Are Men Holding Back the Green Building Movement? Part 2

Greenspiration Home Explores the Question in an Interview with Builders of Both Sexes

By Trish Holder

Nicole Goolsby

Nicole Goolsby

Clark Wilson

Clark Wilson

Could a male dominated construction industry be holding back the green building movement? I’ve wondered about this a lot lately, so I decided to confront a couple of builders (one male, one female) with some research as well as some of my own observations of the home construction industry.

 

Nicole Goolsby of Rion Homes in Cornelius, NC and Clark Wilson of Clark Wilson Builders, Inc. in Austin Texas were willing to indulge my questions. Both are experienced green builders and have worked within the home construction/real estate industry for multiple decades. Their answers shed some much-needed light on a subject I believe builders and homeowners struggle with: cross gender communication.

Part 2 Interview. (Click here to read Part 1)

Trish: Countless research has shown that the construction industry has been slow to respond to the needs of their primary target market – women. What’s up with that?

Nicole: I agree that the industry has been slow to respond to the preferences of women. Kitchen design is a good example. I never a build the kitchen as drawn; there is always a better way to make it more functional for a family.

But the industry has made strides. In 1997 only 6% of the construction industry was made up of women but that number has risen to 10% in recent years. As result, I’ve seen a change in attitudes. It’s the 3rd generation builder families whose daughters are now moving into the management role; it’s the female vendor representatives selling insulation, brick and windows; it’s the first generation builders like myself with a natural attention to detail and desire to create a home, who are making the building process more attentive and friendly to women.

Clark: I think the “construction industry” and the “home building industry” are really two different animals. Successful homebuilders have known forever that we are selling primarily to women. Most men simply want a good spot to put a recliner in front of the TV and low payments. I think if it weren’t for women we would still be living in caves. So construction companies are bidders of owners’ plans and homebuilders are retailers and merchants appealing to speculative homebuyers.

Trish: What is your advice to women who genuinely want to build green, but find themselves without a pool of green builders to choose from? What advice do you have for them so that they don’t have to compromise their desire for a green home?

Nicole: My advice to women or men is first to educate yourself. Learn the difference between what is truly energy efficient, sustainable, or environmentally friendly versus “green washing”. Identify what is important to you, such as conserving water, lowering energy costs, indoor air quality, sustainable materials, etc.

Once you have done your research, make sure you research the builder. There are directories that list professionals who have actually studied and made a real effort to learn about best practices and have green building experience. NAHB has certified around 5000 Certified Green Professionals, almost half of which are classified as builders. You can also check out who in your area is building Energy Star homes because they already practice many of the green building techniques.

Then find the builder who wants to talk to you, who wants to listen and who you feel you can trust. Interview and check out references. Just because he built your parents’ house 10 years ago, may not make him the right builder for your home.

Let your builder know that you understand the true costs of incorporating green features into your home. Some features will be more expensive than traditional building products, but many are not.

Finally trust your instincts. My best friend in another state was contracting a builder to renovate her kitchen. They had spent some time with him, made some selections and even signed the contract. The next day she called me feeling very uncomfortable and said the guy was a jerk. A week later they cancelled the contract. Building your dream home is going to involve a lot of big decisions and one of most critical will be choosing your builder — one that will work with you and be willing to learn with you to create a beautiful green home.

Clark: First of all call me! Honestly with the market where it is today I can’t imagine anyone not being able to find a custom builder that would be willing to build whatever the customer desired. I am sure there are local building associations that all have very informed green builder councils. I would start there and interview several candidates from the roster. Once you find a good match and have a budget I would once again go through an interview process with several architects until I found one that I liked that had experience in the price range I was looking to build. Then I would sit down with the team and set out to build my dream.

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So, what do you think? Did we answer the question? Have men held back the green building movement?

One thing is certain. Communication is key and without better communication between builders and their clients, homes will never quite fulfill our dreams, no matter how green they are. Women probably think they communicate their needs while male builders tune them out or try to refocus their attention on budgets and punch lists. I know many builders believe that homeowners simply aren’t willing to pay, but I wonder how many are willing to take the time to help homeowners make an informed decision about what’s more important: a high SEER HVAC system or a 3-car garage. I do believe that female builders (assuming they have the expertise to share) are more likely to engage in such conversations. And because of that, as more women get into the construction industry, I believe the green building movement will pick up speed.

Nicole Goolsby is President of Rion Homes in Cornelius, NC
Clark Wilson is President of Clark Wilson Builders, Inc. in Austin Texas

4 Responses »

  1. Trish, I don’t think men in general are holding back the green building movement. Men invented it. I sense that you are trying to link men and blame men for something that you feel is not acceptable to your ideals that you have created in your own mind. This issue is not about men and women. It is an issue about closed minds vs. open minds along with money and time. Clark’s responses were right on the money.

    Builders will build whatever you want. Being a man or woman has nothing to do with this…You have to know what you want and how you are going to pay for it. The problem is most consumers just don’t care.

    Jacque Fresco is 95 years old and has been trying to change the way we live most of his life.
    Do a you tube search of his 1974 interview with Larry King. It will open your eyes.

    Don’t try to make this a gender issue when it is really a lot bigger than that.

  2. Hi Brent,

    Thank you for your comments. You should note this was an interview though. I interjected little more than some research, some observation, and asked some questions. I think it was thought provoking topic, and it certainly has been one of the most popular blogs.

    Men did start the green building movement. Men dominate the business world so a lot of what is good or bad can probably be traced back to a man; no arguments there. But I bet proportionately speaking there are more female “green builders” than men.

    Sorry — I do think gender impacts how we see the world and thus the choices that we make in the world. I’ve read tons of studies that explore the differences in how men and women view green products, environmentalism, etc. The differences are striking (and fascinating!) Perhaps taking time to understand these differences as opposed to pretending they aren’t there may be the key to improving the way we do a lot of things!

    Trish

  3. Trish,

    Nice interview. I agree that men and women have different priorities, especially when it comes to a home. There are certain cultural gender biases that program men to prefer the 3-car garage over the grey water reclamation system. However, while I have found that while the green movement seems to involve a higher percentage of women than development in general, the real speed bump on the road to sustainability is simple up front cost. Most people will say they plan for the long term but when it comes down to writing the check they are unwilling to put something in a house that has a 5 year buy back. In practice I have found women to be far tougher negotiators and less willing to expand budget to include ‘green’ features than men. But I do agree that it is far more likely for a woman to have ‘green’ features in the program from the start.

    If you have not read this book I highly recommend it … for both sexes ;)

    http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm

    -R

    • Nice comment, Richard. And I will look into the book.

      I don’t disagree with one thing you said. But, I think part of the problem is how builders (mostly male) tend to present these green options to women. This is where I think gender really influences the whole transaction. For instance, I bet I could sell a woman on a central plumbing manifold system — or other measure that gets hot water to the tap quicker. Don’t talk about btus, don’t talk about your water bill, don’t talk about Pex versus copper. Talk about those dreaded moments before you go to bed and you need to wash your make-up off. Every woman gets this. They hate the wait (they’re tired and they want to get into bed). And they hate the waste — especially if they have kids.

      You can’t guilt women into buying green, but they are all over anything that makes them feel less guilty for what they already feel guilty about!

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