It wasn't so long ago that promoting the amount of recycled materials in a product was a badge of honor for manufacturers and retailers. It was a good way to grab a consumer's attention.

That practice alone wouldn't be enough to entice people to buy eco-friendly goods, said Kevin Surace, CEO of Serious Materials, at Greentech Media's Green Building Summit in Menlo Park, Calif., on Thursday. And neither would the sales pitch promoting the low carbon-emission manufacturing process used to make those products.

"Right now in America, if I say I have a countertop with some recycled glass and you should use it, few people would buy it," said Surace. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company's energy efficient windows and interior wall materials require less energy to make than the traditional gypsum drywall.

"People in this room could care that it would get rid of carbon dioxide, but the rest of the world just don't care," Surace said. He said the company has more success promoting its alternative drywall material as mold-resistant.

Surace was part of a panel that examined ways to make money in the green building market. Molding consumers' behavior takes more than just bombarding them with environmental messages.

That's why companies such as Positive Energy are turning to psychology and social behavior to figure out the best sales strategy, said Josh Becker, co-founder of New Cycle Capital.

Arlington, Va.-based Positive Energy, a portfolio company for New Cycle, aims to work with utilities to nudge people into conserve energy. For example, the company would provide the energy consumption of each household in a neighborhood to show residents there how they stack up against their neighbors, Becker said. That information would be part of the monthly utility bills, which also would include recommendations on ways to conserve energy.

"Social sciences show that people care how they compare with their neighbors," Becker said.

The green building business isn't always about marketing, of course. David Rosenberg, CEO of Carlstadt, N.J.-based Hycrete, noted that breaking into the wholesale market has been a big challenge for green building material makers. Hycrete has developed water-proofing ingredients for concrete, steel and other building materials.

"The construction industry is slow to adopt technologies," Rosenberg said. "There are logistical issues surrounding how long before people would use these new innovative technologies."

Rosenberg said he has hired a staff of designers to work with customers. Hycrete also spends a considerable amount of time modeling the environmental benefits of using its technology for its clients, he added.

Sam Gabbita, a principal at Element Partners, said companies selling novel building materials should hire people to work directly with architects.

"It's an expensive but necessary approach," he said.