Greening the American Consumer

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

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