September 12, 2009

Why LOHAS isn’t going to save the world

Just in case you’ve been hiding in a cave with bin Laden, Elvis Presley and the tattered remnants of a global democracy, LOHAS (Lifestyles Of Health And Sustainability) is…

The Next Big Thing.

With a global market value in excess of $300 billion, and growing at a rate of between 20 and 300% (depending on who you talk to, and which sub-section of the market you’re looking at) it seems that times couldn’t be better for the organic-sprout eating, hybrid-car driving, Fair-Trade wearing moral collective-barometer.

I oughta know—I’m one of them.

But the trouble with LOHAS (aside from the fact that it’s yet another acronym to remember) is that it’s been co-opted by eco-consumerism– and as such, seems destined to fail before it’s out of the gate.

It wasn’t that long ago, addressing an audience of Wellness professionals, that I recounted the story of how I came to be doing what I’m doing…in a moment of Newtonian inspiration involving a mango, ocean and post yoga bliss, recognising the enormous potential inherent in simply changing the way we consume.

I declared that “this market, more than any other, has the potential to fundamentally and irrevocably change the world for the better.”

That was before I saw marketers support well-intentioned, but misguided, entrepreneurs who flooded the market with a plethora of products the world would do just fine without—catering to the need of the individual to feel as if we are actively involved in the same great battle for our survival.

Row after row of “natural” soap, “pure” bottled water from the Pacific, shrink-wrapped smoked salmon from Tasmania, tins of organic tomatoes from Equador.

And don’t get me started on the massive carbon cloud hanging over the meat freezer at Whole Foods.

As the founder of the Sea Shepherds recently declared (and I’m paraphrasing here):

Better to be a vegan driving a hummer than a carnivorous cyclist

It’s a sickness—an addiction to ‘personal change’ without a deep appreciation for the compounding nature of personal choice. An addiction to “freedom”—at least the poor substitute for freedom (freedom of choice) we’ve settled for.

As Gibran once said:

At the city gate and by your fireside I have seen you prostrate yourself and worship your own freedom,
Even as slaves humble themselves before a tyrant and praise him though he slays them.

In many countries—capitalist democracies in general, and the USA in particular—it seems time for individual freedom to be sacrificed in service to a greater freedom—that of the freedom for all of us to live on a healthy planet that will support future generations.

We have no time left for political correctness. We have no time left to be polite. What we really need is for our leaders to declare a state of emergency with little concern for what it will cost them personally (do we really want to be standing on the scorched earth singing REM’s ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it ….. and I feel fine’?). But if the masses won’t follow, could they lead—even if they were to take such a bold stance?

O! to see Oprah take a stand and move from serving the ever-escalating and largely vacuous demands of the Baby Boomers to ensuring that their as yet largely-unborn great-grandchildren inherit a world worth inheriting.

I’m far less interested in Dr Phil than I am in Hunter Lovins and while I think Deepak certainly had some interesting things to say, I’m not convinced that metaphysics is going to save us.

Maybe it’s time we went in search of real discomfort—not the discomfort that comes from confronting a pattern of neurotic behaviour that sees us dating mysogynists, matriarchs and alcoholics. Let’s embrace the inevitable discomfort of answering the question

in the face of what we know about the state of the world, and our part in it, how is it most prudent to act?

There is no stone that should remain unturned, no sacred cow we should not consider making burgers out of. It’s time for discussions about politics, religion and consumerism to take centre stage, for all of us to call into question the irrational and dangerous beliefs that have brought us to the precipice. It’s time to wage war on superstition and unsubstantiated belief and embrace reason.

Your lifestyle choice is my concern—your diet is my concern, your means of transportation is my concern, your politics are my concern, your religion is my concern.

Whatever you believe, or do, that impacts upon my freedom to live is my concern—and it’s time for some unapologetic and rigorous questioning. And if you don’t like it—move to Iran, Russia or China (or turn back the clock twelve months in the USA)—and you’ll experience a climate where change is unwelcome, feared, and occasionally suppressed.

The LOHAS market is a transitional market—one that has arisen largely in response to a global outcry against waste and in favour of a more prudent and economically conservative lifestyle. It’s a market dripping with potential. But this potential is only going to waste while so many of us drive our SUVs across town to “buy organic”– instead of taking the time to nurture our backyard veggie patch, or better still a community garden.

There is a responsibility that comes with knowledge about health & sustainability—and that is to do something with that knowledge.

Let’s take these conversations—that so often take place on blogs, around coffee shops and in bars—and elevate them to the point of civil unrest before this is the only option remaining to us.


Cameron Burgess is a recent Australian addition to the Boulderverse.

He is the CEO of a group of companies incorporating uncompromise, icologi & wellnessconnect that provide commercialization, strategic development, marketing & digital services purely to the health and sustainability market.

Cameron is also a core-team member of w1sd0m – a global network that helps organize the flow of intellectual, social, human, & financial capital to strengthen Global Social Enterprise.

A speaker, workshop facilitator and agent provocateur, Cameron can be found on twitter @uncompromise

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