LOHAS conference brings Fortune 500s
Walmart, Coca-Cola among major corporations at green forum in Boulder
Jean Spencer, Camera Staff Writer
Thursday, June 18, 2009
BOULDER, Colo. — The annual Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability Forum — which once targeted small, green-business entrepreneurs — has this year drawn the likes of Facebook, eBay and Walmart.
Those are among the 260 businesses represented at the three-day sustainability conference at the St. Julien Hotel in Boulder.
The forum, which was created in 1996 in Boulder, is a worldwide conference that aims to combine top-level business leaders with “green-minded” investors to expand an already-rapidly growing marketplace for sustainable business models.
Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, or LOHAS, refers to the $209 billion international market segment of consumers and businesses focused on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living and social justice.
The forum, which began Wednesday and continues through Friday, includes panel discussions about corporate strategy by industry leaders; exhibitor booths displaying a range of green-friendly products from acai berry-based Veev alcoholic beverage to green vacations; and even free yoga.
Fortune 500 companies attended this year’s forum looking to learn and share eco-responsible business practices.
“We haven’t been sustainable for a long time, but we have a vision to be zero-waste,” Candace Taylor, Walmart’s director of strategy and sustainability, said in a speech about the company’s sustainability goals. “It’s a lofty vision, but it’s there.”
Taylor, along with April Crow of the Coca-Cola Co. and Lewis Perkins of The Mohawk Group, was featured on a panel Thursday that discussed small steps big corporations are making in the world of sustainability.
Ted Ning, the LOHAS director for the past six years, said the increased interest by big corporations reflects a changing dynamic characterized by consumers demanding more environmentally aware businesses. More companies are beginning to seek business partnerships that allow for growth in their sustainable business plans, he said.
“It was a huge learning experience for me,” said Kate Alini, marketing communications manager for Mini USA, a division of BMW.
Alini said because she represents the automotive industry, she thought she would be “ostracized by tree-huggers,” but she found a unique cross-promoting network at the conference.
“The automotive industry is not moving fast enough sustainability-wise,” she said. “I thought they were going to think I was the plague, but everyone wants know how they can help each other.”
At its inception 13 years ago, the LOHAS forum was a “small, sleepy natural food conference,” but it has since grown to a worldwide phenomenon dedicated to promoting relationships among companies targeting the conscious consumer, Ning said.
For Debbie Williams, vice president and co-founder of GreenSmart — a company that transforms recycled bottles into products such as laptop bags — it is those relationships that drive the expanding sustainable marketplace.
“Everyone comes here with the shared interest to better ourselves and better the planet,” Williams said. “Nowhere else is there a place where we all want each other to succeed.”
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