Want to be kind to the planet and your portfolio at the same time? The Fool shows you how in our special series on Earth-friendly investing.
Years ago, Earth Day was an idealistic event, the realm of college students in tie dyes and hardcore environmentalists. Today, the green ideal has finally reached mainstream, and what better place to showcase green efforts every day than the retail universe.
Green's the color of money (money well spent, that is)
Over the last couple of years, consumers have become increasingly aware of the idea that the purchasing decisions they make have many ramifications when it comes to the environment. It's arguable that companies like Whole Foods Market
As it stands now, it's obvious that when it comes to greening up, the marketplace is responding to consumers' desires. There is hard data to support the idea that consumers are driving the increased availability of environmentally responsible products and innovations.
Last October, I ran across data from Omnicom's
According to Andrew Zolli, founder of a foresight and strategy firm called Z+ Partners and writing in a recent article in Fast Company, what many of us are calling the "conscious consumer" is alive and well and voting with his and her organic hemp wallet. Zolli described the "LOHAS" market, which stands for "lifestyles of health and sustainability" and represents a whopping $227 billion market for products and services that address "sustainable living, social justice, and alternative health care."
According to research from Zolli's firm, there are 63 million of these consumers, making up 30% of the U.S. market. This research also shows that these well-heeled, sophisticated consumers are willing to pay a 20% premium on green products over non-environmentally geared options. It stands to grow, too, because it's not only about the large and affluent Baby Boomer population that's into this kind of targeted buying, but also the large youth demographic, traditionally idealistic and equipped with discretionary income to spend.
It's not difficult to see why this trend is making big business for companies that saw it coming.
Green goes mainstream
Signs of Starbucks' green stance are pretty obvious whenever you get a pastry or a latte. You don't have to go further than its napkins -- the one sitting on my desk right now says, "Less napkins. More plants. More planet," and boasts that it's made of 100% recycled fibers with at least 40% post-consumer material manufactured in a bleach-free process. And of course, Starbucks' cardboard "sleeves" were an innovation to quickly and easily reduce waste instead of double-cupping to protect customers' hands from burns.
Starbucks isn't the only coffee purveyor that makes being environmentally friendly part of its mission. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters
Whole Foods Market springs to mind when it comes to green sensibilities -- remember its big commitment to wind power last year, offsetting all its energy use -- and it came in second on the EPA's latest list of green power buyers. Wells Fargo took the top spot; this was the first year the private sector topped the list.
Apparel retailers also have ample opportunities to peddle environmentally friendly options, and they're making many moves in that direction. The Chicago Tribune featured an article several days ago highlighting the trend in organic clothing and fabrics. The non-food portion of the organic market is skyrocketing, according to the Organic Trade Association, with sales of $160 million in 2005, nearly doubling from $85 million in sales just two years before. Obviously, this includes clothing made of organic cotton, but it also includes fabrics made of substances like corn and bamboo. This is interesting, innovative, and all-natural, as such alternatives turn manufacture away from pesticides and chemicals, big environmental no-no's.
Could every day be Earth Day?
I know I'm missing tons of examples but you get my point: change is at hand, and retailers are responding. Meanwhile, social proof continues to pressure for more and more sustainable alternatives on retailers' shelves (and within their day-to-day operations).
It seems 2007 has been the "it year" when it comes to a sea change in attitude on a greening of our lives, from consumers, corporations, and government alike. Climate change is no longer viewed as a fringe theory; it's accepted as fact, and as something that we can take action on, if we all think more deeply about our daily decisions. It's also becoming clear that for retailers, sometimes doing the right thing can mean doing the profitable thing -- not only because efficiency often saves money, but also because many consumers exert pressure, and positive reinforcement, through their discretionary dollars.
Could every day be Earth Day soon? Given consumer preference and many industries' increased interest, not least of which is retail, it doesn't seem like such a far-fetched concept anymore.
For Foolishness that's bordering on green, see the following articles:
- For Valentines Day, I decided I love good deeds from companies.
- Has capitalism got a new social side?
- Hey, fair's fair at Whole Foods.