With steak, martinis and cigars all the rage, you might think the so-called “green consumer” phenomenon was just another been-there, done-that fad.

You know the type of buyer we’re talking about — motivated to buy most anything to save the planet.

But it’s the steaks, martinis and cigars that may be the passing fancy. Environmentalism is no longer news because it’s no longer new, says Jacquelyn Ottman, marketing consultant and author of Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation.

“People are ‘greener’ today than ever before,” Ottman adds. “Green marketing is looking more mainstream all the time.”

Take, for example, recycling. According to Ottman, 62 percent of consumers recognize the three “chasing arrows” logo that’s become a part of consumer packaging. By the early 1990s, more consumers than not claimed to look for the logo when shopping. Ottman doesn’t attribute this behavior to altruism as much as good old practicality. By that time, two-thirds of Americans had easy access to recycling in their communities.

“When the blue recycling bins arrived at curbs, consumers looking to close the recycling loop started buying packages that were recyclable or contained recycled content,” she says.

A growing number of marketers continue to discover that genuine attempts to “green up” their products pay off in enhanced product quality. What’s more, such opportunities tug on powerful emotional values designed to particularly appeal to the green consumer’s psyche — values such as empowerment (“I can control my world.”) and self-actualization (“I’m environmentally committed and proud of it.”).

Consider some of these statistics we uncovered, by and large, from the well-known Roper Organization:

Seventy-five percent of Americans think they should take more positive action toward the environment. Three-quarters say they remember seeing “any label on packages that say a product is environmentally safe or biodegradable.” Two out of three adults notice advertising on television touting environmental safety. And nearly half say they have “bought a product because the advertising or the label said the product was environmentally safe or biodegradable.” Seventy-six percent of consumers said they were likely to switch brands and a similar percentage would switch retailers when price and quality are equal — if associated with a good cause. In addition, this is one consumer trend with staying power. Baby Boomers, who now dominate society at one-third of the U.S. population, have put the environment on its priority list. Furthermore, since the Baby Boomers’ share of Congress is projected to peak in 2015, we can expect the environment to stay firmly entrenched in the political agenda well into the next century. In fact, more than a quarter of U.S. voters in 1995 pulled the lever for candidates based completely or in part on their track records for the environmental responsibility. In addition, more voters than not believe current laws and regulations do not go far enough, and they are prepared to vote for stiff environmental laws if necessary.

And if that weren’t enough to turn a trend into a permanent way of life, kids are also keenly aware of environmentalism — as anyone with a 4-foot tall “Enviro-Cop” can attest.

Ottman says because “greenness” extends throughout the population to varying degrees, the typical green consumer is hard to pin down. By and large, Ottman says that consumers most receptive to environmentally oriented marketing are educated women, 30-44 years of age, with slightly more upscale taste in brand preference. “Their buying power and their potential to influence their peers make them a highly desirable marketing target,” Ottman says.

Planet Passionates: Ottman figures that PM readers could benefit from marketing water-conserving products to what she calls “Planet Passionates” — green consumers who are particularly motivated by land, air and water issues.

The largest percentage of indoor residential use by far comes from bathing and toilet flushing — making the bathroom an ideal place to focus water conservation efforts.

Green consumers, however, aren’t easy marks. “Even the most ardent green consumer is not willing to compromise performance, quality or convenience in order to buy a green product,” Ottman says. Nor are green consumers necessarily willing to pay a premium for a green product.

Typically, all else being equal, green attributes can break a tie between product offerings, but they can’t make up for a second-rate product.

That makes green marketing a bit different for our industry. Clearly there is no tie to break — it’s illegal to buy, sell or install anything other than a 1.6 gpf toilet. However, Ottman rightly surmises that there are plenty of water-guzzling toilets that could be retrofitted purely for the homeowner’s environmental concerns, rather than waiting for a breakdown or a fashion makeover for the whole bath.

Why wait for either occurrence — particularly when both are out of your control? “Only 8 percent of consumers claim to know a lot about environmental issues,” Ottman adds. “So even the most environmentally enthused consumers need to be educated on why some types of products represent less environmental harm than others.”

Perhaps a good pitch would be to point out that when you conserve water, those savings have a multiple effect. When you use less water, you also put less water down your sewer drains, thereby reducing the stress of your local municipality’s wastewater treatment plant — not to mention lowering your own sewer bill. When you use less hot water, you use less energy to heat that water, thereby reducing your gas and electric bill. One simple step can ease the burden on water storage, purification, distribution and treatment facilities.

Who knows? We could see this lead to further sales of fuel-efficient water heaters and boilers. If you partnered with a leak detection business, maybe they could find the leaks and you could fix them.

We haven’t heard a lot positive about water-saving plumbing products from PM readers. Instead of seeing red when it comes to 1.6 gpf toilets, maybe you should think green.

For more information on Ottman’s book, contact NTC Business Books, 4255 W. Touhy Ave., Lincolnwood, IL 60646-2494; Phone: 800/323-4900, or visit her Web site, www.greenmarketing.com.