Selling the value of sustainable service

> A/E firms need to do more than get their employees LEED-accredited to capitalize on the sustainable design trend.

Clients and design firms tend to take a different view of sustainability as a chargeable service. Clients are beginning to see sustainability as an integral part of design. They believe that if they’re going to build something, it may as well be sustainable. &quotSustainability is losing its power as a differentiator between firms as clients begin to demand it more,&quot says Giles Jacknain, principal, consulting, at ZweigWhite. In the coming years, he adds, it will get harder for firms to charge higher fees for the sustainable design services they provide.

The challenge for firms, Jacknain said, is twofold. On the internal/operations side of things, it involves answering the question: &quotHow do you deliver sustainable services?&quot On the external/marketing side, firms must answer the question: &quotHow do you convince clients of the value of the sustainable service you’re providing in order to charge higher fees?&quot

Jacknain says that firms still see sustainability as something to be added to a design. &quotThey say, ‘Let’s put in a high-efficiency HVAC system or use recycled material.’&quot Sustainability is much more than this. It includes consideration of &quotgreen&quot design principles along with many others. &quotSustainability means environmentally focused, but it isn’t just being ‘green,’&quot Jacknain said, &quotbut how the building positively impacts its environment, and how the duration of that positive impact can be lengthened.&quot

Achieving this can involve things such as the orientation of the building in relation to the sun and placement of windows to minimize cooling and/or heating costs or considering the effects of a chemical attack when designing a high-efficiency HVAC system. &quotWhat good is a high-efficiency HVAC system that is sealed off from the outside, if a chemical agent is inside it?&quot Jacknain asked.

Sustainability, he added, involves the evolution of buildings and the issues affecting them, such as the increased awareness of terrorist attacks in the wake of Sept. 11. It considers buildings’ impacts on their immediate environments. Jacknain points out translucent skyscrapers and their minimized shadows as examples of buildings with a positive impact on their immediate environments. &quotToo often, sustainability is seen as an MEP issue or an architecture issue.&quot Sustainability involves taking a &quotwhole-building&quot approach to the design.

Charging higher fees
Firms need to show clients that a sustainable design delivers a certain amount of value and they need to quantify that, Jacknain says. &quotFirms need to be able to say that ‘You’ll save this much money,’ or ‘you’ll have fewer employee sick days,’ or ‘you’ll be able to charge this much more rent’ as a result of the design.&quot

Firms that are engaging in sustainable design tend to see it as more expensive because they haven’t fully integrated the technology, nor do they completely understand the concept. &quotIt’s about more than just getting your employees LEED-accredited,&quot Jacknain said. &quotSustainable design is about integrating the principles into every aspect of the design process, so that it is a consideration at every step of the design.&quot Designers need to be able to say, &quotWe’re going to deliver this much value and therefore you need to pay a higher fee,&quot he said.

Jacknain acknowledges that there will be client resistance to higher fees for sustainable design services. &quotResistance will stem from the client belief that every firm is providing sustainable services, so why should the client pay more for your firm’s services,&quot he said. Firms will be able to charge more if they can quantify the value they provide according to the client’s needs.

A/E firms, Jacknain says, are not learning how to deliver sustainable services quickly enough. &quotFirms need to look at the services they provide now and the clients they are serving and see how they can incorporate sustainability into their work.&quot And, he adds, sustainable design is not limited to buildings.-Robert Gardner (

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (Issue #673, published Aug. 7, 2006).

Posted in | January 29th, 2014 by

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