Volume 11, Issue 1 - January/February 2010


When Going Green Goes "Gotcha"
by Chip Gentry

With energy costs skyrocketing and consumers looking for ways to save money, most businesses have added “green” lines to their business inventories. Consumer demand has led to the widespread development and production of green products. But with those products comes risk. Growing consumer demand for information about new, innovative “green” products is forcing manufacturers and dealers to accelerate marketing well before final products hit the marketplace.

The founders and employees of OKNA Windows share a long-standing commitment to building the best window at the best price for their customers. One of their dealers, Window Wizards, sells various OKNA product lines. Recently, you may have heard about a situation that should come as a lesson to everyone in the door and window industry.

Don’t Let This Happen to You
OKNA Windows is an established East Coast manufacturer based out of Bristol, Pa. Formed in 1994, the company has grown from 12 to more than 100 employees and has two manufacturing facilities spanning more than 80,000 square feet. Understanding that consumers wanted energy-efficient windows available in a range of prices as well as a range of energy efficiency, OKNA designed and manufactured windows that were both aesthetically satisfying and energy-efficient. In doing so, OKNA’s dealer network was able to use the energy-efficient qualities of OKNA windows as a major sales point. Verified by a national testing laboratory, OKNA consistently met the demand for energy-efficient windows by providing windows with U-values of 0.27 and lower. However, in offering such efficient products, OKNA ran into a situation where its concept for a new, energy-efficient “green” window created a public relations headache.

"In offering such efficient products, OKNA ran into a situation where its concept for a new
energy-efficient “green” window created a public relations headache.

In July of 2009, a FOX affiliate in Pennsylvania ran an investigative report on a new line of OKNA windows that contained foam insulation to achieve greater efficiency ratings (see September DWM, page 16). In the report, a subcontractor who had previously installed windows for Window Wizards showed customers that the frames were not completely insulated with foam, contrary to a photo of a corner cut from a window prototype in sales brochures. The sales brochures were used by Window Wizards to further market and sell OKNA’s products.

The investigative report spun the story, asserting that the consumers were getting a raw deal because they bought foam insulating windows that were not completely filled. What Fox 29 failed to tell its audience was that the windows contained enough foam to achieve, in essence, the same energy efficiency ratings as were advertised in the sales brochures.

In the ethos of today’s “gotcha” journalism, the investigative report picked up on the slight visual difference between the finished product and the promotional materials, and ran with it. In reality, the windows provided are still top-of-the-line, provide the same energy efficiency as was promised in the literature, and remain backed by the same solid guarantee OKNA provides with all of its products. OKNA is working with its dealer, Window Wizards, to make service calls to customers and correct any concerns. Unfortunately, OKNA’s good faith efforts and willingness to stand behind its products has not stopped lawyers from seizing upon the opportunity to sue, given what was reported on the Fox News story (One customer filed a a putative class action suit against both Windowwizards and OKNA.) OKNA, like many manufacturers, is equipped with a technologically advanced range of energy- efficient products, a manufacturing facility, and a brand that dealers and consumers want and trust.

Another challenge that manufacturers must face when their products and marketing efforts are called into question is aggressive dealers, such dealers, competing for business and selling competitive products from other manufacturers, may use the spun story to garner more market share. These dealers may jump on industry blogs or send out mass e-mails telling purchasers to not buy from the manufacturer under fire. The “guilty-until-proven-innocent” concept seems to be the driving force behind such action.

"If manufacturers and dealers are scared of “litigation against innovation,”
then consumers will be denied the most energy-efficient and cost-efficient products."

When it comes to innovation, industry leaders understand offering energy-efficient green products is becoming a requirement rather than an option. Dealers market and sell the products. Dealers understand customers are willing to pay for green products. When innovators like OKNA fear best practices, they will no longer be able to meet the public’s growing demand for more energy-efficient products at a lower cost. If manufacturers and dealers are scared of “litigation against innovation,” then consumers will be denied the most energy-efficient and cost-efficient products. Competition between manufacturers to build the best product and dealers to sell them leads to more innovation. At its extreme, we may never solve our nation’s energy crisis if fear from change rules the day versus striving to meet consumer demand for green products. The bottom line is: Check your advertising, check your warranties, and double-check everything with your attorney. y

Chip Gentry is an attorney with Carson & Coil P.C. in Jefferson City, Mo. Gentry focuses on many cases involving door and window manufacturers and is currently representing OKNA Windows. His opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.



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