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The 2016 International Home and Housewares Show -- A Sustainable Assessment

Words by Beth Bell

In the course of doing business for my company, Green Product Placement, we attend a number of trade shows and expos to connect with our clients and research potential new ones. Because of this, and our unique slant as an agency that only represents vetted “better brands," we’re always on the look-out for innovative brands doing good things in the sustainability and/or socially enterprising space.

March, this year, is a big month for expos, and the first one we attended this month was the International Home and Housewares Show, hashtag #IHHS2016, at the largest convention center in North America, McCormick Place, in Chicago.

Some of the trends we saw were a proportionally large number of brands selling food containers and bento boxes, along with water bottles and other hydration vessels. The bento box trend appeals to the “return to the kitchen and cook healthy at home” movement, allowing users to transport their meals in reusable containers. Almost all that we saw were advertised as specifically BPA free, and a few took the specifically “eco–friendly” marketing angle, such as Eco Lunch Boxes , which includes their line Blue Water Bento.

Hydration vessels, which include water bottles, tea and coffee containers, citrus water containers, and iced tea makers, were also very well represented at the show. Contigo showed a protein drink mixer to go cup, "Shake and Go,” that includes a ball inside to help mix protein powder drinks.

Takeya markets a drink system that includes healthy iced teas, brewing pitchers, and bottles with which to carry them, thus cutting down purchase of bottled drinks in disposable bottles.

Full Circle Home has a full range of sustainably-produced home cleaning goods and vessels, including bottles that include a citrus juicer to make your own lemon, lime or orange water. The Core Home line started with a line of sustainable bamboo home accessories, and has grown to include other home and kitchen goods, and some unique looking vessels, including glass ones with sustainably grown organic bamboo tops. Bodum has some interesting glass and cork drip coffee makers that had a great looking, sustainable design.

For water bottles with built in filters, Black and Blum features a design-forward bottle with an actual piece of charcoal that sits inside to filter the water, and the leading brand in tap water filtration pitchers, Brita, features several models of bottles with a built in, bottle-sized Brita filter.

As an alternative to the hard box carry system, two brands have emerged with a more eco-friendly equivalent to the disposable zip bag. Blue Avocado, made of PEVA which can be found at major retailers, and Stasher, which launched for large-scale sale recently. Stasher bags are made of food-grade, platinum silicone.

Another home item with a large presence at the Expo were air purifiers. A big standout in both innovative design and aesthetics was Light Air. Light Air uses negative ion technology to filter the air using a built-in filter that's washable and reusable. There are no filters to replace and throw away. They also have a built-in light and can be used as a night light.

There were some interesting products in the serving-ware category that were made of wood, plastic, bamboo and plastic composites -- using recycled plastic, scrap wood shavings and renewable bamboo. One of them, Evo Goods, uses the former and Eco Smart uses the latter. Evo Goods has also developed a line of plates and dishes that look and feel exactly like plastic but are made of corn products and decompose in a matter of weeks. Eco Smart also uses some glass, flax and other earth friendly materials in the production of their line.

Speaking of glass, no visit to The Home and Housewares Expo would be complete without a mention of the most sustainable consumer glass producer in the world, Luminarc. The company developed some very stylish tableware, made of glass, that can take on the look of vivid colors, metal, and ceramic finish, all made of earth-friendly, recyclable glass.

In the home cleaning categories, some standouts were NatureZway, who make bamboo based cleaning solutions such as a reusable replacement for paper towels and floor wipes. Fresh Wave makes a plant based proprietary formula odor remover that removes odors from the air, and doesn’t mask them with just another scent.

In small electrics, Rowenta, owned by the uber sustainable Groupe SEB, has the Eco-Iron, the only energy saving iron in North America.

Lastly, in the eco-friendly pot and pan category, we must mention Green Pan and their affiliate companies, Green Life, Green Chef, and Vita Verde. Green Pan is the first and foremost manufacturer of safe ceramic coated non-stick cookware. They have their own factories, practice fair wage and sustainable production and have grown by leaps and bounds since they launched in the US in the mid-naughties.

All in all, for our first IHHS, we saw some interesting products and brands doing some interesting innovations in the sustainability space. That being said, we did still see booth after booth of scented products filled with chemicals, unsafe cleaners and cheaply-made plastic home products that didn’t look made to last, in addition to the ubiquitous coffee pod products.

To be fair, we also saw plenty of cafetiere/French Press and drip products, refillable pods, and of course all of those water bottles and bento boxes. What needs to happen next is to start seeing more people actually using them.

We were excited to see a compost/recycling/trash sorting station, made of recycled milk jugs, no less, at the food court at McCormick Place. All of this is a start, but we would like sustainability to take a much larger role at this and related expos, both in product design and innovation and also execution.

Judging by the session we sat in on, How Social Media is Changing Design, chaired by University Faculty/Researcher April Starr, design consultants Pensa, industrial designer and experience designers from Kitchen Aid and McDonald’s, sustainability and sustainable concerns are in the top 10 consumer feedback comments on social media. That, in turn, affects design and even how business is done. People are talking, and business and manufacturing must listen.

Beth Bell

Beth Bell is the founder and president of Green Product Placement, the first Entertainment Resources Media Association product placement agency that specializes in placing and promoting green, sustainable, socially enterprising and entrepreneurial brands in mainstream entertainment media. Since their launch in early 2012, they have placed over 80 good brands in over 225 productions in the US, Canada and the UK. Ms. Bell has a degree from University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and has worked professionally in television and film production since the late 80’s, and has worked and consulted in entertainment, media and event management and marketing for over 15 years. She has spoken internationally on the subjects of: product placement, green marketing and entrepreneurship.

Read more stories by Beth Bell