Want to get a good sense for how strongly people feel about something– just watch what they do with their money.  From the simple “vote” tip jars in coffee shops where you pick cats or dogs (dogs, of course), to your willingness to drop $1,000 on an iPhone 10, to a customer choosing hardwood flooring over granite counter tops.  Cash out of pocket is where the words people say meet the reality of what they are truly willing to do.

One area where words don’t always align with actions is consumer interest in energy efficiency and related green building.  Available market data, as well as internal research, point to strong consumer interest in owning more energy efficient and environmentally friendly homes.  However, the “take rates” on related options such as solar panels, tankless water heaters, or even improved home insulation are strikingly low.

I bring this up because several weeks ago, Chuck Chippero (National Director of Strategic Sourcing), Brian Jamison (National Purchasing Director for Mechanicals and Finish Categories) and I spoke at the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) conference here in Atlanta.  According to its vision statement, the EEBA works to make healthy, safe, durable resource-efficient & smart-grid friendly homes mainstream.  There were a couple hundred super smart people who are clearly passionate about building homes that have a smaller impact on the surrounding environment.

Needless to say, it was a spirited discussion about the social implications of green building versus higher build costs and the willingness of buyers to accept such costs.  While the EEBA discussion might have been more energetic, the reality is that it wasn’t much different from conversations being held with our Board members, employees, investors and our homebuyers.

Regardless of the audience or the conversation’s starting point, the endpoint is often the word “balance.”  As a public company, we are charged with running a profitable business that seeks to maximize its financial performance.  At the same time, however, I believe that we also need to be aware of societal demands and the obligation to be good environmental stewards.

How can we achieve the right balance on this spectrum?  I think we have to start by saying that the two objectives are not mutually exclusive, and that environmental considerations are part of running a good business.  We also need to figure out how to lower costs associated with building greener homes.  Many of you are aware of the Zero Net Energy prototype home we built that generates as much energy as it uses.  This Northern California home is currently being monitored to assess it energy performance, but its other purpose was to help us identify ways to reduce construction costs.

In an industry not known for innovation, I am very excited to see how homebuilding and home performance evolves over the next decade.  I think new technologies, construction efficiency and buyer acceptance will lead to some amazing advancements in home building.  I want to see PulteGroup be a leader in innovation while striking the right balance between profitability and being good to the environment. I would love to hear your ideas about how we can do this.