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 ProSales survey finds.

Results from the online poll conducted in March reveal, for instance, a nearly dead-even split between dealers who report that interest in green construction in their area is "nonexistent" or "barely there" and those who say interest is "robust" or at least strong enough to merit doing something about it.

Among customer types, custom builders rank first among those asking about green, with nearly 70% of dealers reporting getting questions from that group and 67% saying consumers were asking about it. On the other hand, fewer than one in 10 report 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.

As other surveys have suggested, reducing energy costs ranks far higher in importance than other qualities typically associated with green construction. Roughly 60% of dealers say customers show "strong" interest in reducing energy costs. That's three to six times more than the percentage of dealers who report strong interest from customers in conserving water, improving indoor air quality, using fewer materials in construction, building longer-lasting structures, or promoting ecological diversity.

The survey finds dealers (including executives at shortline and molding/millwork companies) are 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% agree with that argument, 34% disagree, and the rest put themselves in the middle.

The differences are most apparent when dealers comment 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 writes. "You try to sell it, but it's a hard upsell." But another says, "Serious customers are willing to pay," while yet another dealer urges: "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 (there were total of 192 respondents to the poll) say they have a formal program in place in which they have identified green products, and close to half say they collect and share information on green construction basics and the green qualities of products they sell. In addition, close to three-fifths agree with the statement "Green isn't a big thing in our area now, but we believe it will become a significant factor in home building and remodeling in the future."

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

Three-fifths of dealers report they had personally attended a green conference in the past year, and nearly half collect information on the green qualities of the products they sell. One-quarter say their dealers have programs in which they can recommend products based on their green qualities.

"Green building trends in our area are still in their infancy," one survey participant writes, "but our company [is] starting the process to prepare for the future in sustainable building practices."

Finally, another declares, "Green is becoming the socially accepted norm. ...If you are not green, you are left behind."

–Craig Webb