Consumer interest in energy efficiency, water conservation and sustainable and eco-friendly products has been growing, including in the areas of home improvement and building products. Thanks to improvements in smart technology and manufacturing, a multitude of products are available for a green lifestyle, starting with home construction products and moving to daily use items.
Below is a highlight of the many options now available to retailers seeking to attract green shoppers and positively impact the environment and its finite natural resources.
Green Building Supplies
A 2015 article by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) showed that by the beginning of 2015, green homes had a higher demand than comparable traditional homes. Additionally, over 60 percent of builders were reporting that at least 15 percent of their projects were considered green, and that early projections indicate that percentage will increase to more than 80 percent during the next three years.
Several ideas as to what types of products may be in demand by both consumers and contractors include:
Insulation: Adequate insulation and/or insulation made from recycled or alternative materials, like recycled denim or cellulose, can reduce energy costs as well as waste in the form of heating and cooling and landfill space.
Sustainable Interior Finishes: These finishes, including bamboo flooring, recycled glass countertops and engineered wood, help reduce waste while offering beautiful design.
Alternative Energy Solutions: Alternative solutions such as solar hot water heaters and residential wind turbines like the Blade Tip Power System from Honeywell can be easily installed and will instantly reduce energy costs and limit use of traditional resources.
Recycled Materials for Hardscapes: Decks, patios, walkways and playground areas are all great places to use recycled and reused products. A few companies that manufacture recycled products include:
- Azek Building Products provides pavers made from up to 95 percent recycled materials for use as driveways, walkways and patios. Additional product lines include composite decking, railings, tongue and groove porch decking and exterior trim and molding.
- Trex supplies composite decking as well as other composite products such as fencing, pergolas, outdoor furniture and storage.
- NewTechWood provides interlocking composite tiles for decks or rooftop patios.
- EMC Molding manufactures rubber decking made from recycled tires. The company offers deck tiles for patios and rooftops, playground tiles and pour-in-place products and specialized flooring for livestock.
Low VOC Caulks, Sealants, and Adhesives: VOC-compliant and low-VOC products have increased in quality as manufacturers have developed materials that can mimic higher VOC compounds. In addition to reduced VOC fumes, some of these newer products are easier to use than standard materials. For instance, Gorilla Glue PVC Cement has a one-step application process and is easily cleaned up with water. Additional companies and product lines include:
- Eco-Bond Zero-VOC line of Caulks, Adhesives and Sealants.
- DAP Beats the Nail VOC-compliant series, as well as the Blacktop Asphalt Filler and Sealant
- AFM Safecoat including DynoFlex, DynoSeal, and Almighty Adhesive
- OSI Green Series (Henkel) includes both low- and zero-VOC caulks, sealants, and adhesives.
Long-Distance Thermostat Control: Thanks to advances in smart home technology, consumers now have the ability to control the temperature in their homes from anywhere they have a signal on their smartphones. This connectivity can save both energy and money. Popular brands include:
Paint Additives: Ceramic powder paint additives, like the additive from Hy-Tech Thermal Solutions, can improve interior and exterior insulation quality by providing a heat-reflecting, insulating, and thermal barrier coating.
Roofing from Recyclables: These roofs, such as metal roofing made from post-industrial and post-consumer materials and recycled roof shingles constructed of rubber or a rubber/plastic composite, offer high-end looks (like shake or slate) at a lower price point, are lighter-weight with high-impact resistance and are made from materials removed from the waste stream that can also be recycled, keeping them out of the landfill.
Energy Efficient Appliances
Along with building supplies, efficient appliances can also impact energy reduction and savings. The EPA’s Energy Star label has become synonymous with saving money and protecting the environment. To make research easier for retailers and consumers, the EPA now offers an Energy Star Most Efficient list. The list for 2016 is available here.
The top Energy Star rated appliances for 2016 include:
Washing Machine: LG WT7700H*A
Refrigerator (with bottom freezer): Bosch B10CB80NVB
Refrigerator (with top freezer): Summit FF1084W
Dishwasher: Beko DIS25840
For a comparative list of the most efficient furnaces, click here.
For a comparative list of the most efficient air conditioning units, click here.
Energy reduction is not the only focus benefiting from advances in green living. Many environmentally conscious consumers, as well as many who desire to save money on utilities, have driven sales in products geared toward conserving and reclaiming water, as well. Some conservation products include:
Low-flow water fixtures: These fixtures, such as Moen’s Eco-Performance faucets and showerheads, along with dual-flush toilets, help lower water usage for the interior of the house.
Cisterns and rain barrels: Cisterns and barrels like Suncast Rain Barrels collect water for irrigation purposes, alleviating strain on water systems while still allowing for the irrigation of lawns and gardens.
Greywater reclamation: Wastewater from sinks, showers and washers (known as greywater) can be diverted prior to the sewage stream and stored for use on lawns and gardens. One example of a whole-house reclamation system is the Aqua2use Greywater Recycling System that comes with available filters and diverters that can recycle greywater into home reuse or irrigation.
Smart Sprinklers and Soil Sensors: Irrigation systems for lawns and gardens have moved beyond programmable manual timers and into the world of WiFi and application-based control. Connecting to existing lawn and garden irrigation systems, these products replace non-web-enabled programmable timers for greater real-time control of irrigation, and allow consumers to track water usage for their landscaping. Many of these systems have a standard eight-zone monitoring that can be expanded to 16 zones and more. Many products advertise up to a 50-percent reduction in water usage, which can be a significant amount on monthly utility bills and is an important selling point. Several smart irrigation controllers include:
- PlantLink, a soil moisture monitor by Oso Technologies that can track up to 64 individual sensors per hub, utilizes a large plant database to analyze soil conditions against specific plant requirements and, if needed, can notify users via text or email if watering is necessary. PlantLink also integrates with GreenIQ, a smart irrigation control hub, allowing for zone-specific irrigation of exterior plants.
- Rain Bird ESP-SMTe Series
- Sky Drop
LED & Solar Lighting
LED lighting has been gaining serious ground in the overall lighting category, thanks to the faster light-time and increased efficiency over the standard CFL. In fact, LED bulbs have gained so much ground, General Electric announced the end of production of their CFL lightbulbs, citing a decrease in sales as well as new governmental regulations on energy efficiency in lighting. The new Energy Star regulations include:
- 15,000-hour minimum rated life requirement for omnidirectional solid-state lamps, and 25,000-hour minimum life for directional solid-state lamps.
- Minimum power factor for omnidirectional lights between 5 and 10 watts reduced to 0.6, while other lights allowed to remain at 0.7.
- Energy Star certification to allow Department of Energy testing, along with expanded testing for certain lamp types.
- Clarified color-tunable lamp definitions for Energy Star qualified products.
Many options for LED lighting can be found for interior and exterior use. One new exterior product in this category is the NR LED Uplight from FXLuminaire (http://www.fxl.com/product/lights-led/nr), a copper uplight fixture for landscape.
Solar-powered products are also popular in landscape lighting. National Hardware Show® vendor Sogrand Industries offers a wide variety of solar lighting options that can be installed anywhere, including lights that clip to flag poles to light up flags and those that clip under umbrellas to illuminate tables, gutter lights and fence lights. They also offer themed lights to fit a variety of consumer design tastes, like the company’s dragonfly or butterfly solar string lights and mosaic stake lights.
Non-GMO & Organic Products
Heated debates between various scientific, corporate and political groups about the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have lead many consumers to be wary of purchasing any products that may contain GMO material, including seeds and plants for their vegetable gardens and ornamental planting beds. This trend was noticeable at this year’s National Hardware Show®, as some plant displays included signage indicating non-GMO status as well as prominent labeling on plant pots and seed packets showing the same. Retailers interested in offering non-GMO products should check out these seed and plant suppliers:
Once the non-GMO plants are in the ground, customers may next seek an eco-friendly weed control due to concern about the use and overuse of potentially toxic and environmentally damaging chemicals. Fortunately, in response to the demand, manufacturers are finding more ways to eradicate weeds effectively using other methods. Below are just a few of the many products and tools consumers can use to eliminate weeds.
- Bernzomatic Weed Torch
- Fiskars Stand-Up Weeder, Ergo-Weeder and Big Grip Weeder
- Weasel Weedpopper Step and Twist by Garden Weasel
- A.D.I.O.S. post emergent weed control
- Safer Brand weed controls and killers
- Avenger Organics Weed Killer
How Retailers Can Lead the Charge for Green Living
Beyond providing recycled, sustainable and eco-friendly products, retailers can also lead the charge for green living in the form of carbon emission reduction. May have already started. After successfully cutting carbon emissions by 20 percent in 2013, Home Depot set a new goal to hit a 30- to 35-percent emissions reduction by 2020. Walmart has also recently announced that the company eliminated 20 million metric tons of GHC emissions from its global supply chain, the equivalent of removing more than 5.9 million cars from our roads for a year.
Big-box stores are making large strides in responsible and green retailing. These goals may seem lofty or unattainable for smaller retailers, but there are many steps independent retailers can make to impact carbon emissions reduction as well as make a good impression on customers who, according to a 2015 Nielsen study, prefer companies with a reputation for environmental stewardship.
Retailers who want to join their customers in going green can start with these four simple practices:
Stock items with reduced packaging. With smaller packaging, more products can ship at once, reducing the energy required to transport the items in addition to the amount of energy and materials required to produce the packaging.
Use sustainably sourced or recycled products. Look for paper or wood products with the Forestry Stewardship Council trademark that requires manufacturers to meet international standards for responsible forest management. Also, recycled or sustainably sourced paper reduces landfill use and carbon emissions.
Make sure your building is as energy efficient as possible. Turn off unused lights, computers, and heating to reduce wasted energy and save money. Switch out desktop computers and CRT screens with laptops and LCD monitors. Use Energy Star rated appliances and LED lighting.
Use renewable energy. If the option exists in your area, choose to have a percentage of electricity come from renewable energy sources such as a wind farm. If not, consider adding solar power panels or natural gas generators to your building to further reduce your store’s carbon footprint. Take advantage of tax breaks and incentives for the use of renewable energy sources.