Green standards are burgeoning, your customers are calling, and you're feeling like you did back in school, taking a test that penalizes you if you leave the answers blank. Only this time, an "I don't know" doesn't just cost you points–it costs you sales.

READ THIS: Green is everywhere, and your customers will look to you to explain it to them. That's the thinking behind the education onslaught for green products and services. Photo: Charlie Brown For years, you've been called on to fill the gaps regarding building materials and techniques. Surveys by the National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry found that 76% of builders and 88% of remodelers say they rely on dealers for product recommendations.

Now it has become the responsibility of dealers to guide pros into the unfamiliar and expanding world of green products. Mark LaLiberte, a Minneapolis-based building consultant who focuses on energy efficiency, says one of the biggest challenges facing today's builders is a lack of education.

Last November, Parr Lumber Co., the 38-unit Hillsboro, Ore.-based dealer, launched its "Get Real" program, which features an informational Web site, tags on store shelves identifying environmentally friendly products, and product guides along with information centers at all Parr Lumber and Parr Cabinet outlets. Additionally, products that Parr reviews that meet its green criteria receive a "Get Real" label.

Parr has identified products that have at least one of several qualities: whether it was harvested in a sustainable manner, is partially or completely made with recycled materials, or is the kind of product that contributes to clean air, clean water, or energy efficiency.

Jay Tompt, vice president of Plan-It Hardware, the green-oriented distributor founded in San Francisco more than a year ago as an offshoot of Ontario, Calif.-based California Hardware, has witnessed an increasing number of dealers tapping into the company's ever-growing list of green offerings. Aside from self-reviewed products deemed as acceptable to its "Green it Yourself" retail program, the distributor provides marketing, merchandising, signage, and consulting–all designed to help dealers educate the walk-in customer.

Staff training and education are a requirement to be part of the program, but that's what is leading dealers to Plan-It, according to Tompt. "They want the education, they want to be up to speed," Tompt says. "Dealers are finding they were losing business because they didn't always have the answers or the products."

The process does not stop at Plan-It, though. Once a dealer has its foot dug in the green movement, the next step is networking with regional green associations to keep the information flowing through a grassroots component.

"People who are becoming successful have the knowledge," Tompt says. To date, nine pro dealers are working with Plan-It, including Fairfax Lumber, Central Valley Builders Supply, and Friedman's Home Improvement, all based in California. Several others were expected to join the distributor in January.

Hayward Lumber brought it upon itself to begin educating its customers with the launch of the "Envirosmart" section of its Web site, designed "to assist environmentally conscious builders and architects to make the right choices," according to company literature. Bill Hayward, president, CEO, and chief sustainability officer of the seven-unit Monterey, Calif.-based dealer, said the company began walking the green path because of market interest and a belief in building better homes. But it's also good for business, he says.

A product guide on the site allows the dealer to show off green products Hayward offers–products that might not be found at rival yards. "In busy times, all dealers are busy. It's in slow times that a dealer has to do things to stand out," Hayward says. "This is a great time for differentiation."

–Andy Carlo