Friday, July 27, 2007

Mainstream Green Examined

This week's LOHAS weekly email just arrived, and contains a neat little article detailing results from the Natural Marketing Institute's (NMI) LOHAS Consumer Trends Database, an annual study of the U.S. general population regarding all facets of green consumerism (LOHAS stands for "Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability -- a prominent green marketplace segment).

It's a nice, positive story to take you into the weekend:

According to NMI’s LOHAS Business Director Gwynne Rogers, “In addition to green benefits, many LOHAS-related products and services are now balancing their offering with conventional benefits that appeal to a wider consumer base. For example, some consumers are motivated to purchase hybrid cars in order to save money on gasoline, with environmental impact being a secondary or feel good benefit.”

Sales of other green products have also increased due to declining price premiums (such as the case of renewable power) and improved product performance (for natural household cleaning products). In addition, LOHAS products are also becoming more convenient to purchase thereby requiring fewer trips to specialty retailers. Recycled paper products are widely available at stores such as Office Depot and Staples. And big box home improvement stores are selling natural and organic lawn care products among other eco-related items.

NMI believes that the continued growth of green and socially-conscious products will be based on the ability of product and service manufacturers to provide this suite of balanced benefits to consumers. Providing “green” benefits is an important differentiation and provides meaningful value to consumers, but many consumers expect additional (or at least comparable) performance. Particularly for manufacturers who need to achieve a larger critical mass in the market, targeting not only LOHAS consumers but also NATURALITES may be needed, which elevates the importance of products and services being able to communicate the optimal mix of both green and conventional benefits. As such, finding such a “sweet spot” is vital to the success of many green initiatives.

As a life-long conservationist, I marvel everyday at seeing "green" being as hot as it's ever been. It's great that as green products become more and more abundant, easy to find and buy, and easy to afford, people are finding that they benefit not just the environment, but also their finances, health, and quality of life. It's also fascinating to watch as marketers push the full suite of these benefits to appeal to more and more segments of the population.

There is, of course, a real danger that the desire to continue this mainstream push by searching for a "sweet spot" between environmental friendliness and improved performance ends up generating a flood of greenwashing: products that are green in name and marketing only; whose production and use don't really help curtail such human environmental impacts as climate change, toxic pollution, and deforestation.

Let's hope that instead, this mainstream push inspires creative new approaches for making the products that are best for the environment also the best in terms of whatever their target users most value - be it price or overall quality. With critical environmental problems such as climate change and deforestation accelerating, and Peak Oil drawing ever nearer, we need this kind of visionary innovation in the marketplace more than ever.

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