Part one: customer marketing strategies
May 4, 2007 started out like any other spring day for the 1,500 residents of Greensburg, Kansas. There was talk of storms later in the day, but few paid much attention—the folks in this rural community had seen their share of storms and knew what to do. Around 9:20 p.m., the storm sirens went off and the residents gathered in their bathrooms and basements to ride out the storm. Minutes later, the town was gone.
“My town is gone,” announced Town Administrator Steve Hewitt in the first press conference on the next morning. “I believe 95 percent of the homes are gone. Downtown buildings are gone, my home is gone, and we’ve got to find a way to make this work and get this town back on its feet.” With 700 homes to rebuild, the town was essentially a clean slate. Hewitt rallied the town and in the coming days and weeks vowed to rebuild to the highest standard of energy efficiency and sustainability, as determined by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.
Thirty-five miles away, Daniel Wallach’s wife Catherine Hart wept as her husband read the first words of his new business plan: “What if we turned this tragedy into something beautiful?” Wallach and Hart had long been interested in sustainable, green living. Their home was not affected by the storm, but their hearts were. Daniel and Catherine used their experience developing nonprofits to launch Greensburg Greentown, an organization designed to support residential and business green building efforts through education, fundraising, and public relations.
In the aftermath of the storm, the town received generous donations and media attention. But all too often, today’s tragedy quickly becomes tomorrow’s old news. Greentown works every day to keep this unique town in the headlines and supported by financial contributions. “I don’t think marketing is a dirty word,” says Hart. “I think marketing is relationship building. That’s what we strive to do.”
One year later, as most of Greensburg is still operating out of temporary FEMA trailers, Greensburg Greentown serves as the front line for those who want to help in the rebuilding efforts. Companies have generously donated their products and services for Greentown to distribute on their behalf. They hand out everything from low-flow toilets to reusable grocery bags.
A large part of Greentown’s mission is to provide a green think tank—or “grink-tank” as Wallach calls it—for residents, businesses, the media, and individuals interested in greening up their own lives. They host free seminars in green buildings while organic farmers operate a farmer’s market, provide online resources, and offer lodging for residents without electricity or computers. They are working closely with manufacturers, builders, and architects to create green model homes where residents and tourists can check out environmentally friendly products and technologies—and even spend the night. Wallach believes these partnerships work both ways. If successful, the model homes, and eventually the town itself, will become a living design magazine for all things green.
They still have a long way to go in this conservative town. Historically, the idea of green conjures up visions of radical tree-hugger types in Birkenstocks. While you may catch a glimpse of the ubiquitous footwear around the Greentown office, Greensburg Greentown strives to de-politicize green by making it easy and convenient for people to achieve and experience. “If all you can do is build your deck out of recycled lumber, wonderful!” says Wallach. “We’re gonna sing your praises as much as we will anybody else.”
The long-term plans for Greensburg include a state-of-the-art business incubator, a green industrial park, a green museum, a green school system, wireless access throughout the city, and a community of green homes and businesses. While the city of Greensburg will bear most of the financial responsibility for these projects, Greentown will fill in the financial gaps by attracting donors large and small.
Answers the Following Questions:
1. What is LEED, and how does adhering to LEED standards help create a story to market the town to the world?
2. What are the major challenges Greensburg Greentown faces in gaining support for the green rebuilding efforts? What social and political views might they have to change?
3. Who is Greensburg Greentown’s “customer”?