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Recently I ran across a website dedicated to Wal-Mart’s “Live Better Index.” The index, launched in 2007 is comprised of five products the company believes to be indicators of green trends. The five products are:
1. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)
2. Organic milk
3. Concentrated/reduced-packaging liquid laundry detergents
4. Extended-life paper products
5. Organic baby food
(This year they added green cleaning products and sustainable coffee to the list, but sufficient data has not been collected to discuss these with any accuracy).
From 2007 to 2008, green consumer product adoption rose 66% in total, with paper products experiencing the strongest rise of over 68% (see Live Better Index site for updated results.) Further behind, CFL’s saw an increase of nearly 20%, which is promising and expected with WalMart’s aggressive push to sell these sustainable bulbs.
Of course this is a simplified index, but it does serve some purpose. Principally, I would make two observations. First, there is a clear trend between health/wellness and green. Organic milk for instance is championed for its health benefits, but it serves the dual purpose of more sustainable cattle farming.
Many people praise the LOHAS market, and this is a clear indicator of its strength and growth.
A second observation is that price plays a factor, but not unilaterally across the board, as other factors are obviously involved. Looking at the different products one by one. CFL’s are easy; they save you money and energy over their lifetime. Organic milk, the poster child for organic products, is more expensive (sometimes double the price), but it has been one of the most storied organic product for some time. Paper products are an easy, visible way to become more sustainable…plus, pricing has dropped significantly for sustainable paper products. Baby food was the only product the experienced a slight drop in adoption, but it was very small; I have to research more, but my gut instinct tells me baby food, as a staple for parents, could suffer from the price discrimination. Finally, cleaning products have also become much more affordable and mainstream, which I believe to be the source of their increase.
On the whole, I retain a strong belief that most people would, if given the choice, would maximize their sustainable purchases. However, as the price differential remains significant, consumers continue to minimize their total costs instead of their environmental shopping footprint, while purchasing one or two sustainable products to feel good and make a difference. I remain confident that as supply increases to meet demand we will see adoption rates rise as prices fall with the majority of green vs conventional products.
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