A Stylish Shade Of Green

Courantcom_jpegIt’s become mainstream to talk about making green mainstream…Other organizations and companies are discovering that the audience for green goods and ideas is no longer just the traditional environmental community.

Posted March 28, 2008, The Hartford Courant
By Greg Morago

You can think of the green movement as something that was in serious
need of a makeover; a perfect candidate for a stylish new wardrobe and
a fabulous haircut with highlights.

"In the ’70s, it wasn’t desirable to be eco-friendly. It was mostly the
hippies," said Fabian DeGarbo, director of sustainable packaging for Whole Foods Market. "Now there is eco chic."

Driven by the real and escalating concern for the environment (and
given a huge boost by "An Inconvenient Truth"), the post-millennial
green movement — and all of its attendant themes of sustainability,
cradle-to-cradle concepts and carbon-footprint reduction — has become a
hot topic with high pop-culture recognition and even a trendy gloss of
stylish respectability. The new buzzword for 2009-09 is "eco-iconic,"
referring to a hip focus on one’s eco status, said DeGarbo, speaking
last week at the International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago.

Instead of flaunting multiple cars, expensive getaway vacations and
that enviable summer home, the new eco status bragging rights will be
"my carbon footprint is smaller than yours."

"People will want to be calling out what they’re doing" to help the environment, he added.

The hippies, it seems, had it right. Only now they’ve traded in their
creaky VW bus for a slick new Prius hybrid. Talk about a makeover.

This cultural shift isn’t lost on the housewares market, as evidenced
by the strong green theme that ran through the housewares show, the
largest housewares and culinary show in the United States and one of
the largest industry trade shows in the world, showcasing thousands of
new products and designs from more than 2,000 global exhibitors. Design
continues to drive the housewares industry but more so than ever design
is being influenced by green. Housewares manufacturers are embracing
green not only from the standpoint of environmental responsibility but
economic survival.

They have to, experts said.

"Sustainability in all aspects of design is now what I call the ‘fourth
leg’ of a stool," said Mark Dziersk, an industrial designer and vice
present of Industrial design for LAGA/One80 design in Northbrook, Ill.
"If you don’t have that aspect in your business model in the next five
years, you will not survive."

The shift toward green in housewares can be lucrative for those who
have the ideas, products, fabrications and mechanisms that jibe with
the principles of the growing movement. After all, housewares is a $73
billion industry in the United States and $306.4 billion globally. A
green hit in housewares can be an environmental home run that scores
for the company that makes it and scores for the planet.

At last week’s show there were dozens of examples of environmentally friendly and ecologically conscious goods and initiatives:

•Bamboo rugs and towels.

•Pots and pans made with nonstick coatings free of PTFE and PFOA
chemicals and that reduce carbon emissions in its coating process.

•Storage boxes made of 100 percent post-consumer waste paper

•Containers made of corn plastic that is renewable and biodegradable.

There were also cleaning agents, waste bags, appliances, packaging
components, glassware and tabletop products all waving the green flag.

For the most part, the green items shown at the housewares show looked
good. Not the itchy-scratchy green but the shiny, slick green — the
type that will engage the average consumer.

"Consumers in general are skeptical about the whole green thing," said
Suzanne Shelton, CEO of Shelton Group, an advertising agency based in
Tennessee that is focused on energy efficiency and sustainability.
Despite that skepticism, she said, consumers will be attracted to the
green message if it’s handsomely wrapped. "Consumers are still far more
driven by aesthetics. If you have a product that’s green and pretty,
you have a home run," she said. "The phrase we like to use is ‘sparkly

Designers shouldn’t only be concerned about making that green thing
pretty, but how its life cycle will affect the environment. "Life cycle
thinking and planning is key," said Steve Belletire, a designer and
sustainability expert and associate professor of industrial design at
Southern Illinois University. "Everyone associated with the life cycle
of the product should care — and it begins with the product designer."

Why is that important when it comes to a green housewares product? It
matters a great deal where Americans are concerned because of the
disposable nature of our society, Belletire said, adding that carbon
footprints are greater in countries with high per-capita income. "The
more affluent a society is, the more carbon emissions occur," he said.

And guess which society is at the top of the list? Yep, the United States.

Experts at the housewares show were heartened, however, that the buying
habits of Americans are changing. There’s a higher "eco pulse" out
there, even though cost is still a significant factor in green retail
decisions, the experts said.

"In order for any movement to catch on, it has to be affordable at any
price range," DeGarbo said. "Unfortunately, green products are just
more expensive."

Still, research shows that education promotes willingness. According to
research DeGarbo quoted, 88 percent of Whole Foods customers say they
are concerned about the environment and 60 percent were willing to pay
more for environmentally friendly products. The research is in green’s
favor, DeGarbo suggested: "There’s going to be a big shift in the
consumer mind-set toward green in 2008."

So why did it take housewares so long to get hip to the mind-set? It’s
all part of a process that recognizes various shades of green, said
Jennifer Ganshirt, managing partner of Frank About Women, a leading
marketing-to-women communications company.

"This is a movement. First comes consciousness, then comes the
willingness to change," she said. "The movement needs to be acceptable
to light green and shades of green. You’re not going to get 100
percent. There’s going to be a middle. We have to allow for small

In the housewares industry, the small steps are here. Walking confidently, the experts suggest, soon will lead to running.

Contact Greg Morago at [email protected]

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