LOHAS: Don’t Miss the Ark, and Don’t Miss the Point

The two keynote sessions at the LOHAS Forum here in Boulder, Colo., Thursday morning conveyed two main themes–or rather, warnings.

The first was that the big green consumer ark is about to set sail, but the companies that steer it might not be the grassroots LOHAS brands in the audience. Instead, massive multinational companies–like the kinds that pay the morning’s first keynote speaker, marketing strategist and futurist Faith Popcorn, boat-loads of money to tell them what to do–might be in charge.

Greener World Media‘s Joel Makower echoed this message in his talk and added this: a company might operate under the LOHAS umbrella, but that doesn’t mean it’ll never greenwash, or that it will always “push the needle” from incremental to substantive change in society at large. It has to stay on point and on target. “Doing less bad isn’t the same thing as doing good,” he warned attendees. And by merely committing “random acts of greenness,” LOHAS companies will not force a fundamental shift in the way consumers behave and what they purchase.And based on the “hmmm”s and “huh”s emitted by those sitting around me, these messages were hitting home.

Faith Popcorn called out a number of trends that she’s spotting right now, much of which, to my ears,  boiled down to the same kinds of marketing messages you’ve read in 100 or so past 3p posts. Consumers want authenticity; they don’t want lies; they don’t trust anyone–especially big institutions, etc.

But her more salient points were that the trend in sustainability among businesses–which she conveyed as an ark–is starting to be led by the kinds of behemoth companies, such as McDonalds and Procter & Gamble, apart from which LOHAS has tended to set itself apart.

“LOHAS built the ark,” she said. “But it’s getting crowded on the ark.” Brands with lots of money and lots of sway are starting to take the helm.

And so how does a LOHAS brand compete? By getting out there and doing something important, was Makower’s answer. He called out a number of innovative companies, such as Looptworks and ZipCar, that weren’t on the Forum attendee list but are making fundamental changes in the way business is done and what sustainable business means. To me, the message was that while sitting in rooms and talking to peers is important and inspirational, the really important stuff is happening out in the world–and in the boardrooms of major corporations. So you can lead or you can follow.

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to www.mcoconnor.com.

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