Greening the American Consumer

One third of the population now actively seeks environmentally-friendly products

| March / April 2004

The shopping habits of people once thought to scorn consumer society now make up one of the fastest-growing demographic markets in today's economy. According to Natural Business Communications -- which publishes Lohas Journal, a magazine devoted to this emerging green consumer phenomenon -- the movement started in the 1960s by anti-establishment hippies interested in health food, solar panels, all-natural clothes, and herbal healing has blossomed into a $230 billion market.

Welcome to the lucrative world of 'Lohas,' a term coined in 2000 for 'lifestyles of health and sustainability.' Lohas consumers are interested in everything from healthy food and yoga tapes to alternative medicine and ecotourism. Last year, 68 million Americans, or about 33 percent of the population, qualified as Lohas consumers, reports Natural Life Magazine (Dec. 2003), up from 30 percent the year before.

The statistics do suggest new buying patterns. In the United States, sales of natural foods and natural personal care products were reported to be $36 billion in 2002, up from $14.8 billion in 1997. The renewable energy market also appears to be growing. The Worldwatch Institute reports that wind energy use has more than tripled globally since 1998. Since 2000, annual production of wind turbine systems has increased by 78 percent and of solar power systems by 150 percent.

But do these trends really indicate the birth of new economic sector? And if they do, can Lohas consumers really make a difference? Some say the market has been too broadly defined and is actually smaller than estimated. Others would argue more radically that an 'ethical purchase' is almost an oxymoron. At the very least, they say, buying alone is not likely to create peace, justice, and environmental awareness. Of course, even the most enthusiastic Lohas advocates don't claim that shopping alone makes a better world. But at a minimum, millions of people around the world now have better access to more environmentally friendly, healthier alternatives to some of the products we use every day.

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