The Evolution of the Green Movement

I was ordering flowers online for a friend’s birthday when I was prompted to check out the florist’s “planet-friendly” collection. I’d always assumed that flowers were, by definition, “planet friendly,” so this gave me pause. Are some flowers not green?

Yet I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; it’s hard to go anywhere these days without seeing the eco-friendly moniker on something.

In fact, on a recent shopping trip, I was overwhelmed by the vast array of green products out there. From cleaning solutions to children’s toys, dog beds to iPhone cases, it seems there’s an eco-friendly version of just about everything. And more just keep on coming, regardless of whether or not these products serve a need, have a purpose, or even have actual green properties.

But while green has become a wide-ranging fashion trend in most of the retail world, it’s somewhat different in the kitchen and bath market, where rising energy costs and lighting and water conservation legislation created genuine opportunities for eco-conscious products long before the green trend became the “next big thing.”

And, unlike many industries, where it’s become fashionable to slap a “green” label on pretty much any old product simply to follow the trend, our industry is one in which green can offer real value.

This year’s KBIS offered abundant proof of the green trend’s continued impact on the kitchen and bath industry. Whether it’s energy-saving appliances and lighting, faucets and showers that promote water conservation, countertops with a high recycled content, sustainable cabinets or products with no or low-VOC finishes, sustainable products aren’t just good for the planet – they can also save money in the long term, minimize health problems caused by breathing in toxins and ensure compliance with new and up-and-coming legislation.

And it doesn’t stop with the products: Everything from packaging and manufacturing processes to recycling of waste materials is becoming greener.

In contrast, the one thing that doesn’t seem to be getting much greener is the consumer. In a still-challenging economy, consumers may embrace the ideals behind green, but it’s tough to convince them to pay for it, especially when many are cutting back on their remodeling projects to keep costs down.

In fact, in a recent survey of more than 600 kitchen and bath dealers (see related story, Page 50), some two-thirds admitted that they are getting green requests from only 10% or fewer of their clients.

Not surprisingly, a big part of the reason seems to be financial: Green products generally cost more, and 60% of those polled said their clients are unwilling to pay a premium for green products. Even among those whose clients are willing to pay more to be eco-conscious, the vast majority said their customers would only pay 10% more.

While price seems to be a key concern, an abundance of “greenwashing” may also play into the equation, with some consumers becoming inured to green claims, simply because they’re so ubiquitous.

So, does this mean green is over?

Hardly.

While “trendy green” may soon go the way of acid-washed jeans and pet rocks, safe, sustainable design has something going for it that the more fleeting, trendy green never did. And that’s the support of smart, savvy dealers and designers who care enough to educate their clients to what real sustainability is all about.

In fact, in KBDN’s survey, a whopping 65% of those polled said they continue to bring up eco-conscious options to their clients to help them better understand the benefits of these products. Half are also promoting their sustainable design capabilities.

Additionally, 80% of those polled said they are actively recycling and reclaiming items from demolitions.

Put another way, dealers and designers are walking the walk.

And when it comes to how consumers’ view of sustainability evolves over the next few years, that may well make all the difference.

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