A giant step backward for green building, and a giant step backward for the environment

A giant step backward for green building, and a giant step backward for the environment

Builder Magazine asked me to answer the following questions yesterday morning, the morning after the most shocking election outcome I can remember in my 49 years on this earth:

  • How do you think the new administration will impact the U.S. housing market?
  • Will it be good, bad or indifferent for our industry?
  • Were you surprised by the results?

I’ll take them in reverse order and, as I do, know that I’ve devoted my professional life to creating a market advantage for the companies and organizations that are working to create a sustainable, energy-responsible future. And know that after 25 years of running a marketing agency, I see that it’s damn hard to change ingrained behaviors with marketing alone. It takes a combination of marketing and legislation (think anti-littering and anti-smoking … we needed both education and legislation to get us going in a different direction):

Yes, I’m surprised and, frankly, disheartened by the outcome of the presidential race. Though, like many, I viewed the election as a process of rationalizing and choosing between the lesser of the evils, I had faith that Mrs. Clinton would prevail, and our country would make real progress toward curbing climate change – which would have included both carrots and sticks related to building green. Mr. Trump is on record as saying he believes climate change is a hoax, so I can’t see any reason why he would support or create policies to push the green building and green housing market forward. And I can see many reasons why he’ll work to dismantle the progress that’s been made on this front by the Obama administration.

Thus, I think the outcome of the election is bad for the building industry. Will homes and buildings continue to be built? Of course. Will having a real estate mogul in office likely produce something favorable for the building industry? Probably. But will we see policies generated that make it more favorable to builders to make energy efficiency, air quality and renewable energy standard on all homes built going forward? I think no. And I think that’s ultimately bad for an industry that has an opportunity to lead an important change that’s not only good for the environment, it’s good for the health of our citizens and our national security.

Bottom line, for all the change Trump has promised, I think he’ll work to keep the status quo in the building industry and/or create changes in policy that send us backward 10-15 years. Some builders will rejoice in that. Those who have committed themselves to making sustainability standard in their homes will not.

With all that said, we do know a majority of Americans don’t share Trump’s views on climate change – most of us believe it’s real and caused by man, and most of us feel anxious about it. And most of us expect companies, increasingly, to do the right thing by the planet and people. So there will most certainly be a market for green homes, and many of us will prefer builders and companies committed to environmentally friendly and socially just practices. The silver lining here is that companies – and builders – really do need to lead on this issue now. There’s no waiting for the government to create change as it relates to energy, the environment and green building – at least not for the next four years.


Suzanne Shelton

About Suzanne Shelton

Suzanne Shelton is President and CEO of Shelton Group, the nation's leading marketing agency focused exclusively on energy and the environment. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of the industry, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights in her writing, research, and client work. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz.com, and she speaks at over 20 conferences a year, including ACEEE, AESP, Greenbiz Forum, and Sustainable Brands.

View all posts by Suzanne Shelton →


  1. Given that we cannot rely on government action for anything positive, I would like to see a clear way for consumers to vote with their pocket book. I assume there are already rankings or ratings of businesses, including contractors, in terms of their use of sustainable materials and practices, but I don’t know to what degree consumers are aware of these rankings or ratings. It would be nice if such information was front and center (e.g. on Amazon, or Angie’s list) for consumers who did not think to seek out this information. It would be nice to very salient presence for green ratings.

    • Suzanne Shelton

      Catherine, I agree! I think you’ll see that in the years to come. There’s work afoot to get average utility bills listed alongside things like square footage and number of bedrooms on zillow and realtor.com. Goodguide.com is also an excellent resource for consumers re the sustainability of products. And most major manufacturers are now very aware that consumers expect them to do the right thing by people and the planet, so, fingers crossed, we’ll see corporate America pick up the green baton and run with it.

  2. I say bring on new faces (who I did not vote for). Over the past 8-16 years, leadership on energy efficiency in buildings and homes has been in the States — NOT Washington DC with Congress or the White House. It will remain in the States for many years to come.

    The current White House has allowed regulation applicable to new homes back-stopped by tax payer funded mortgages (FHA, USDA, VA) to be built to dated energy codes (2003, 2006 Int’l Energy Conservation Code) even though statute requires them to be updated to meet the most recent energy code blessed by DOE (2015 IECC). The same applies to tax-payer backed LIHTC housing. An Executive Order (EO) from the White House could have corrected both of these. Even a footnote in their Warsaw, Lima, or Paris Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP) plans could have fixed this. But no. And we are only talking minimum standards of care, not best-practices like Energy Star Homes or DOE Zero Energy Ready Homes which should be the bar if the tax-payer is being asked to back these mortgages, no?

    The $5B WAP (weatherization of existing homes) under ARRA was a Solyndra-like sinkhole where $ went to bricks and mortar, trucks, IR cameras, duct blasters & blower doors (collecting dust now), overhead, and admin salaries while only a fraction went to actual IAQ & energy improvements homes to help occupants.

    Finally, despite the Conga-line formed behind it by DC-based NGOs & EE advocates, the much heralded “SAVE Act” (S1106; 113th Congress) in current form is an empty suit that does nothing and will have no market impact if passed as part of the current Energy bill currently in conference in Congress. But in it’s original form (before being gutted), it was powerful and it could be executed and put in place TODAY by an EO from the White House.

    These are not just softball issues, they are “Yuge” beach balls sitting on a batting T. Easy to execute by a pro-environment Executive. But no. Why not? I’m going into the witness protection program now.

    • Suzanne Shelton

      Jay, thanks for weighing in. I agree that so, so, so much money was wasted via ARRA! Argh! Just imagine what could have been accomplished if there’d been a thought-through plan and a big chunk of the money had gone to actual energy efficiency upgrades of our nation’s existing housing stock (which is essentially leaking CO2 like a sieve.) I hope you’re right that somehow the new faces swing “bigly” at those beach balls on the T and we see a real shift towards climate friendly homes and buildings.

  3. It is critically important to convey that electing Trump does not mean that the public agrees with his stance on climate change. Thanks for reminding us of the 64% number.

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