Lumberyard executives split sharply over the presence--and sometimes the value--of green construction in their communities, but a solid majority are greening their own operations even as they report reduced sales and weak profit prospects in 2009, a new ProSales survey finds.

Results from the online poll conducted this month revealed, for instance, a near dead-even split between dealers who reported interest in green construction in their area was "nonexistent" or "barely there" and those who said interest was "robust" or at least enough to merit doing something about it. Among customer types, custom builders ranked first among those asking about green, with nearly 70% of dealers reporting getting questions from that group and 67% saying consumers were asking. On the other hand, fewer than one in 10 reported hearing a question about green building from a large production builder and only one out of four could say the same about small production builders.

The survey found dealers (a category that for the survey includes shortline companies and molding/millwork dealers) were split roughly into thirds over whether the housing slump has made builders and remodelers less interested in green building now than they were a year ago. About 32% agreed with that argument, 34% disagreed and the rest put themselves in the middle.

The differences were most apparent when dealers commented on what they've found when they tell customers that green construction can cost more than traditional building practices. "Green is not worth the green right now," one dealer wrote. "You try to sell it, but it's a hard upsell." But another said that "Serious customers are willing to pay," while yet another dealer urged: "Don't waste your money on stupid liberal gobbledygook."

Even if their market isn't ready for green, the survey indicates dealers are preparing. One quarter of the 142 dealer respondents (our of the 192 total respondents to the poll) said they have a formal program in place in which they have identified green products, and close to half said they collect and share information on green construction basics and the green qualities of products they sell. In addition, close to three-fifths agreed with the statement "Green isn't a big thing in our area now, but we believe it will become a significant factor in homebuilding and remodeling in the future."

Dealers also have been active in greening their own operations over the past year. Roughly 61% said they have started turning off computers at night to save on electricity costs, 49% have installed energy-efficient lights, 19% have put in motion sensors, 33% added insulation to reduce fuel bills, and 18% installed low-flow toilets.

These initiatives are taking place despite weak sales conditions. Nearly a quarter of the dealers said sales at their facility were at least 30% lower than they were a year ago, another quarter said sales were down 20% to 29%, and a third quarter said sales were down 10% to 19%. Only 4% said sales had risen. Meanwhile, only 47% of dealers said they expected their facility would post an operating profit this year.

Sad as those numbers are, dealers' estimates of construction activity in their area were even worse. More than 28% said housing starts and/or building permits had fallen at least 40% compared with this time in 2008. Another 16% estimated business was down 30% to 39%. All told, close to 80% said construction activity had shrunk by at least 20%.