Hardware Show goes green

For both vendors and retailers, the growing “green” movement can present as much of a challenge as it does an opportunity. To address the issue, the National Hardware Show will feature a “Green Product World” this year, the first of its kind at the show, in addition to a host of other new offerings on the popular topic. Green Product World is an offshoot of the show’s New Product World—both highlight a sampling of products from the show floor.

“We’re really focusing on the business side of green,” explained Dean Russo, group vp for show organizer Reed Exhibitions.

The Green Product World showcase will feature around 100 products, and in conjunction with the Green Product World, the show will announce winners of its first annual Green Innovation Awards. Judged by representatives from retailers such as Sears and Northern Tool, the awards are similar in scope to the Homewares Show Awards, which also will be introduced this year.

“It’s obviously a major trend,” Russo said. “There’s sort of two components to green. There’s the socially conscious aspect, part of the driver on the consumer side, and the opportunity for sales on the vendor and retailer side.”

In promoting its green programming and products, the National Hardware Show highlighted results from a recent industry survey that indicated 88 percent of households in the United States have members who say they are “likely or very likely to purchase at least one additional energy-efficient product or undertake one additional energy-efficient activity” in the near future.

Energy-efficient products have probably been the most visible new green products in the past two years. Record-high fuel costs have made the bottom line benefits of these products much more visible to the consumer.

Heavy promoting of energy-efficient products by retailers has followed suit, with a prime example of such promotions in compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Ace, True Value and other high profile home improvement companies have offered various free light bulb promotions. Federal and state agencies have stepped in as well, helping subsidize the costs of the bulbs in many communities.

Products like CFLs, where the cost and energy savings benefits are relatively well established and easy to understand (despite the higher upfront price tag of a CFL), have proved attractive to consumers. But with many other product categories, from cleaning products to gardening goods, many consumers remain skeptical.

According to a study by research firm NPD Group, consumers are “clearly struggling with the green price [and] value relationship.” Of the issues consumers encounter, some reported believing “retailers may be taking financial advantage of this movement to increase their margins.” Others are turned off by the often higher price for a green product, especially if they don’t have a clear understanding of said product’s cost-savings benefit.

Additionally, many consumers are skeptical of products that claim to be green, according to NPD Group. “Consumers cite some product packaging choices as contradictory to the cause,” the study says. “Other issues, such as outsourcing, cheap labor and public corporate commitments to the environment are very much top of mind for consumers.”

To help gain perspective on how to cater to those consumer questions, the National Hardware Show will offer green learning sessions for both vendors and retailers.

First, a vendor-focused program will offer advice from Robert Hrubes, senior vp-Scientific Certification Systems (SCS). In the home channel, SCS is well known for working with Home Depot as the source of third-party certification for the retailer’s Eco Options line of products. In that role, SCS tests and rates purported eco-friendly products that don’t fall under other federal guidelines—such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star or WaterSense programs—to see whether they meet acceptable green criteria.

Hrubes will speak on what constitutes a credible green claim and how manufacturers can use green labels to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. The seminar also tackles the role of third-party certification and risks associated with “greenwashing.”

The SCS seminar, titled “Going Green—Third Party Certification and Credible Logos,” will take place on May 8 at 11 a.m. in room N242.

A second seminar will tackle the green issue from the retail side—specifically, lawn and garden retail.

Stan Pohmer of Lawn & Garden Retailing will talk about how older consumers appear to be more tuned-in to the green movement when it comes to outdoor purchases, with lessons on how retailers can make it easier for those consumers to “be green.”

Indeed, baby boomers and older consumers make up a larger market for green products. According to another NPD Group study, environmental friendliness is something that appears to grow with age.

For example, in the category of home insulation products, 82 percent of survey respondents 55 years and older said they believed buying eco-friendly materials is important. Comparatively, just 70 percent of those aged 35 to 44 agreed; and 63 percent of those aged 18 to 34 agreed. In major appliances, 79 percent of respondents over 55 said going green is important. Sixty-seven percent of those aged 35 to 44 agreed, and 62 percent of those aged 18 to 34 agreed.

“The information in the report is somewhat contrary to the belief that it’s the younger generation who is more concerned about going ‘green,’” said Mark Delaney, director of home improvement for NPD Group. “It may be that the older generation is now looking to leave the planet in better shape for their children and grandchildren.”

The retailer-focused green seminar, titled “The New and Changing World of Sustainability,” will take place Wednesday, May 7 at 10 a.m. in room S223.

Green products from numerous vendors will be spread throughout the show floor—watch for new offerings in categories including lighting, Energy Star appliances, building materials, WaterSense plumbing fixtures and natural outdoor gardening products, among many others.