I just returned from speaking on the Eco-Friendly Retail Panel at the San Francisco International Gift Fair with Betsy Rosenberg and Jared Blumenfeld, and the response from the audience was phenomenal. As we joked, if you like the person you are giving a gift to, then why not give a handsome healthy green gift - rather than a toxic one. Now if you don't like the person, that could be another story.
But in all seriousness, it was wonderful to see the Gift Fair's new category called Green By Design. Booths displaying this hopeful sign were showcasing eco-friendly products for consideration by retailers. Some of the exciting Green By Design products included the very attractive and functional Clean Conscience bags made in the USA from recycled PET fabric (look out for their organic cotton bags and PET aprons and table linens coming soon) and the Elisabethan eco-fashion line handmade in Colorado exclusively from reclaimed fabrics and appliques. As Elizabeth said, they will take the discarded shirts off your back (pretty please) and turn them into new fashion pieces, Cradle To Cradle style. I had the pleasure of meeting the president of the ReUse People plus the founder of the hip, edgy, artistic Political Gridlock t-shirts, which will be transitioning to organic cotton or bamboo fabric in the near future. How was attendance at the SF International Gift Fair? Let's just say that there was a line to get in at 8:45 am. Now that is impressive in today's economy!
How You Can Operate & Sell in a Green Way
What is green retailing? It is both 1) what you sell and 2) how you sell it.
1) The What: A green product is one that benefits both people and the planet and is ideally regenerative for life on Earth.
- Ingredients - beneficial, certified organic, biodynamic, sustainable, recycled, and/or non-toxic
- How - produced ethically, efficiently, and sustainably without depleting or polluting
- Where - made in the USA, locally, or fair trade (living wage)
- In What - sold in minimal or eco-friendly packaging
- For What - will be actually used, not just landfilled
- Now What - durable and can ideally be recycled, upcycled or taken back and broken down into its biological and technical nutrients for reuse in new products
Standards that people can trust are becoming increasingly important for both retailers and consumers as claims of "green" proliferate. We cannot take green claims at face value. We have to ask questions and scrutinize ingredient lists. Great standards to look for are:
- USDA Organic Seal - contains 95%+ certified organic ingredients or Made With Organic Ingredients equates to 70%+
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) wood produced in a sustainable way. Avoid the spurious SFI standard by the logging industry. Ask for FSC or reclaimed wood or bamboo (a rapidly-growing grass)
- Energy Star label for energy efficient appliances
- Green America Seal, which used to be called Co-op America
- TransfairUSA for fair trade
- Cradle To Cradle, an all-encompassing green certification from the Green Products Innovation Institute
- (Avoid nanoparticles and genetically-modified organisms or GMOs)
2) The How: You can operate and sell in a green way.
- Green Customer Touch Points including bags made from recycled content, a bag credit if consumers bring their own bag, eco-friendly packaging such as using biodegradable peanuts instead of Styrofoam ones, CFL or LED lights, natural cleaning products, business cards and marketing materials printed on recycled paper, filtered water in reusable glassware, and emailing receipts if desired. It is important that customer interfacing items be as sustainable as possible to convey a consistent message. One common problem is the petroleum paraffin candle with artificial fragrance burning into a store's air like a diesel engine. You can light a clean-burning beeswax or soy candle with botanicals instead, which also puts soothing ions into the air.
- Generate Energy & Water Cost Savings from both water conservation and energy efficiency measures including soft CFL light bulbs, putting appliances on power strips and switching to the off position at night, low flow or dual flush toilets, utility bill audits, and turning down the A/C or heater slightly. These savings will help provide extra funds for any transition costs incurred in going green.
- Design & Operate in a Green Way such as by using zero-VOC paints (no off-gassing from volatile organic compounds), reclaimed or sustainable FSC woods, non-toxic varnishes, recycled paper products, and hybrid delivery trucks. There are many beautiful eco-textiles available now including those from Mod Green Pod, Valley Forge, Q Collection, O Ecotextiles, and others. Run an air purifier in the store, and guests will come in just for the fresh air for starters! For furniture, consider antiques or sustainable pieces from EKLA Home, Environment Furniture, Cisco Home, and others. Display pretty organic hand soap in the washroom. Impress your patrons by offering recycling for bottles, paper and more. If building or remodeling a retail store, consider filing for an official green building certification like LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council. This will certainly set your store apart!
- Explain The Positive Benefits of your eco-friendly products and design in an upbeat way without guilt or gloom and doom. Educate in a positive way. Provide affirming testimonials and press clippings. Show how green can benefit your health and the planet simultaneously. Create a hip eco-lifestyle vibe.
- Partner with Green Events and environmental nonprofits to get the word out such as Global Green USA, Healthy Child Healthy World, and ForestEthics. Provide samples and incentives to encourage newbies to try green products. They will convert!
- Provide a Solid Value Proposition. A green product must still have the winning combination of performance, style, and sustainability for its price. A retailer must still have a good location, enticing comprehensive product selection, and an inviting helpful staff if offline and an excellent web site that is search-engine-optimized if online.
- Tell Your Story. Why are you inspired to care about the environment. What moves you the most? Is it the national themes of energy independence and green American jobs? Was it a film? Was it the birth of your child? Your personal health? A shift in consciousness? Explain why you care and customers will empathize and share their story too.
- Toe in the Water. Don't be afraid to put your toe in the clean water and go green in a small way at first. Going green is a journey. Feel good and proud about the things you can do and are doing. Promote your wins and success stories to the public!
- Green Business Certification. If you are really motivated, consider registering to become an official green business such as the program in the San Francisco Bay Area.
For an abundance of independently-reviewed, hip, stylish eco products, please see www.ecofabulous.com, and the next time you have to give a gift, consider giving or creating a green one!