LOHAS: a new breed of eco-minded shoppers

G Magazine

Meet the new eco-minded consumers whose shopping dollars are making a difference

Yoga pose in amongst nature

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Today, more Australians than ever are using their purchasing power to make a genuine statement about their concern for the environment.

They're a dedicated group, fond of everything from organic potatoes to hybrid cars, and marketers have given them their very own name to wear as a badge of honour. It reads 'Lohasian', and you could be one of them.

Derived from the acronym 'LOHAS', which stands for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, 'Lohasian' describes a person "whose purchases are driven by values and attitudes about their own health, the health and wellbeing of their community, and, importantly, the broader health and sustainability of the natural environment," explains LOHAS researcher Andrew Baker, from consumer research company Mobium Group in Melbourne.

Does this description sound familiar? Mobium Group reports that 29 per cent of adult Australians (that's over four million of us) are currently "LOHAS-aligned", possessing "moderate to strong" feelings about personal and planetary health, and buying products and services that show it.

But just a key 10 per cent of adult Australians are true Lohasian "Leaders" - those who make healthy and sustainable choices across the board, every day, from the way they invest their money, to the type of milk they drink, to the type of clothes they wear.

Like everyone, Lohasian Leaders are interested in how well a product or service works and how useful it actually is, but they're looking for something above and beyond this.

They want to be sure that the companies they buy from are following socially and environmentally just philosophies, much like themselves.

They also want to know that the company's production practices are environmentally sound, and will always consider the impacts of everything from manufacture to disposal before laying their money down.

As market researcher David Chalke, from Melbourne-based Quantum market research, puts it: "These guys...they believe, they eat, they own and they wear a whole ideological belief system. They're wholly committed to a green philosophy."

And they're at the leading edge of a powerful market.

In 2007, Lohasian Australians spent over $12 billion on products and services related to lifestyles of health and sustainability alone.

In 2008 it was in excess of $15 billion, and in 2010 the market will reach a predicted $22 billion.

And on a global scale...well, with over 100 million people sharing Lohasian values worldwide, who knows where a market currently standing at over $500 billion will be in a few years time?

Everyone's welcome

But apart from having strong values, carefully considering their product choices and contributing a pretty penny to the economy, who exactly is the typical Lohasian?

That's the beauty of the group, says Baker - your typical member just can't be pinned down.

"It doesn't matter if you're a brickie in Brisbane, a truckie in Tamworth or a mum in Melbourne," says Baker.

"Age, education, income, where you live...none of this defines whether or not you can have concerns about health, the environment or sustainability, which means basically anyone can be a LOHAS consumer."

One thing's for sure, however: Lohasians are agents of change.

"In many respects they're leading the way towards more responsible consumption and production of products and services...and ultimately towards a more sustainable future for us all," Baker says.

One way they are doing this is by driving the demand for the production of green products and services.

As Chalke points out, you only need to take a stroll down your local supermarket aisle to see the boom in healthier-for-you, healthier-for-the-environment items lining the shelves.

This is thanks in large part to businesses striving to operate and produce "in a more LOHAS way", adds Baker. "Which means they're focussed on reducing their environmental damage... [They're] wary of the upstream and downstream impacts of what they create, they're looking for ways to support their local communities, and they're creating better, sustainable products."

Leading the pack

Lohasians are also characterised as being among the first to adopt new sustainable goods and services on the market.

They were the ones wearing hemp, using biodiesel and eating fresh and organic food long before it was fashionable.

And by continuing to support the companies and products they believe are leading the eco-way (and being willing to pay a price premium to boot) Lohasians are helping make LOHAS more accessible to 'mainstream' consumers.

Their dollars, Baker says, assist start-up eco-businesses in staying afloat and, over time, make LOHAS products and services cheaper and more widely available.

Mobium Group also reports that at the end of the day, Australians most often turn to friends and family for information regarding sustainable and trustworthy products and services (as opposed to listening to advertising, for example, or conducting brand research themselves).

Because Lohasian Leaders make a habit of being well informed and of looking behind brands to understand company values and practices, they also have an important role to play in helping others make the right choices and in encouraging people towards eco-friendly consumption.

Hurdles to clear

There are some barriers to the good Lohasians can do, however, as marketing reporter and author Julian Lee points out.

"Sure, they can raise awareness amongst their other [Lohasian] mates around the dinner table over a bottle of organic wine, but is that going to convince someone that's got to feed a family on a budget, who sticks with the same brands because they're cheap and they know they'll do the job, and who's not that concerned about saving the world? No."

Lee hits an important nail on the head. Because while research shows that over 90 per cent of Australians say they care about the environment and 82 per cent wish to express this in their purchasing choices, only 10 per cent of us - the Lohasian Leaders - are strongly committed to purchasing sustainable products.

"Talk to most people and they would be aware of the need to go green and the offer of green products and services, but that doesn't necessarily translate into action," continues Lee.

"Plenty of people say they are going to do it, but not that many people actually are... Ten per cent is really a niche market, whichever way you look at it."

So what's stopping Australians from hopping on board with LOHAS?

Market research group TNS Global reports cost as one of the greatest barriers to going green. And it is true that many LOHAS products and services, due to their higher quality and the labour-intensive nature of their production, are dearer than conventional alternatives.

"You're always having to pay a premium, sometimes around 20 per cent," says Lee.

Companies in the LOHAS market then, will need to find ways to produce products in an environment friendly way at either the same or cheaper price than 'regular' products on offer. If they can't, then attracting new Lohasians will be that much harder.

Uncertainty is also keeping people away from genuine health- and eco-friendly products, with TNS Global reporting that one in four Australians are put off by "confusion and conflicting information" surrounding the green market.

Hope even for the Laggards

And of course there are those who are averse to the very idea of green consumerism.

Nine per cent of Australians are what Baker refers to as Lohasian "Laggards".

"Fundamentally what they're saying," he says, "is either they don't believe environmental problems are real, or that they may be real, but 'hey, it's not my responsibility to solve it'."

But Laggards aside, we can look at the lack of current Lohasian converts with optimism - because it's a gap full of Australians starting to lean towards Lohasian tendencies, eager and willing to take part in this exciting consumer movement.

And the good news is the marketing gurus say the LOHAS market is here to stay, so there's plenty of time to get involved.

Lohasian Leaders "will continue to sustain demand and interest in green products," says Chalke.

"Their enthusiasm will keep the manufacturers producing and the people talking and...may even push the doubters and the sceptics into doing something tangible...[even if] they won't be passionately committed to Gaia worship and all things green."