Green: The New Black

by Alexis Ufland

Smart, of-the-minute, yet enduring…the very adjectives used to describe the iconic “little black dress” in fashion can similarly apply to the “green” mindset so avidly embraced by today’s upscale consumers. Hardly a fad, “going green” is now associated with a particular brand of forward thinking, a dedication to intelligent decision-making in all aspects of life.

Similarly, today’s spa patron is a far cry from the pampered, self-involved stereotype of yesteryear. As noted in SpaFinder’s “10 Trends to Watch in 2007,” spas and their consumers are getting serious about terms like “organic,” “eco-friendly,” and “sustainability.” These new consumers are uniquely receptive to spas who actively adopt a “green commitment”—and to them, this stance means more than just recycling and offering organic food. Spa guests, in the past, have naturally gravitated toward facilities that incorporate authentic, indigenous treatments, hire local staff, and otherwise contribute to the community. But as the threat of global warming increases, consumers have come to hold higher expectations of the people and businesses they patronize. Accordingly, smart spa owners need to change with the times and adapt their business model to accommodate this new consumer and her heightened expectations.

To understand where this new spa consumer is coming from—and what will lure her to your environs—it helps to explore both demographic facts and psychographic insights. From a demographic standpoint, some 23% of today’s U.S. adult population meet the criteria for what the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) calls a LOHAS consumer: the acronym designates a person drawn to a “Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability,” an individual strongly dedicated to environmental concerns.  Just behind the LOHAS, in terms of eco-commitment, lies the single largest segment of adults, labeled NOMADICS.  A full 38% of the populations, NOMADICS are not quite as resolute about social responsibility, but they do engage in select LOHAS behaviors (saving energy, buying natural products, and so on).  CENTRISTS, 27% of the populace, are markedly less involved with ecological matters—and INDIFFERENTS, who represent about 12% of adults, show no evidence of environmentally-driven consumer behavior at all.

But the psychological profile of these consumers really paints an intriguing picture. Not surprisingly, the LOHAS customer shows a preference for organic foods, organic skin care products, hybrid cars, natural cleaning products, and energy-efficient windows.  What’s striking is that these LOHAS behaviors have become increasingly adopted by non-LOHAS consumers.  For example: Between 2004 and 2005, the NMI found that the usage growth rate of hybrid cars jumped 57% for LOHAS consumers—and an astounding 450% for non-LOHAS consumers.  The non-LOHAS group also showed an increased willingness to buy organically grown foods, solar panels, natural cleansers, and other items once regarded as the sole province of LOHAS.  The NMI sees the mainstreaming of LOHAS products as an important trend: in many cases, environmental benefits have come to be expected, and many of today’s eco-friendly products on the market today appeal to consumers even if their foremost benefit is not environmental. In addition, a recent poll from Maritz Research indicates that environmental messaging has a major impact on customer loyalty in this key demographic, with 50% of respondents saying it influences their shopping behavior. About 46% of respondents say they'd be more apt to patronize a retailer if it is environmentally friendly. And 47% say they're willing to pay more for environmentally friendly services, products or brands. Overall, the new spa consumer seeks a philosophy that respects people as much as it respects the planet.

Smart spa owners are realizing that “going green” really does offer an assortment of benefits on a variety of fronts. The simple strategy of adjusting your business model to incorporate “green practices” not only lowers overall operating costs, but is also proving to increase an establishment’s customer base. In a clear win-win scenario, spa owners who have implemented green practices into their business model are reaping the happy result of “doing well by doing right.”

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