By Barbara Thau
NEW YORK–These days, the question isn’t which retailers are going green, it’s which ones haven’t yet.
Merchants up and down the retail food chain are not only peppering their mix with eco-friendly goods, but have rolled out full-fledged product lines and special marketing hooks to designate environmentally sound fare.
Wal-Mart has appointed itself the leader in corporate responsibility for the environment. It’s rolled out eco-friendly test stores and set a mandate for its vendors to use sustainable packaging. Now its mix of eco-friendly goods has gone beyond an organic sheet or two.
The retailer is showcasing an assortment of green goods under the “simple choices, big difference” marketing handle. These include organic cotton duvet sets, energy-saving lighting and dinnerware made from 100 percent recycled plastic.
At the high end of the green spectrum, Macy’s new Haven collection from its exclusive Hotel line is positioned as a luxury line that includes “purely organic” bed and bath goods. “And it’s all done without sacrificing softness or style,” reads Macy’s Web site.
Home Depot rolled out its Eco Options program last year composed of merchandise that is either environmentally friendly or energy-efficient. “The response to Eco Options has been tremendous, and we have exceeded our sales expectations,” Jean Niemi, a Home Depot spokeswoman, told HFN.
Home Depot’s Eco Options mix started with 2,500 products and has swelled to more than 3,300 today. These include an exclusive outdoor furniture set from Thomasville made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified eucalyptus and all-weather wicker, and the Accubreeze ceiling fan, which uses 50 percent less energy than standard fans.
“We will continue to add product to the Eco Options line,” she said.
The retailer has just updated signage to make it easier for consumers to identify environmentally preferred options. “We have a new road map in the stores leading consumers to all of the Eco Options products,” she said.
In March, J.C. Penney, in partnership with environmental lifestyle expert Danny Seo, launched Simply Green, an exclusive designation that helps shoppers make environmentally conscious purchases. A broad wide range of J.C. Penney private brand merchandise, including home accessories, bear the Simply Green mark, highlighting goods that lessen the impact on the environment.
Merchandise that meets the green standard must fall into one of three categories: organic, which signals that it’s made from at least 70 percent raw materials, such as organic cotton or linen; renewable, which means goods are at least 25 percent from renewable materials, such as bamboo, soy or wood; and recycled, which refers to product that contain at least 25 percent recycled materials.
The mix includes things like the Natural Elements candle from J.C. Penney’s exclusive Studio line, which features 100 percent plant-based wax and a jar made from recycled glass.
Home lifestyle merchants West Elm and Crate & Barrel are also getting into the act.
West Elm’s mix is sprinkled with organic bed and bath with a modernist twist. The company is showcasing organic animal print jacquard towels and bamboo sheets.
Crate & Barrel is highlighting everything from eco-friendly furniture, such as The Trovata teak collection, which is supported by the Tropical Forest Trust, to eco-friendly accessories that include baskets made from coconut fibers.
IKEA has been a green pioneer, but does not seek the eco-friendly spotlight—a function of its modest, Swedish mind-set and the impulse to market products responsibly, said Janice Simonsen, IKEA spokeswoman.
“We’re careful not to green-wash ourselves to try to jump on a trend that’s happening now, and make a blanket statement about ourselves in terms of our policies,” Simonsen said.
Eco-consciousness has been alive and well in Europe for years and IKEA’s green awareness dates back to the 1960s with its flat-pack shipping method designed to reduce transportation costs.
At the same time, IKEA’s designers often create products from material that is normally wasted. For example, the retailer recently expanded its mix of goods made from the tips of birch trees that are usually burned. These include the Norden table.
The Gullhomen rocking chair is made from recycled banana leaves, and has inspired the use of banana leaves in other IKEA products, such as baskets.
“How we create products and how IKEA conducts its daily business can’t really be separated from IKEA green products,” Mona Liss, IKEA’s U.S. corporate public relations director, told HFN. “It is a part of our culture to be environmentally responsible in all that we do.”