy – most notably solar power. This can be done by installing solar panels or picking an energy provider that has a high investment in renewable energy. At the moment, around 14% of Australia's national grid is provided by renewable sources such as solar, hydropower, wind and bioenergy.
Another power consideration is the development of low-energy houses. These are designed to use less electricity than normal homes, through a mix of passive heating, which includes benefits of increased comfort, with low-energy technology and efficient insulation. Appliances that typically use a lot of energy – from fridges and freezers to air conditioning units – are currently being sold with stickers clearly showing their energy use to give people a way to make an informed decision on their purchase.
The material a home is built from can have a big impact on its green rating. Wood, for instance, can be grown in sustainably managed forests to ensure that its use has no negative impacts, while some products – such as bamboo and composite wood – can score even higher on the scale because of their growth patterns and sources.
Recycled or reclaimed materials are another big plus, whether they're wood, brick, metal or stone.
Water-efficiency in homes is another big issue that green home developers are focusing on and sustainability marketing companies are pushing.
Installing low-flush toilets and low-flow showers are two of the best ways to reduce water usage without having any major effects on living standards. Installing greywater systems – where sink and shower water is diverted into the toilet for a second use or into the garden to irrigate your lawn – is a great way to reduce water usage and a home's demands on the sewer system.
What real estate developers need to consider
Creating eco-friendly homes is not only a shrewd move in terms of sustainability marketing strategy, it's a great way to stand out amongst the crowd. Developers are constantly looking for an edge, and showing that you're listening to current concerns is a great way to curry favour with potential customers.
The flip side to this approach is that things are more expensive. Eco-friendly gadgets, material and design tends to cost more, which means an already expensive property becomes slightly more expensive.
In terms of property marketing, you need to highlight that this initial extra expense is an investment and not just an outgoing. High-performance homes have been proven to save money in the long run – with lower electricity bills and all the other benefits meaning years and decades of lower expenditure.
Fad or future development?
So long as environmental concerns are a factor, there will be a demand for environmentally-friendly products. Apart from in small circles, the belief that we are contributing to global warming and climate change is widely accepted and the quest to do something about it is large. The growing development and prominence of the government's NatHERS rating system is testament to this.
Developing properties that people want to live in and are proud to buy is a surefire way to attract customers, build a strong reputation and get strong word-of-mouth advertising from happy buyers.
Another consideration is that in the future there are likely to be more laws passed on new developments that require certain environmental considerations, and by implementing them now you can get ahead of the game. One example, from overseas, is that all new single-family homes built in Hawaii to have a hot water system powered by a solar panel, something that 90% of properties in Israel already have.
The Australian government has set up the Your Home website for examples of environmentally sustainable properties in Australia, with showcased properties from various states and territories.
The current state of play
Although demand for sustainable housing is in its infancy, it's expected to get big and big soon. At the moment, consumers are in a research stage with only early-adopters taking the full plunge.
At the moment the action gap between what a home buyer should do and what they're prepared to pay is insurmountable in many cases, but that hesitation won't remain forever. Changes are afoot – both on a government and personal level – that will see people move from a learning phase into a purchase and living mode in the near future.