Earth Hour came and went on March 26. Now what? Green consumers today don’t just think about green, they think about jobs, and love, and family, and travel, and fun etc. It’s about living a good life that also happens to be good for others, and our planet.
Today, more consumers than ever are using their purchasing power to make a genuine statement about their concern for the environment. Combined, they make 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 honor: “Lohasian.”
A far more wide-reaching term than the semantics of “eco” or “green” could encompass, LOHAS stands for Lifestyles Of Health And Sustainability and represents a social movement that has conscious consumption at the center of its values. Stemming from a business movement in the U.S., LOHAS has morphed in Asia to become a term used to describe all manner of environmental products and services. First taking off in Japan, then Taiwan and the rest of North-East Asia, and now spreading rapidly throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
As the LOHAS movement grows in Asia, the easier it will be for governments, companies and consumers to speak the same language and accelerate the change needed to preserve our planet, and with it our way of life. With consumer attitudes to the environment changing in Asia-Pacific, new market opportunities emerge for green products, which will replace traditional non-green items.
Horler, president of Asia-Pacific LOHAS Pte Ltd, explains how and why he left a comfortable corporate life as a CEO to become a leading Lohasian in Asia.
I left corporate life in late 2008 with a view to “do something better for the world.” I was searching for a concept that I could use as a driver for sustainability in the region. I came across LOHAS in the States through an acquaintance of mine, and I found their aims to very much fall in line with mine. I asked them what was happening with LOHAS in Asia and whether they were open to having someone in the region who could help promote the LOHAS ideals. They were, so I started to research LOHAS in Asia.
What I found was surprising – LOHAS has morphed from being a market research term in the States to being a word used by people on the street in Asia to describe a new, better way of living.
This encouraged me to start a regional social enterprise that could capitalize on the fact that LOHAS is already in the public arena and use modern communication and branding tools to maximize the appeal of LOHAS to as many Asians as possible (all, hopefully!).
Where did you first hear about LOHAS?
Actually, I first heard the word LOHAS in 2007 when I was the CEO for a luxury brand (Molton Brown) in Asia. I was giving an interview to a paper in Tokyo and the journalist asked me if the brand was a LOHAS brand. I had to ask my translator what it meant, as I had never heard of it before.
How did you make the transition from theorist to practitioner?
I have always been an environmentalist, concerned about the preservation of the natural world more than I have been about human causes. Humans have the capacity, as a species, to alter their environment and better it, whereas the natural world is largely unable to react fast enough to system shocks, so we need to look after the wondrous planet we find ourselves living on.
As the news of climate change and continued environmental destruction mounted over my lifetime, I realized that it is not enough to support causes with money or rhetoric, I need to “do my bit.” So, over the years I have evolved into a bicycle-commuting, recycling, conscious consuming person, someone who sees himself as a part of nature, not apart from it.
Is LOHAS about products or ideas?
Primarily, it is about ideas, providing a roadmap to how to live a healthy and fulfilling life, while minimizing individual impact on the environment. However, we live in a modern, progressive world, and the average person wants to enjoy the modern convenient life, so LOHAS becomes more and more about the products that enable this sort of life but are designed, manufactured and used in such a way that they support a low impact modern life.
Since you left the corporate life as a CEO, what are the most significant observations about LOHAS in Asia?
Overwhelmingly, I have been met with support for the mission of spreading LOHAS throughout Asia, from all strata of society. I put this down to the fact that LOHAS is not owned by me (or anyone for that matter), and because it is such a positive ideal. Who wouldn’t want a lifestyle of health and sustainability? I have met a huge amount of people who ask me how they can help, and volunteer their time, their company’s time and resources to help the cause.
Have LOHAS consumers changed over the last five years?
LOHAS consumers are constantly evolving. They are seeking the latest technology and concepts to help them live in a modern manner, but in an environmentally-friendly manner.
What are the influences of those changes?
Five years ago, those who practice LOHAS were the first consumers to buy hybrid cars (assuming that we really needed to have a car), but now LOHAS consumers are looking to buy electric vehicles, and they will be the first to buy fuel cell cars in the future. Through their quest to consume responsibly, LOHAS consumers drive industry to innovate and meet their demands.
Where are the big changes evident in the commercial world within the Asia-Pacific market?
The financial sector is really starting to sit up and pay attention to LOHAS-related issues, with respect to the companies they invest in. Sustainability strategies are seen as necessary factors to consider when making investments in companies (buying their shares). The other big change is at the other end of the scale, in the SME and Entrepreneur sector, where we are seeing tremendous dynamism and innovation coming through in all sectors. This indicates a groundswell and that this is the next big megatrend.
Can you give examples of companies targeting the LOHAS market sector in Asia?
Coca-Cola overtly targets LOHAS consumers with their I-LOHAS bottled water in Japan and the LOHAS juice drink from COFCO (Coke’s largest bottler in China). We also see small businesses targeting LOHAS through organic cafes, organic creameries and so on.
Where do local suppliers fit in the environmental ambitions of LOHASians?
For brands and products to be truly LOHAS, they need to source locally. This may add some costs on in the short term, but we believe the benefits to the local community and the environment at large far outweigh any marginal cost increases.
Is there a common factor in the regions/commercial sectors where LOHAS is prominent?
Not really, as far as regions and sectors are concerned, but the LOHAS consumers themselves display remarkably similar likes/dislikes and behavior, no matter where they are.
How will LOHAS evolve?
LOHAS will continue to push the boundaries of low/no impact modern living, to the point in the future where we are free from fossil fuels and have all the conveniences we desire. Other consumers in the market will follow LOHAS consumers and look to them for the trends in how to consume and live responsibly. LOHASians are pioneers.
Which areas need to try harder? Which are missing out on opportunities?
I think it is fair to say that governments and big corporations are not being especially brave at the moment.
How do you see LOHAS’s place in the current business environment?
Central. The world needs to become sustainable, we have no choice if we want to exist on this planet for generations to come, and LOHAS holds the key to making this possible, we believe.
What are the differences between LOHAS and your previous career positions as CEO?
Actually the skills required are very similar – I need to be a good communicator, motivator, leader and visionary in LOHAS, as much as I ever had to be in business (maybe more so) – but the end result of success looks very different. I am not measuring success by profit, but by change achieved.
What does your LOHAS look like?
When I am in Singapore, I cycle everywhere for work, and very rarely drive our car. We do have a car, which my wife uses for her work and to ferry our son around (the roads are not safe for a child seat on a bike unfortunately). It is a Toyota Prius. I limit consumption of clothes and durables, and when I do buy, I buy the best I can afford in terms of quality and craftsmanship. These products are better made, last longer and usually can be repaired when they break. We eat a mainly vegetarian diet at home and limit meat intake. We focus on buying as local as possible, and organic where available, even though this is expensive to do in Singapore. I do not use personal care products that contain SLS, parabens, and I prefer organic ingredients, certified by the Soil Association, USDA or BDIH. Basically, the focus is on how things are made, where they are made, who made them and how far they traveled before I bought them. We also take care of our electricity and water consumption at home and avoid any man-made chemicals in our household cleaning products. My LOHAS is evolving continually, the more I learn.
It is said that by 2050, 75% of the global population will be living in cities. How do you see the future of cities?
I hope that cities can become self-sufficient in serving the needs of their populations’ needs for energy, water and food. The technology exists today to power buildings from the sun, wind and geothermal, collect, filter and reuse water as well as even to grow food hydroponically in vertical farms as well as on rooftops and roadside verges. I also would like to think that we reconnect with the idea of the community being central to society and pay more attention to those we live cheek by jowl with. Each condominium complex is a village or town in itself, and can also look to generating power, reusing water and having community farms as means of binding the people together behind a common cause.
I would like to see cars become a thing of the past in cities, with inspired transport systems replacing them – of course, public transport is important, but the vehicle of the future was actually invented 150 years ago – the bicycle. I see a future of bicycle super highways and each workplace providing shower and storage facilities to their staff.
Of course, work should be much more location-flexible using IT to enable this. The focus should not be on growth and money but human interactions and quality of life.
Image credit: Gnsin / Wikimedia