5 Things Greenpeace Can Teach Passive House Advocates

The publication Business Insider has a fantastic "must read" article, The Inside Story Of How Greenpeace Built A Corporate Spanking Machine To Turn The Fortune 500 Into Climate Heroes by Aaron Gell. Greenpeace has not given up their flair for the dramatic either - quite the contrary - the article opens with a made-for-the-movies jaw-dropping stunt, ostensibly to save tigers, at Proctor & Gamble's headquarters. The immediate target is the Proctor & Gamble brand Head & Shoulders and their reliance on the out-of-control palm oil industry that is killing tigers. But the tigers are not the point. They are just the emotional hook. Instead, the point is to protect peat forests (the tiger habitat) from destruction - thereby preventing the devastating release of greenhouse gases.

Greenpeace produces these stunts, produces public technical reports, threatens negative media campaigns and suggests alternative pathways for the corporations. Proctor & Gamble, a company that cares deeply about its image and its branding, came to understand the consequences, both scientifically and in brand image, and acted, working with Greenpeace to bring significant change to the palm oil industry.

While Greenpeace supply chain targeting through "market-based campaigning" may be a different type of animal from Passive House advocacy - and we may not be ready to rappel off office buildings in tiger suits just yet - their actions are so successful and inspiring, we think they can teach us a lesson or two. And maybe these lessons can help scale the Passive House effect in the critical decades ahead of us.

Lesson #1: Identify key brands

These brands are both the soft spot and pivot point to make much larger scales of change happen.  These brands represent big investments. And while the stewards of the brand may care about the future of our climate, they care even more that their customers see them demonstrating the concern. If they want their brands to be synonymous with climate action, then Passive House needs to become a core component in their efforts.

(Note: if you have doubts about the utility of Passive House as a core component of climate action, please read the NY Passive House blogpost "Why Passive House?")

The brands can be corporations.  Does Apple or Google or Whole Foods do business in a Passive House? Are the big "green" real estate developers like Related, SL Green and Vornado building Passive Houses? Non-Profits: The U.S. Green Building Council? The Natural Resources Defense Council? It could be cities: Are the Cities of New York or Seattle building Passive House schools, offices and community centers? Even market making individuals: does Leonardo DiCaprio, or Bill McKibben or Al Gore live in a Passive House? All are image conscious brands that want to be leaders in sustainability and fighting climate change.

Identify the taste makers, the market makers - they are logical brands to help lead the Passive House evolution.

Lesson #2: Pitch emotional hooks, not climate change


Climate change is abstract and distant.  Even with unprecedented natural disasters that claim greater causation from climate change, the pressure to act today is seemingly minimal. In the story the proxie for climate change goals is the fate of tigers. Save the tigers, save the climate.

Fortunately, Passive House has many benefits of immediate concern beyond a dramatic reduction in energy demand to address climate change. Passive House buildings also provide unsurpassed indoor air quality, thermal comfort, resilience and economic security. Each benefit is a unique selling point and depending on the customer, a potential emotional hook.  (For one example see Elrond Burrell's blog post:  Passivhaus; Comfort, Comfort, Comfort, Energy Efficiency.)

The emotional hook empowers the brand to do the right thing.

Lesson#3: Be relentless


The targets are generally big, and powerful and self-assured.  Their brands speak to control and knowledge.  To get their attention, to get them to acknowledge the need to change, their world often needs to be rattled a bit. Some might just see a Passive House presentation and be convinced to act - but that is the exception, not the rule. Typically, too much money and reputation has been invested and inertia becomes a strong impediment. They need to be hit hard (metaphorically of course), and hit relentlessly. Their brand has a problem - their buildings are climate change blow torches.

While threatening a negative add campaign may not suit Passive House advocates capabilities - being pointed and blunt is no sin in these perilous times. A great example is the recent report published by the Urban Green Council called High Cholesterol Buildings that takes to task the abysmal thermal/energy performance of what are often LEED certified buildings. Emotional discomfort is necessary.

Make them see the problem. Make the CEO see the problem. Then hand them the solution.

Lesson #4: Enable the solution 

You've got their attention, they want to do the right thing - so enable them by extending the best technical and professional support grounded in the highest ethical standards. If the company is serious, bend over backwards to help them. In executing solutions, professionalism wins. Their brand is business - enable their brand, enable their business, and get Passive Houses built. Make them heroes.

Lesson #5: Remember climate change.

Emotional hooks may sell but they are not the ultimate goal. Like the formative years of a child, our activity in the coming two decades will largely determine the fate of our planet's future climate for eons - one our children can successfully adapt to, or one that is a full-on crippling horror show. Urgency is important.

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