The green building industry is focusing more and more on eliminating product ingredients and manufacturing processes that are potentially harmful. In my experience, however, many green supporters spend most of their time talking to each other about the horrors of a product without coming up with a strategy that would actually change the products.
So, when I read this article in the New York Times about how individuals are changing the food industry, I thought, “If individuals can change the food industry, they can change the building products industry, too.”
Individuals are changing the food industry by challenging potentially harmful ingredients in products made by the largest food manufacturers. The way they’re creating change is by using social media as a megaphone to magnify their opinions. Amplified, their opinions are not only heard by manufacturers but also cause them to change.
If an individual can use social media to change products made by the largest food companies, why can’t someone who is interested in green building products do the same thing?
Rather than just talking about it, interested individuals should do something to change how building products are made. You can start affecting change today by using social media in two ways:
1. Focus on the negative.
Use social media to voice your concerns about product ingredients and manufacturing processes. Make it about how you feel, but don’t make it a one-sided attack by saying something like, “Why is this company poisoning us?” This approach puts the company on the defensive and makes it easy to label you a crazed quack. You aren’t going to scare or shame a company into changing. If you put a company on the defensive, they will probably only dig their heels in and become even more resistant to change.
If, however, you approach the situation with the goal of starting a dialogue, you will get much better results because building product companies really do want to address the concerns of their customers.
Start by accepting the fact that they make a product that fills a need. They have designed the product to give the best performance at the lowest cost to make it attractive to their customers. They have competition and they are in business to make a profit.
Most of the time they know what the offending ingredient is. They just don’t see a need to spend the money to find an alternative. They are also concerned that if they are the only company to make this change, it will probably cost them more and cause them to lose sales.
They are probably not convinced that there are enough people who care enough to pay any added costs. If you can show them that there are enough people, they may see the change as a competitive advantage.
Just like people are changing the food industry by starting a dialogue, you can also change building materials.
2. Focus on the positive.
When you see a company make the type of change you want, use social media to spread the word. This is a great way to encourage other manufacturers of this product to make the same change.
For example, fiberglass insulation used to be made with a small amount of formaldehyde. The insulation manufacturers had research that showed it caused no harm. If they replaced formaldehyde with a healthier alternative, their costs would go up. They saw no reason to change.
One of the smaller manufacturers saw the removal of formaldehyde as a competitive advantage. They made the change and advertised it as the only formaldehyde-free insulation. The other manufacturers scoffed at it.
It didn’t take long for the other insulation manufacturers to get the message though. Their sales people started to report that they could not sell their product to certain customers because it contained formaldehyde. These customers made a decision to use only formaldehyde-free insulation. Sure it started small and started in those markets that may be viewed as “tree huggers,” but it worked.
It took the other manufacturers several years to eliminate formaldehyde, but it caused the insulation industry to change.
This happened before social media had the power it does today. When you see a company make a positive change, support them with social media and you will speed the conversion of the other manufacturers.