Friday, May 1, 2009

Eco Goes Mainstream - International Home & Housewares Show

Recycled glass glasses from EuroCeramica.

Where does the time go? It's been over a month since I returned home from the Home & Housewares Show in Chicago.

What a great four days that was!

Topping off my experience was the opportunity to be on a panel of retailers discussing The Green Gourmet: Merchandising Green in a Gourmet Housewares Setting--What Works and What Doesn't. The three panelists were various shades of green, ranging from extremely customer-service oriented, green-if-it-sells Dominic Cimilluca of Dominic’s Kitchen Store, a traditional gourmet housewares store to way, WAY green (that would be me). In the middle was Maria Ornesto-Moran of Green Home Experts, who tries to lead her customers to greener options in her fabulous Oak Park, Illinois store, specializing in all things green for your home, from cleaning products to paint. Thoughtfully moderated by Bill McLoughlin of Gourmet Insider Magazine it was a fascinating look at how the cooking industry is slowly but oh-so-surely ooching it's way into the world of true sustainability. To listen, click here.

This is the Oatmeal Brulee from breakfast at the Hyatt. At the risk of sounding a bit naive, I thought it was a really cool idea!

In addition to the microphone aspect (which, as you may know, is my idea of a good time!), it was really fun and thought-provoking. I so enjoy speaking about the Mercantile and sustainable business, and am passionate about being able to share my ideas. Bill's questions led us down a very interesting path, and brought up all kinds of new ideas for me. It is also a really fun interacting with the audience, and I love practicing thinking on my feet. Trying to convey the many layers and facets of sustainability felt challenging and creative. Like most things in life, there are so many shades of gray, but a few key points stand out:

1. First of all, do you really need to purchase something new?

2. If you decide to purchase, consider investing in top quality goods and using them for decades. While a Le Creuset pot uses a lot of embodied energy to create, it will last FOREVER. This is so much more sustainable than a $5.99 "bargain" from WalMart that gets thrown in the landfill after a year.

3. Given a choice, choose the greener company. Granted, this is often VERY difficult - greenwashing is rampant! The good news is that many companies have certification that will help you determine if they're real or not. Take Bambu for example; on their website is a page that tells you all about their sustainability initiatives. They are members of 1% for the Planet, use certified organic bamboo, and have sustainable packaging. Additionally, they support Fair Trade practices (they are members of Green America) and take a socially responsible approach to business.

4. Ask questions, scrutinize the fine print, and use common sense - This Luminarc glassware display was shouting "GREEN" at the show. Upon closer inspection the product was glass, but not recycled glass. The box it came in was not made of recycled materials, it was merely "recycleable."

5. Which brings me to point number five: do we really need so many disposable, um, I mean recycleable products? No matter what they're made of, they're STILL disposable. It's time to return to bringing real plates to picnics instead of bamboo or compostable plates. Because, honestly, how many of those plates really get composted? Very few, I'd imagine.

Can you say "Greenwashing?" This product was supposedly green becasue it was glass, and came in a cardboard box that was recyclable. Wake up, Luminarc! This isn't going to cut it!

That's it for now. More soon on the very exciting, well-made, sustainably-sourced products from responsible companies that the Milkweed Mercantile will be bringing in. Thanks for reading!

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