Everyone seems to be riding the green wave. Organic grocery chains are becoming the "it" spot to buy food. Being sustainable at home (recycling, changing bulbs and saving electricity) is all the rage. And now consumers are searching for the latest environmentally friendly products that would be safe for their families to use; it seems Styrofoam cups and one-use items are going by the wayside.
"We are trying to create a much more socially responsible company, as well as products that really feature earth-friendly materials (and are) truly useful to moms," says Amy Shumway, the founder of Dandelion, an earth-friendly goods company. Dandelion focuses mainly on children's clothing, toys and baby products.
Four years ago, Shumway had had enough with big companies and the mass market of plastics; she wanted to get away from toxin scares and focus on products that contained natural materials. Dandelion was fashioned out of that vision, and Shumway says that it has been a great journey.
"Dandelion was created for the specialty market, not the mass market, because of the material and expense. We hope to keep going. We want our items to be available to everyone," Shumway says.
The corn baby teethers and organic dolls that Shumway sells are priced higher than a $3.99 plastic toy found at Walmart. She hopes, though, that the moms who make up her consumer base are willing to dig a little deeper into their pocketbooks for quality products and maybe skimp on other things that they don't place as much value on.
"Even with the economy being as bad as it is, people will give up for their child," she points out.
Susan Golicic begs to differ. Golicic is an assistant professor of supply chain management at Colorado State University, and she does research in sustainability in companies. Although there are a lot of green products coming into the market, they aren't necessarily taking away market share from existing products, she explains.
"They are feeding a kind of separate target group that isn't loyal to other products and isn't happy with those products," Golicic says. "So those are the true sustainability consumers, and they are really a minority still. But they are the ones who are willing to pay extra or go to a different place." She adds, though, that there is still a huge group of consumers who aren't willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products.
That doesn't discourage Peggy Farabaugh, the CEO and founder of Vermont Woods Studios, an eco-friendly furniture company. When Farabaugh started the company five years ago, she was a forest conservation advocate who realized that Vermont had a long tradition of making furniture with local wood, providing a sustainable base for an industry that can be known for wiping out forests at a time to create chairs and tables. All of the wood for Vermont Woods Studios' furniture comes from America, with most of it being supplied by forests in Pennsylvania and Vermont.
With a hard-core promise to be sustainable over profitable (although the company doubled its sales from 2009 to 2010), Vermont Woods Studios focuses on where its wood comes from and how the tree that was chopped down will be replaced. The company only buys from responsibly managed forests, which Farabaugh explains is a harvesting company that has a forester on staff who makes sure the harvesting of the trees maintains the character of the forest. This helps to ensure that there will be trees for future generations and that furniture companies aren't destroying forests.
Vermont Woods Studios also is involved in Plant a Billion Trees, a project backed by The Nature Conservancy. The project tries to replenish the deforestation that is happening around the world.
"I don't know how much people make the connection between global warming and forestry. Twenty percent of global warming is due to defamation of the rain forest," Farabaugh says. "That is a greater contribution to global warming than all of the transportation sector put together. Their selection of furniture has a greater impact on global warming than their car."
Awareness of what materials are in dolls and clothing -- and what happens to make the chair you are sitting on -- is a key factor to the growth of green lifestyles. With a current generation in college that is very concerned about sustainability and with entrepreneurs such as Farabaugh and Shumway, there is hope that environmentally friendly goods and practices become the norm.
"Individuals will make the difference," Shumway says. "The more the demand goes up for these products the more companies will pay attention."