Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inspire, don't Require

As a home builder, I get “green”. I have been intentionally doing green things for more than a decade; minimizing waste, avoiding toxic materials, and trying to make the homes I build as energy efficient as possible. I was “green” before “green” was cool. These practices saved me money, made my homes more attractive to buyers and in the long run, saved my homeowners money by reducing their utility bills. It simply made sense.

Today, not only are my clients getting it too, new green products are popping up every day, from local home improvement stores to the grocery stores. The Built Green guidelines that many of use to measure our success are a flexible tool that allows builders and clients to choose from a variety of products and techniques, each with a point value and subsequent returns. I find a lot of my clients achieving a certain level and then asking what more they can do to get to the next level. Suddenly they are weighing the various options against their budget and lifestyle and trying to achieve all they can.

But that may soon change.

A few years back, the Legislature wisely decided to help promote things like Solar Energy. They did so by offering incentives including no sales tax on solar equipment and added incentives for equipment manufactured here in Washington. This year several bills were introduced to offer similar sales tax exemptions and utility rebates for solar hot water heaters along with other solar incentives. Unfortunately, in typical bait and switch fashion, legislation has been introduced to require solar water heaters in all newly constructed homes beginning in January of 2012 (HB 1187). Additionally, there are rumors that due to our budget deficit, many of the current tax incentives may go away. Why offer up incentives for these things when they can simply be mandated? Our lawmakers get to keep their cake and eat it too, while home buyers find themselves going hungry.

Once you start piling on these requirements and further drive up the cost of housing at a time when the market can least bear it (much bigger topic for a future post) the consumer’s focus changes. Rather than asking, “What can I do to be greener?” they begin to ask, “What is the minimum we can get away with?”
I have a saying I like to use both at home and at work: “Inspire, don’t require.” In this case, maybe a more appropriate phrase could be, "Rebate, don't mandate". You want to kill the momentum behind the green movement? Make it mandatory.
- Daimon Doyle

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