Q & A: Conversation with Ted Ning, founder of LOHAS.com
DOWNTOWN — Santa Monicans are no strangers to shopping with the environment in mind. From plastic bag bans to alternative-fuel vehicles and incentives for buying eco-friendly products made by local merchants, residents in the city by the sea are at the forefront of a growing trend dubbed LOHAS, short for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability.
It’s all about consumers who are concerned about the environment and want goods or services to be produced in a sustainable way. And shoppers are willing to pay more them.
No one seems to know more about this movement than Ted Ning, founder of LOHAS.com, a hub for consumers who want to learn more, find new products or hook up with other like-minded shoppers.
Ning was in Santa Monica last week to spread the word and help local merchants market their products. The Daily Press met up with him to find out more about the LOHAS movement.
When did you start noticing a shift consumption?
This has been ongoing since the 1960s during the hippie movement of experimentation. It included new ideas of co-op living, organic foods, new forms of spirituality and not buying into mainstream industrialization. Those individuals who were teenagers at that time are now the boomers of today and are CEOs and founders of LOHAS companies such as Whole Foods, Apple and Patagonia. They are leaders of brands that are influencing culture today, particularly the younger generations who look at “value” differently. They comprise 13-19 percent of the adult population in the U.S. and the market that serves these consumers is over $300 billion in business to consumer sales and is over $800 billion globally.
What are LOHAS consumers most concerned with when making their choices?
LOHAS consumers are box turners. They are the investigators and researchers. If they see things such as third-party certifications such as USDA Organic or Fair Trade USA or support of nonprofits such as 1% for the Planet or Global Green Grants that are in line with the consumer’s values and they feel the company is being transparent with their ingredients and who they are as a company, then they will not only embrace the brand but be a brand ambassador and teacher of others in their community. However, if things do not check out for LOHAS consumers they will be vocal about this issues and become problematic for brands until they correct them. Transparency on product ingredients, product sourcing, employee engagement and workplace democracy is the new wave of demonstrating to LOHAS consumers that a company is values based.
What tools are available for consumers to learn more about products they purchase and how can they guard against green washing or false advertising?
There are many third-party websites that provide resources on product ingredients and thoughtful depth. These include: Environmental Working Group, http://www.ewg.org/ ; Non GMO project, http://www.nongmoproject.org; and Healthy Child, http://www.healthychild.org/main/
How can local mom-and-pops, without large marketing budgets, connect with these consumers?
With any small business it is important to know who your target audience is and what their touch points are. Santa Monica is a hotbed for “LOHASIANS” as access to active and healthy lifestyle elements is everywhere — yoga studios, beach, organic food, green building, hybrid cars, etc.
LOHASIANS are very active on social media as they are the ones who share new information with others. Successful social media campaigns are the key and the tools are getting better and cheaper every day.
Where do you see the LOHAS movement in five years?
I see the integration of what is fringe becoming mainstream. Fringe elements such as EV vehicles, access to recycling and organics, LED lighting, green dry cleaning, green funerals, online yoga, will all be much more accessible. Although these are common in Santa Monica they are not so available in places like Iowa or Tennessee. I see Santa Monica having door service grocery more commonplace, virtual shopping through video instead of print magazines, lifestyle oriented hotels and integrated living spaces with energy efficient lighting that turns on and off automatically as you leave a room. These are all technologies and much more are available and will be more accessible in the future.
Santa Monica is the entrepreneurial hub of L.A. and embodies much of LOHAS values and is a reason why many choose to live and work in the area. The buzz and energy is apparent as new products and services start ups come up with innovative ideas. The beauty of the ocean and the vibrancy of the area makes it a perfect place for collaboration with others interested in LOHAS values and connecting with the early adopter LOHASIAN market. Many of the speakers who have presented at the annual LOHAS conference run businesses or nonprofits based in Santa Monica.
To learn more about the LOHAS movement, visit http://www.lohas.com