SEEING GREEN: A Movement Takes Hold

By
By Marge Axelrad: Editorial Director

NEW YORK—Observers note that it’s important to sort out the substantive from the hype, but there is no debate that shifts in consumers’ attitudes toward sustainability represent a major trend, almost a revolution.

The movement has possibly been spurred further by the recession and rising energy costs, climate changes, health concerns and the gaining role of business in society—fueling a significant “social purpose” movement. Today, issues about how products are made, how businesses reduce their impact on the planet and how they relate this to their customers are moving well beyond the original definitions of “green,” experts say, to a very real and palpable business trend evident in all industries, including optical.

Marketers have tracked consumer attitudes toward green issues back to the early ’90s, when Wal-Mart first initiated its own highly-visible “green” initiative. But studies in this area marked a perceptible change in traction of the attitude in 2008/2007 when GfK Roper identified some 30 percent of consumers as “True Blue,” the most environmentally active, a virtual doubling of that number baselined in 1995. Another 10 percent were called Greenbacks, not 100 percent committed but who said they would buy green,; about 26 percent Fencesitters; 15 percent Grousers (uninvolved/disinterested); and 18 percent (half the number from 1995) who were apathetic to green issues.

More recently, SRC’s Annual Greentailing Survey—sponsored by ClearThinking and Will Ander of McMillianDoolittle, a retail consultancy—(www.mcmillandoolittle.com) for the National Retail Federation (www.nrf.com) reflects that there is evidence of a rising groundswell of interest in sustainability and green issues as they impact shoppers. (See related charts in Front Lines/NUMBERS, page 24).

In 2007, SRC determined that almost 60 percent of consumers consider “green” at some level in their purchasing behavior. That still held true in 2009, when 15 percent of consumers said they actively consider and purchase/shop green and 53 percent said they occasionally consider and purchase/shop green. That’s a combined number approaching 70 percent.

The green performance “stigma”—that green products and services represent a more expensive option—has been giving way as processes and consumer interest has grown.

Regardless, in 2009, the Greentailing Survey revealed, some 45 percent of consumers said they decided to shop at a particular store because merchandise or operations were more green-friendly than other stores. The survey also polled consumer attitudes toward the retailers they patronized, indicating, in order of importance to them, that it was important for retailers to use recycling services, operating in a manner that saves energy, use sustainable materials and packaging were “very important.”

Particularly among women and young adults there is a more positive and active consideration of green or environmentally-friendly products or businesses, while the views are virtually even among income levels of consumers, from those with lower household incomes or high.

Today there are many examples of the impact of sustainability issues at the highest levels and within the financial markets. As an example, just this month, Puma said it will produce the first-ever Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) statement. The fitness apparel company has implemented a new method of accounting that it says will allow it to produce a new type of integrated reporting. The EP&L project is part of a larger environmental initiative by Puma’s parent company PPR Group, whose other brands include Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney.

The EP&L statement is designed to capture the brand’s economic impact on naturally occurring ecological systems. Environmental advocates have been calling for such accounting systems for years, Sustainable Life Media (www.sustainablelifemedia.com) reported.

A just-released Sense and Sustainability poll of 302 Fortune 1000 executives, by public relations firm Gibbs & Soell, reports that nearly nine out of 10 executives—88 percent—say their company is “going green.” The survey also found that 75 percent of executives said that their company has people responsible for sustainability or “going green” initiatives, up from 69 percent in 2010. The survey defined “going green” as “improving the health of the environment by implementing more sustainable business practices, and/or offering environmentally friendly products or services.”

 
More than one out of 10 (11 percent) executives said there is a C-suite or senior level function specifically and solely dedicated to “going green” initiatives. Nineteen percent said their company has a C-suite or other senior level position that incorporates sustainability or “going green” into a broader job description such as chief technology officer, chief operations officer or director of public affairs, up from 15 percent last year. And 17 percent report that there is a team of individuals whose jobs are specifically and solely dedicated to sustainability, up from 13 percent in 2010.

Scott Pickering, of Wal-Mart’s Health & Wellness optical non-store operations, told Vision Monday, “Walmart has a Sustainability department, and it is the company’s expectation that all areas of the business work together to find solutions specific to their business unit. Our Sustainability associates work with leaders in different division, developing and implementing sustainability ideas specifically for the following areas: new and existing facilities, the transportation and distribution network, the supply chain and merchandising (with a specific focus toward packaging), and store operations. The results can be dramatic; the trucks that haul merchandise to our stores are 65 percent more efficient now than four years ago—from the technology of the truck, the trailer, how we load/unload, etcetera.”

Pickering added, “Sustainability fits very well with the mission of our division, Health & Wellness, as well as the mission of our company, Save Money and Live Better. The mission is an external and internal guide to how we make decisions to serve the best interests of our patients; does they way we handle the resources entrusted to us help our patients save money and live better?”

 
 
The six-unit Lord Eye Center, based in Statesboro, Ga. rebuilt two of its locations including its Brunswick and St. Marys’ offices including redesigned interiors, featuring Eye Designs fixtures and pendant lighting from Eco-Lite. 
Noted Pickering, “In Fayetteville Ark. we’ve gone from old style air compressors which run all the time to a new one with variable speed and a holding tank; the ROI on the equipment is a little more than one year. In all of our facilities, we’ve retrofitted lights and put motion sensor lighting in areas where associates are not working. We’ve taken the bulbs out of our vending machines in the break room; it’s approximately $50 per year per machine in energy savings. Upcoming projects include developing strategies specifically for tracking energy and water consumption per order produced, and more efficiencies in HVAC through centralized monitoring.

“We’re also examining our packaging across all merchandising areas, from TVs to toasters. In optical, we’re looking at our lens packaging, specifically how can it be more environmentally-friendly? In frames, suppliers pack them with a little cardboard piece that gives structure to the product during shipping; we asked our suppliers to eliminate the inks and dyes on the cardboard since it is not seen by the customer—basically we went from ‘pretty’ to ‘plain’ and hopefully saved the suppliers a little on each frame they send to us.

“We also have a program called My Sustainability Program (MSP) for our associates. Through this program, all of our associates across the globe will have the opportunity to choose an activity in their personal lives to align with the company’s commitment to being a global leader in sustainability.”

Two of the newest initiatives for Wal-Mart are the Sustainability Index and the Healthier Foods initiative. The Sustainability Index will provide transparency to the customer so they can more easily determine the product’s environmental impact of production, use and disposal. As the nation’s largest grocer, we want to provide customers access to healthier and more affordable food choices.”

At VSP Global, a company spokesperson related, VSP has maintained an Energy Star score for all four buildings at a 90 percentile. “We are in the process of certifying our HQ4 building LEED-EBOM with the goal of receiving a Platinum certification. We have implemented additional updates in the Data Center to continue to make it more energy efficient, have completed the installation of lighting sensors in all offices and conference rooms.”

He added, “We’ve reduced water comsumption by 50 percent and installed Vending Miser devices that turn vending machines to half power and lights off during down times, resulting in an estimated annual savings of 20,800 Kilowatt hours and enhanced our recycling program and developed employee engagement with a Green Guardian team.”

At the optical dispensary level, as optical retailers, including independents, revisit their own sustainability initiatives, a new sensibility is taking hold in terms of store fittings and office design. One example is a new collaboration between optical dispensary design firm, Eye Designs and Eco-Lite. The two companies are partnering on improving lighting in existing stores and on refurbishment and new-location projects.

A new website, OpticalLights.com (www.opticallights.com) will detail ways that optical retailers can learn more about Eco-Lite’s LED products and other materials improvements and considerations.

The site features an ROI calculator and a quick-contact form for ECPs to request a “30-day Trial Light” or “Free Lighting Analysis” of their optical.

Noted Jeff Gasman of Eco-Lite, who works with retail clients in other sectors like jewelry, and warranties its LEDs for five years or 25,000 hours, “Many retailers commonly use halogens for displays, but besides being hot and not always rendering the best color for displays, the halogens can sometimes fade colors and, with plastic frames, affect their shape or make metal frames hot.”

Eco-Lite’s Howard Gurock said, “LEDs can all look the same. It’s very important for folks to realize that there are different impacts for residential quality LEDs and those that work best in a commercial/retail environment.” The company can advise overall lighting schemes for optical retailers, too, including lighting around try-on mirrors in dispensaries.

R. Whitman Lord, OD, who runs six Lord Eye Centers in coastal Georgia, recently worked with Eco-Lite and the Eye Designs team to build out new locations for two of the offices. Lord told VM, “We had some new real estate opportunities in high-traffic areas and each of the new offices is 4,000-square feet. We were looking for an open layout and Eye Designs helped me with that, working with our architect, to accommodate a large eyecare area, with four exam lanes, twin pre-test rooms, a retinal photography room and separate visual field/scanning room, and our surfacing/finishing lab with a very large dispensary. Four sets of the pendant lights from EcoLite are surrounded by large ovals suspended by cables. We discussed coolness and other issues. We’re very happy with the results and we saw our first quarter business up by more than 30 percent compared to our first quarter last year. I attribute that to the new, visible locations and the contemporary look of the offices.”

maxelrad@jobson.com