By Steven Castle, GreenTech Advocates
One of the biggest hurdles in selling consumers on energy efficiency is the economy. Many simply don’t have the money—or don’t feel they have the money—to invest in energy-efficient products or technologies, even if they would realize a return on that investment.
So what’s the answer? As much as I’d prefer not to admit it, energy efficiency technologies like home energy management just aren’t ready for the mass market. Not quite yet, anyway.
Survey after survey, study after study bears this out. Those most interested in energy efficient homes and buying energy efficient products are the mass affluent, those in the $100,000 annual household income and above category. And even these folks can be a tough sell, because many have pulled back on their spending in recent years.
Can’t sell to the mass affluent? Shoot even higher, to the real high-net worth individuals.
Efficiency As A Luxury
It’s easy to dismiss the luxury market as not caring a whit about energy efficiency. In a very large sense, they don’t need to. They can afford to build super-large houses and pay thousands of dollars a month to heat and cool them and keep everything running 24/7.
But more and more, the rich are using their green to build green and energy-efficient homes. In fact, most of the green tech homes I encounter in my work with both Electronic House and GreenTech Advocates are really luxury homes that are built green. Some of them are downright huge.
Sure, the rich have the money to afford green mansions, which most of us can’t think of building. But their reasons seem to go far beyond their ability to pay more in building costs. (Many builders will tell you that building a home green should only cost a few percentage points more than not building green—but that’s without higher-end systems and energy management and the like.)
What I often hear is a two-sided tale. From the affluent homeowner I’m usually told he or she simply wanted to do the right thing. And from the electronics installer or other contractor, I’m often told that the owners built green because they’re prominent in the community and don’t want to appear to be insensitive to environmental concerns.
The eco-friendly sentiments of some luxury buyers are no doubt sincere. But for others, it’s an image enhancer. Building that 8,000-square-foot mansion looks a heckuva lot better if it produces its own energy with solar panels and is built energy-efficient and with environmentally responsible materials.
And yes, the rich probably like showing off the green-ness of their homes, and probably don’t mind being regarded as being responsible.
Make It A Status Buy
Bottom line: Energy efficiency and green building are becoming status buys. “There’s not as much opulence in the world today. There’s more of a movement toward the virtuous,” says David Weinstein, vice president of sales for Lutron Electronics, which has seen a surge of interest among the affluent in both lighting control and motorized shading systems that can help save energy and money. “Even the wealthy are getting on the energy saving bandwagon. They are merging their buying power capabilities with being responsible.”
Whether that virtue is sincere or image–related doesn’t much matter. While those of us in mass affluent and mass markets may want energy efficiency but don’t believe they can afford it, increasingly the rich are seeing the benefits of including energy efficiency and green tech in their homes.
Let’s face it: Many technological innovations start as either commercial or luxury market products, then gradually become available to more consumers as manufacturing volume increases and prices drop. So don’t be afraid to start selling energy efficiency to your most affluent clients, and work your way down.
In fact, I propose you embrace it. Find those affluent clients who want to be responsible, or be seen as responsible. And make an energy-efficiency showpiece out of their homes. Make it an efficient home that they can show off to their other rich friends, who might just covet the same. Use their social networks to spread energy efficiency technologies like home control and lighting control and energy monitoring and management systems. See where this is going?
One final thought: Many affluent homeowners also own vacation homes, and who wants to keep everything running in that ski lodge all year round, when it’s only occupied for a couple of months?