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Expo touts ‘green’ beyond environment


NEW YORK —The market for green goods is rapidly developing, but the opportunities it provides aren’t limited to improving the environment, important as that may be. Sustainability has ushered in an era of innovation that isn’t only making products greener, it’s often making them better.

An event dubbed the Green Products Expo was held on Feb. 28 at the Marriott Marquis in New York’s Times Square, and 75 exhibitors representing product categories ranging from technology to electronics, cosmetics, apparel, accessories, furniture and home decor demonstrated a flair for new ideas.

Everyone who is involved in buying or selling consumer goods in North America and over to Europe knows the green market has evolved way beyond hippie stereotypes, and products that are being introduced today are rolled out with finesse.

Organic vodka is a fine example of how the market has evolved. Square One Organic Vodka was among those suppliers that emphasized the purity of the production process, but not just in an ideological way. The organic vodka process creates a better tasting vodka, company founder Allison Evanow, asserted. Square One positions the product to that theme, providing materials to help consumers concoct their own upscale drinks using real fruit rather than bottled mixers to create a tastier, more satisfying cocktail. Like many organic products, Square One takes a gourmet slant on its product category and adopts premium pricing. It is a rye vodka, which makes it expensive, but unique, providing an upscale cachet in a spirits category that has rewarded top-shelf products.

Square One is a small start-up that just launched in 2006, but newcomers weren’t the only companies that emphasized innovation at the show. Among the more established was Pentel, which also offered a new initiative. The company was discussing a product line called Recycology, which offers pens and related stationery products made from at least 50% and up to 100% recycled content. The line includes refillable gel pens and markers to provide an even more positive impact on the waste stream. The line is designed to be broadly affordable with prices ranging from $1.79 to $3.00.

Some of the participants in the expo were recognizable in their orientation, representing something of the earlier spirit of sustainability. However, even the more traditional environmentally oriented companies are bringing a more businesslike determination to their product development.

Sandal maker Rafters is attacking its product from multiple angles to make it even greener. The company uses recycled water bottles as the basis for its sandals, while using bamboo for its linings. Outsoles contain 25% recycled rubber with jute added to reduce the amount of the basic raw material even more. The company also employs an increasingly minimalist design, so its products can do what’s expected by the purchaser while using less material. While they don’t break the bank, Rafters aren’t cheap either, maintaining a healthy average price point of about $50.

Innovation was evident throughout the show. Nature-cast is picking up the plant litter that causes forest fires in Cebu in the Philippines and casting it into home furnishings products ranging from chairs to umbrella stands. Steaz has developed naturally decaffeinated green tea soda substitutes for schools. And Dapple has devised a natural dish liquid designed to do a better job of cleaning baby bottles.

So, retailers who are looking for real innovation as they seek to differentiate their product lines may want to spend a bit more time considering organic and sustainable products, as their developers are committed to creativity both as environmental advocates and consumer product producers.

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