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Sarah Sutton

About Sarah

Making the Case for Green

Green is everywhere. Being able to talk about green in your proposals demonstrates you hear public discourse and have recognized how it and your work intersect. It demonstrates to funders how resourceful you are with money, energy, materials, practice and information. It also shows respect for the environment, your staff and visitors or clients, and for the funder.

The trouble is, green is often complicated. Every green decision requires research and choices; and they come with advantages and disadvantages which the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) in its reference guides for building certifications calls ‘synergies and trade-offs.’ Take, for example, green roofs: They’re more complicated to install than traditional roofs and they require some care; they cost more, but definitely last longer; having one is great for collecting and cleaning stormwater, often for insulation, and often for outdoor classes or gathering spaces.  It does not, however, leave room for solar panels – they’re mutually exclusive in the same physical space.

So, for every green idea there is a lot to explain – the mechanics of the process or projects, the need, the reasons behind the choice, and the budgetary and programmatic implications. So how do you corral all those possible points and details, into something manageable, say, in a cover letter, concept paper, or appropriately-succinct, yet highly-compelling proposal?

Be tactical –

  • There is a lot of erroneous information out there. Quash the readers’ obvious questions right away, so his or her mind is clear to read and learn from there on: explain the cost, durability, and green practicality right away.
  • Show both the full costs to your institution (from purchase to reuse to disposal) and to the environment (the whole life-cycle analysis).
  • Then compare the costs to conventional systems, materials or processes. It may be equal or less; if it isn’t, explain how you’re offsetting the cost, and/or why it’s a worthwhile cost.

Demonstrate –

  • That you’ve done your research: show how you know this is the right green change for you, or if the green aspect is new, that you clearly understand the risks and have solid reasons for making this choice.
  • How this effort is a part of your institutional planning for buildings and grounds, operational improvements, budgeting, or long-range goals.
  • That it reflects institutional policy, not just current trends. Briefly identify the appropriate purchasing, construction, programmatic or investment policies that proscribe green behavior.

Use –

  • Data: third-party information and your own performance goals and results. This can be costs avoided or saved; waste reduction; improved health and productivity of workers, clients or learners; improved processes; and unintended benefits.
  • Examples of the product, system or practice in action: use others experiences if you’re new to this; yours if you have a track record.
  • Professional help: your consultants, engineers, architects and vendors should be able to back up their claims with hard evidence. Whenever possible have them supply the data for your proposals.

You will have to leave out far more than you can include, but that’s always the way in proposal writing. Put your effort into anticipating their questions and teaching them something new. Funders are becoming pretty sophisticated about green, but no one can keep up with all the advances, so teach about the materials, systems and practices you’re planning to use. This kind of learning creates a positive experience in the reader – a good thing when the reader is a funder.


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