Richard Seireeni  @  ChelseaGreen

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Extremes Vying for Your Sustainability Dollars

Posted on Wednesday, January 28th, 2009 at 5:57 pm by Richard Seireeni

I, like the rest in the green community, am breathlessly waiting to see how Obama's stimulus plan will benefit our movement. How will it actually create new jobs and for which businesses?

In the meantime, I'd like to comment on the striking clash of cultures I witnessed at last week's Go Green Expo in Los Angeles. What struck me was the different experiences I felt walking down each of the aisles. Mostly on one side of the hall were the tech products, the ones that promise to get us to paradise with new gadgets and technological breakthroughs. On the other side were the crunchy lifestyle goods.

The latter was filled with what I can only describe as stalls I might find on the edges of the local farmer's market. These vendors were hawking tie-dye tees, skirts made of burlap, chemical-free baby clothes, and more, yes more, earth-friendly skincare brands. Earth lovers must be in particular need of epidermal restoration, and I wonder if it has anything to do with the burlap? Anyway, these products had a decidedly Earth Mama, made-in-the-garage feel, and I actually did see macramé plant holders hanging from display racks. There must be a market for these products because the LOHAS movement was founded in this lifestyle and it's still going strong. The individual price points throughout this section were mostly under $50 or within what marketers describe as the impulse buying range.

At polar extremes (pun intended) were the tech products that were invariably vying for an endorsement by Ed Begley Jr., "actor and activist" according to the official website. I think I saw four or five life-sized standups with Ed in signature jeans and denim shirt smiling next to things like water ionizers, which are surely sustainable. His TV show is a parody of his obsession with such things, so it wasn't a surprise to see that he is in fact America's No. 1 spokesperson for green gadgets. But whether or not a portion of your green investment dollar is going into Ed's pocket, this stuff is expensive! We're talking major investments in tankless water heaters, water capture systems, solar and wind turbines, whole house insulation, and so on and so on. As the majority of these products are aimed at residential customers, I couldn't help wonder how these businesses are doing when home equity is in the toilet, grey water notwithstanding.

Traveling from one side of this hall to the other felt odd. I was trying to figure out which customer psychographic I fit into. Too poor these days for one and too snobby for the other.


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