You feel your company is more green than it used to be, so now what do you do with that information?The NEWS spoke with two contractors whose companies perform both commercial and residential work about green marketing and promotion of their business. Both businesses started promoting green almost a decade ago.

“We started [promoting green] about eight or nine years ago, talking about how we offer refrigerants that protect the ozone layer and aggressively recycle metal and refrigerants. We were very active in promoting the $1,500 tax credit in 2010 as well as the California Appliance rebate for the same amount, in the same year,” said Robert Helbing, Air-Tro Inc., Monrovia, Calif.

Ellis G. Guiles, Jr. P.E., LEED AP, HERS Rater, Green Rater, vice president, TAG Mechanical Systems Inc., Syracuse, N.Y., said, “We’ve been directly involved in marketing green for at least eight years. We have shifted our marketing focus from green and promoting energy efficiency to being broader and more comprehensive approximately two years ago.”

While both companies, TAG Mechanical Systems Inc. and Air-Tro Inc., do a certain amount of green marketing, both are either in the process of backing away from green being the main focus of their respective company’s marketing or already have.

Guiles observed that green marketing just isn’t working any longer. “People have become somewhat jaded towards the term.

“There are elements of green integrated into all our marketing. We’ve stepped away from doing dedicated green marketing, however. The issue doesn’t have the impact it did three or four years ago. Everyone wants to protect the environment, but there’s no clear consensus on the best way to do that, so many people don’t feel like they know enough to make a good, informed decision,” said Helbing.

A particular challenge that Guiles noted about promoting green HVACR in commercial installations is that even if you do promote green, is the HVACR contractor able to influence the project to be green or greener than it was. This involves “being able to work in a true partnership or team dynamic. Too often we’re involved after the project has been designed and is out for bid/procurement.

“In many cases, if we had been involved upfront as part of the budgeting and design process, we could have provided solutions that might have been more cost-effective and perhaps would have exceeded the owner’s long-term performance requirements. As an example, we recently became involved in an assisted senior living project where we were able to reduce the costs of the system, improve the efficiency of the overall system, provide the owner with some functionality that was missing from the original design, and lower the first costs, thereby making the project viable.”

Offerings to Customers

The elements of green that Air-Tro still promotes, said Helbing, include promoting “efficiency rebate programs, setback thermostats, Energy Star-rated equipment, and our insistence on recycling old equipment and refrigerant.”

Today, TAG Mechanical Systems promotes matters that will make a difference in people’s lives. “We think that as we speak to the issues of health, safety, comfort, and energy efficiency, our customers are more likely to connect with us and choose to do business with us because we are providing them with information and solutions which will truly improve their lives.”

This attitude pervades both the residential and commercial sections of TAG Mechanical Systems.

“In our commercial business, we don’t market ourselves as green. We do market ourselves as providers of comprehensive solutions that make buildings healthier, safer, more comfortable, and energy efficient,” stated Guiles.

He commented that while homeowners do accept what the contracting company can offer them in improving their living conditions and lives, it does require educating customers. “We are also home performance contractors, which means we can provide whole solutions to our residential customers. Homeowners are even less informed about their indoor environments than commercial customers. They’ve never really experienced comfort and a healthy indoor environment. There’s a tremendous amount of education we are required to do. However, once we’ve started this journey with our customers, most eventually embrace it and look forward to the improvements we can bring to their homes by making them healthier, safer, comfortable, and energy efficient,” said Guiles.

Today’s Green

Helbing said that there are certain elements about green marketing that have benefitted the company. “The rebate promotions were quite effective. Most of our other green marketing hasn’t been as good at lead generation. Its best value has been in building our brand and our image.”

He also commented that residential customers rely on other judgments and recognitions along with those of the contractor when it comes to making equipment selections. “Homeowners feel less comfortable [than commercial customers] making technical decisions, so overemphasizing engineering details can sometimes overwhelm them. That’s where something like the Energy Star brand is a big help; they trust a label like that to have real meaning,” added Helbing.

Helbing concluded that all in all, marketing green because it’s green is no longer a motivating factor for his company, though being green still is a part of the company’s philosophy. “For today’s customers, you being green isn’t so much a reason to buy as it is another item that establishes your ethics and trustworthiness. It’s like clean uniforms or showing up on time. It’s something that’s just expected of the best contractors.”

Publication date: 9/24/2012