The "green" that sells eco-friendly, energy-efficient houses isn't necessarily the kind that can save the earth. It could be the kind that your customers want to keep in their wallets.

Even when gas prices are soaring, global warming is making headlines, and "green" is hot—in everything from housing to cleaning products to cars—money trumps the environment when it comes to marketing.

Sure, there's a niche market of eco-conscious home buyers who buy based on how considerate the product is to Mother Earth. But to reach beyond that niche, you need to tap into two things that matter more to consumers than almost anything: their health (especially their children's health) and their money. Luckily, green homes strike a bulls-eye on both counts.

Many consumers know that buying a green home or selecting slightly more expensive green upgrades can help them do a small part to slow global warming or lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil. In fact, up to a quarter of Americans are willing to pay a premium for green-built homes, the NAHB reported last year. Another survey by Leger Marketing revealed that 80 percent of consumers would like to do something to help the environment.

Still, before they plunk down the better part of their monthly salary for a mortgage on a green home, they want to know what that house will do for them.

It's a legitimate question, and it has lots of valid, persuasive answers. But even the best-intentioned home buyer might pass up the chance to save the earth if it means she can pay for granite countertops. Put on your marketing hat, and tell that buyer how much—specifically—your über-efficient heating and cooling system will save her a year. That ought to cover the cost of those fancy countertops.

And the buyer is likely to be a woman. Women make 80 percent of a family's purchasing decisions, and they're just as likely to consider their family's health and comfort as the home's price tag. So a beautiful home that's priced right and whose builder boasts about its cleaner indoor air will appeal more to that buyer than one with no claims of healthier living—even if it is a healthy green home. If you don't say so, how is she to know?

Trying to sell a home solely on the virtue of "green" is a little like trying to sell fat-free ice cream to a skinny person. She knows it's healthier to avoid fat, but the potential benefits are just too conceptual. The ad for that ice cream has to convince her that it tastes better, too. Otherwise, she's going to go with what she already knows.


Sharon O' Malley is a College Park, Md.-based freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience writing about the building industry. This is her inaugural "How to Market" column.