|EcoLux: When Will Eco-friendly Become Eco-nomical.
by Richard Seireeni, Brand Architect
January 11, 2008
I was wondering when the green movement would be embraced by the luxury goods market. After all, we don't have an earth-friendly Rolls Royce just yet, nor an eco-Cartier, nor an organic-based Chanel No 5. LVMH is not rushing to corner the EcoLuxe market so far as I know — although someone has registered the domain name without actually using it.
Then I began to think about the socially and environmentally responsible things that are out there. They are not exactly designed and priced for the vast middle class.
Alternative Energy: Take the solar panels I installed this year on my modest-sized house. $42,000, made affordable for me only with massive rebates totaling nearly $22,000. Still, I won't break even for at least twelve years. I'm not sure the average American can afford this. I'm wondering if I can afford this.
Transportation: Sure, there are the exotics, like the $100,000 Tesla electric roadster, but the only production cars with an alternative power system are the hybrids from Toyota, Honda, Ford and a few others. They are not cheap given the conventional alternatives. The Chevy Volt, if and when it arrives, will be designed and priced for a customer with deep pockets. We drive a 1983 Mercedes Benz Turbo Diesel Wagon converted to run on veggie oil. The car, while old, was in very good shape when we bought it last year, so we paid a premium price for a very old car. We've also found that it costs a lot to keep this vintage car running. Again, not a viable solution for most Americans.
Fashion: Quite a number of young designers have entered the sustainable fashion game using exotic fabrics made from organic cotton, bamboo, PLA, which is a corn-based polymer, recycled polyester, etc. Women's Wear Daily, the fashion industry bible, recently noted that the price of organic cotton was going through the roof, assuming you could get on the limited list of approved buyers. The fabrics are not cheap, and there is the premium pricing that high design and low production earns. You won't find these clothes in Ross Dress for Less very soon.
Food: If one shops at the local Farmers Market, you can still get a good deal on fresh produce, but the prices earned for the organic and heirloom varieties are trending up. That leaves Whole Foods, which is more popularly known as Whole Paycheck. There's a value in knowing that your food is healthy and earth-friendly, but Whole Foods is not known for its mainstream value pricing. Nevertheless, in a trend that bucks convention, organic food is selling through at 150 to 200% the cost of non-organic produce. Well, that's better than it was ten years ago when you'd pay double for stale, bruised and buggy food at the local food co-op.
Cleaning and Personal Care: Nearly all of the LOHAS-inspired products, like Seventh Generation, Aveda, Planet, Mrs. Meyers, etc., have great environmental credentials but are pricey. For most Americans, they would fall into a discretionary spending category. Unlike organic foods, price does seem to be a barrier for many.
Carbon Offsets: One of the most remarkable of the Eco-Luxe phenomena are the carbon offset schemes, where you buy your way into Green Heaven. Drive a big car? Pay a fee to offset your carbon footprint. Well, sorry. Paying even more for the opportunity to drive your kids around in your gas-guzzling SUV is not a viable item on most family budgets.
Tom Szaky, of TerraCycle worm-poop fertilizer fame, explained to me that he's not at all interested in charging a premium price. He wants to be competitive with his chief rival, Scott's Miracle-Grow, and he wants to be distributed by the same mass-market venues as Scott's, which would be The Home Depot, Wal-Mart and CVS. He wants TerraCycle bought by the average Joe. But Tom's product is in the minority. Most eco-goods come with a pricey reputation.
The argument is that over time the price will trickle down with greater demand and greater supply. That may be starting to happen now that Wal-Mart has declared its green intentions and The Home Depot has launched its Eco-Options product line. CFL's are far more expensive than conventional incandescent bulbs (not factoring in the energy savings), but the Wal-Mart and Home Depot prices for CFL's are a fraction of what these products went for a year ago. So, the trickle down may be in the works. We'll have to wait and see. As for the trickle-up? I'm not holding my breath for the Eco-Prada line, but I have heard that BMW has developed a luxury hydrogen fuel-cell concept car.
This Age of Sustainability is full of surprises.
© Rick Seireeni, Brand Architect and President
The Brand Architect Group is a strategic brand consultancy with offices in Los Angeles, Tokyo and Shanghai. Project specialties include retail, food service, banking and real estate development.
One of many new entrants to the world of eco-luxury is this example from the Swedish fashion designer, Sandra Backlund. The collection includes innovative use of recycled, reused and sustainable materials.
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