LOHAS anyone?

A few years ago, people would have objected strongly to being labeled "green". Yet nowadays many people are proudly announcing that they buy organic food, have downsized to a smaller, more economical car (or even eschewed driving completely for public transport), and are thinking about their own carbon footprint.

According to the findings of a representative survey of 500 German citizens aged 14 and over carried out last December by market research company Ipsos on behalf of Allianz Deutschland AG, 44 percent of German citizens say they are LOHAS consumers (leading a Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability).

Green is good: 44 percent of German citizens say they are LOHAS consumers

Women in particular identified with the LOHAS ideals. 52 percent said they were important to them (compared with 35 percent of men), and an above-average number (49 percent) of survey respondents with higher incomes (net household incomes of over 2,500 euros) said they were LOHAS consumers. More people living in two-person households (52 percent) professed to be health conscious and striving for sustainability than did single persons (38 percent) and families of three or four (39 percent).

And interestingly, far more of the 55-plus generation (51 percent) saw themselves as LOHAS consumers than did 35 to 54-year-olds (41 percent) or under 34s (38 percent). Many people clearly believe they are alone in their convictions: on average, respondents estimated that only 31 percent of Germans are LOHAS consumers, while 44 percent put themselves into that category.

The term LOHAS was coined in 2000 by American sociologist Paul Ray in his book "The Cultural Creatives". Since then the acronym has cropped up regularly in discussions on climate change, sustainability and health consciousness, when deliberating ecologically friendly production methods or how to reduce carbon emissions. What distinguishes members of the new LOHAS generation from the eco-warriors of the past, however, is that they are not averse to luxuries or indulgences, and tend to be affluent enough to afford them. Rather than making do without, they are simply discerning about what they buy.

This has of course prompted critics to accuse LOHAS consumers of ego- rather then eco-centric thinking, of appeasing only their own consciences. "Spiegel" magazine, for example, once ran a story entitled "Gr√ľnkern und Gucci" (Eat spelt, buy Gucci). "Yet a pertinent reply to this is that big things often start small. Why should setting an example and leading the way be seen as objectionable?" asks Alexander Schorn, Head of Customer Segmentation and Retention in Allianz Versicherungs-AG's Market Management section. "After all, climate change, dwindling resources and healthcare challenges affect us all, and are here to stay."

Companies such as Allianz are already responding to these changed needs and desires. "Not just because this is an important target group, but also because we are convinced that these will be key issues in the future," explains Andreas Bittl, Head of the Market Management section at Allianz Versicherungs-AG. He then cites in-house developments such as "ECOmotion", a product designed jointly by Allianz and the WWF that enables drivers to neutralize their carbon emissions. And health insurance solutions with special benefits and rewards for the health conscious. And free coinsurance of solar plants and services such as energy advice.

For Bittl, however, social commitment is just as important as products. "Confidence is the key currency that unites companies with their customers," he says. "For a person who acts on certain principles himself will of course expect the same from the companies with which he does business."

Allianz operates and supports numerous initiatives in the security, health and social spheres. Its own "natural catastrophe team" is actively researching climate change, and the environment is a key issue in everyday life at the company: by 2012, Allianz aims to have reduced its carbon dioxide emissions, most of which come from the energy requirements of its offices and from business travel, by 25 percent in Germany (20 percent worldwide). Since last summer, as a participant in Deutsche Post's "Go Green" initiative, the company has ensured all its letter post is carbon neutral.

Faced with declining fossil fuels, the company has also identified mobility as a key concern, which is why scientists at the Allianz Center for Technology are watching with great interest to see how viable alternative methods of propulsion are for everyday use. Allianz's car service is currently testing a hydrogen-powered vehicle, and the company is sponsoring a campaign for natural gas filling stations.

The difficult current economic climate is a real test of strength for people's newfound environmental awareness. A survey by Allianz Austria identified a current shift in the priorities of citizens there: the main concern of 30 to 50-year-olds whose working lives are in full swing is ensuring their financial survival, while in the summer of last year climate change and its consequences were still some of people's key concerns.

Alexander Schorn's closing comments: "Now more than ever, the LOHAS or green movement can position itself as a trendsetter, for these challenges concerning the environment and social responsibility will be around long term."

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