Selling Sustainability for Commercial Buildings is Good for Environment, HVAC Business

Sustainability and energy efficiency have gone beyond being buzzwords or trends. In 2016 and beyond, business customers are looking for the most energy efficient products that offer savings and comfort while providing a benefit for the environment. Smart HVAC contractors will embrace this philosophy and adjust their business models to ensure they are selling a holistic approach to energy efficiency and sustainability to their commercial customers.

Selling sustainability is about offering a long-term value to your commercial customers, one that will provide a payback for years to come in the form of lower operating costs and greater owner/tenant satisfaction. If you choose to embrace selling sustainability and energy efficiency as an added value to your commercial customers, you must adjust the sales process to include the presentation of data and solid, cost-effective solutions in order to build a trusting and durable relationship with your customers.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, energy consumption represents 30 percent of a typical commercial office building’s operating costs. This means that controlling energy costs is the single best way to control cost of operations and has a direct and substantial financial benefit for building owners. In fact, the EPA says a 30 percent reduction in energy use can equal a five percent increase in net operating income and overall asset value.

Thanks to advances in technology, turning an inefficient facility into a sustainable one is no longer prohibitively expensive, so building owners today are realizing positive returns and shorter payback periods for projects that utilize energy efficiency and sustainable products, services and techniques.

Presenting the Facts
When it comes to selling sustainability and energy efficiency to your commercial customers, the process must be grounded in factual information and solid data about the building’s energy usage and the way occupants use energy in the building. To gather this information, take an inventory with your customer of all their equipment, collect utility bills, catalog all building data, perform a walk through, analyze plans and building specs, and talk to maintenance personnel to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the building. With this data, you can compare overall historical energy usage of the facility and create an assessment of how the building uses energy. Then you can develop a comprehensive solution using various HVAC, lighting and BAS applications that will move the building toward being more energy efficient and sustainable.

Next, using the data and site inspection information you need to determine what systems need to be repaired, updated or replaced to achieve the targeted energy efficiency goals to meet the required ROI. These may include HVAC controls, HVAC equipment, drives and motors, ductwork, automated airflow systems, security systems, lighting and other components that use energy to operate the building. When presenting this information to building owners, be sure it includes not just the cost to repair and replace, but also the estimated ROI, along with the timeframe for payback for the project. The initial benchmarking data you obtained up front will be key to supporting this part of the proposal and demonstrating the sustainable benefits.

Mitigating Upfront Costs with Rebates/Subsidies
Building owners will look closely at the payback period to assess the affordability of the project, but you should offer them solutions on how to mitigate some of the upfront costs. In many parts of the country utility companies offer generous rebate programs to defray some of the costs associated with implementing energy-saving improvements. There are also various state programs to fund energy efficiency projects. Before you present the overall costs of the project, you should do research on the various rebate/subsidy programs available and outline those for your customers. Making this information available to customers will help them make the decision to move forward with the sustainability project.

Focus on Long-Term Benefits
The most successful strategy for selling sustainability shouldn’t just focus on the upfront costs, but rather on the overall long-term benefits of making the improvements. The benefits of sustainability on the owner’s bottom line are long term, having the greatest impact over a span of several years. Building operators who want to reduce operating costs for many years ahead, while creating a more healthy and comfortable environment, will recognize that using high quality energy-efficient products and promoting sustainability provides lasting value to the building, their
relationships to their tenants and the bottom line.

Promote Sustainability to Tenants
Having buy-in and commitment to sustainability from building managers and tenants is crucial to the long-term success of a project. When tenants and users are educated and aware of the sustainability goals of the owners of the building and understand how they can contribute to saving energy, they will take more responsibility and implement their own initiatives to manage how they use energy. Behavior modification by the users of the building can contribute as much as 10 percent to overall energy savings, which is a win-win for everyone. Before you start a project, share information about the energy use benchmarks and what the goals are for the building improvements, as well as the overall sustainability goals. This will go a long way to engage tenants and encourage them to help.

Contractor Benefits
The biggest benefit for the HVAC contractor is the development of trusted and loyal long-term relationships the contractor builds with owners and operators. The knowledge you will have about the building is invaluable to the owner/manager. He will look to you as a subject matter expert on how to maximize the building’s energy efficiency and will rely on you for maintaining the systems, controls and equipment to ensure optimal operation and efficiency. And when additional sustainability projects are needed, he will turn to you for trusted advice. This type of relationship will provide a steady stream of continued work and income for your business and will position you as the one to call when systems and equipment need replacing or updating.

Visit or contact your regional sales manager for further assistance.