Boomers discover that it's easy being green

Sue Lottridge of Estero, Fla., is further along on the green scale. She and her husband had a solar-powered water heater installed this fall, even though it cost more than a regular one. They had a solar heater for their pool and thought, why not?

"We've always done the easy things, like recycling and so forth," she says. "But we thought maybe we could do more."

Also a darker shade of green is Lettie Cunetto of St. Louis.

"I buy 'green' light bulbs, cleaning products, use my own canvas shopping bags and make a big haul to the recycle station every week," she says. "It's something everyone should be passionate about."

Still, a truly "deep green" consumer would be more like the customers of TerraPass, an online company that sells carbon offsets to consumers. These offsets allow consumers to "buy" the equivalent of their carbon emissions for such activities as taking a flight or driving an SUV.

The money then goes to "offset" the impact on the environment by financially supporting projects such as wind farms.

TerraPass says its customers watch their thermostat settings at home (84%), give money to non-profit environmental groups (69%) and have installed CFL light bulbs (64%).

But they've gone beyond the easy green stuff: They're more likely to ride public transit to work (26%), bike to work (26%) or drive a hybrid car (16%). And 6% have solar panels at home, more than double the national average.

"Our customers are quite passionate about climate change," says Erik Blachford, CEO of the San Francisco-based company.

"They're 'deep greens.' "

A green holiday?

Retailers are trying to capitalize on the interest in all things green.

So-called "green initiatives" by retailers range from Eco Options at Home Depot, hd which highlight its energy-saving CFL light bulbs and organic fertilizers, to new offerings of organic skin care and cosmetics at Walgreens, to "green" furniture made from renewable materials such as bamboo at ABC Carpet & Home and Crate & Barrel.

"2007 is the year when 'green' emerged everywhere," according to a report by WSL Strategic Retail, a consulting company for retailers.

In June, PriceGrabber.com started a site called shopgreen.pricegrabber.com. PriceGrabber is a website that consolidates offerings from 11,000 merchants and helps consumers find and compare products. The company analyzed a database of 12 million products on its main site and found about 20,000 "fit the green bill," said LaPierre.

Those include home appliances with the Energy Star designation for being efficient, organic clothing and organic foods, including wine.

"The big benefit (of the site) is for newbies and people who want to start (being green) and don't know where to go," LaPierre says. "They don't want to completely change their lifestyle, but they want to do things a little bit better for the environment."

The growing awareness of environmental issues "has implications for business," says Stern of Focalyst. "It's not a niche anymore."

Consumers are increasingly looking for retailers who adopt green practices, too, says Janiak of Deloitte. "They want to know if the company is using solar panels, or conserving water in the way it operates its stores," she says. That means advertising that it's a green company, and doing in-store promotions to its green products, she says.

"Retailers have to make it easy for us to be green."

The green boomers Focalyst identified are making purchasing and lifestyle decisions that, in part, reflect their growing concern about a legacy that they'll leave behind to their children and grandchildren, she says.

And it's not a matter of income.

A higher percentage of boomers who earn less than $50,000 a year are green compared with those who earn more than $150,000 a year, according to AARP.

"We looked at attitudes and actions. And people are saying: 'I try to buy from companies that give back to their communities. I try to buy brands that are environmentally safe,' " says Stern.

"Those are real actions that they're taking."

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