Goodbye Green Wash

As band wagons go, the sustainable/green/environmentally friendly construction bandwagon has proved that it has some fair old mileage in it. The kind of eco-friendly products that would have been thought of as ‘niche’ or even ‘gimmicky’ 20 years ago are now mainstream. And, where once green buildings were architects’ flights of fancy, ever more exacting environmental performance standards are now being demanded by the client. The problem has been that, like any bandwagon, the green gravy train has caught the attention of the unscrupulous as well as the passionate and both have jumped on board with equal enthusiasm.  For the end user, this has meant a confusing array of performance claims based on well-documented research which often looks credible, even if it is not.

The good news this year has been the introduction of a new European Standard for assessment of environmental construction products and services, EN 15804. It means that product manufacturers and service providers can now undertake a single environmental product declaration (EPD) which will be consistent and accepted across the European Union. While some will, no doubt, see this as just another hoop to jump through on their route to market, others, hopefully will see it as an opportunity to validate their eco-claims and take advantage of it as a potential springboard into European markets.

The challenge, of course, is to understand the standard, become accredited and then maximise the value of being an EN 15804 supplier in the marketplace – whether that’s amongst your existing UK-based customers or further afield in mainland Europe. While the new standard provides you with an opportunity to differentiate, the pitfalls of communicating  credibly and effectively amongst a disparate group of specifiers and influencers including architects, end users, contractors and building control officers remain the same: they are cynical of green wash and hard to impress in a crowded marketplace.

Often this situation leads the earnest specialist to commit the cardinal sin of communication: instead of sticking to simple messages about the benefits of their product, they get bogged down in the technical detail. While many of the target audiences may well be interested in understanding the technical detail further down the line, it’s essential to capture their interest by informing them first why they should be interested at all.

My hope is that EN 15804 will become the automatic Pass Go card when specifiers are looking for green products and services; the indicator that they can trust all the technical data that support’s the product’s performance claims.  In that way suppliers can focus their communications on the benefits of the products and services they offer, without battling it out for credibility with the green washers.