The Northeastern Retail Lumber Association (NRLA) took another step in helping its dealer members tackle the "green" movement by sponsoring a Green Building Forum.

Held Dec. 3 at the NRLA's Rensselaer, N.Y., headquarters, the event attracted more than 50 attendees, including representatives from 22 member dealers. Many struggled with the same question: What is the green movement and how can I be a part of it?

According to NRLA president Rita Ferris, a major reason for facilitating the forum was to "help our dealers cut through the mountains of education out there."

"Our members get information from vendors, media, and customers, but some are wondering who do you listen to and what is really important," said Laure-Jeanne Davignon, NRLA's director of education. Davignon said the NRLA is looking to formulate its own green building policy, which will be shared with legislators in NRLA's membership territory of New England and New York State.

Mark Laliberte of Building Knowledge Inc., a nationally recognized leader in green construction, urged dealers during the seminar to ask themselves "Who do you want to be as a company five years from now? What message are you sending?" He likened a dealer who might master selling and marketing green and quality products to a Toyota and Honda in the car industry. While the largest U.S. automakers are suffering and asking for a government bailout to keep their businesses afloat, that's not the case for Toyota and Honda, which have built a reputation based on quality and reliability.

Seminar leaders also stressed that dealers need to realize the green aspects of products they might already be carrying. "The manufacturers and distributors are becoming a lot more savvy of what they have in hand already that is considered green and how to market those products," Davignon said. "Our dealers need to know how to do that too and share that information with their customers."

As Laliberte put it: "When the buyer knows more than the seller, it's never a good experience."

The forum's cross-section of green, sustainable and energy-efficient experts included a presentation by Shepley Wood Products, a Hyannis, Mass.-based dealer that became more involved in the green building movement several years ago when it decided it wanted to give its sales force added "ammunition."

"We knew very little about it originally but needed to educate ourselves and our sales team," said Shepley's Jim Baker.

The green movement is relatively new phenomenon to most dealers in the Northeast. When asked by ProSales why they attended, most dealers said they were finding themselves in the same position as Shepley: they wanted to educate their sales force, capture more sales and become a market leader when it comes to green.

The NRLA wanted its dealers to meet a collection of players in the green building movement that could discuss their situation, identify what they have in common, and explain how they relate to the building material supply business.

"I hope they can see that not all of this movement is new in the sense that it is about smart and efficient building practices, and if they choose to become educated in this field, they can help their customers achieve magnificent efficiencies in building while securing excellent business opportunities for themselves," Ferris said.

At the 2008 NRLA Expo, held last February in Boston, green was all the rage among vendors. And according to Ferris, there is already a 10% increase in green building product submissions for the LBM Expo over last year with nearly two full months to go before the show.

This year's Expo, being held Feb. 4-6 in Boston, will also feature multiple green education sessions.