If you buy health food, show concern for the environment, and meditate or do yoga, you're not just green, granola, or purple—you're also a member of the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) demographic. Though we've been breathing deeply and eating organic for decades, it was only in 1996 that marketing guru Paul Ray identified us as a growing, influential group, initially labeling us "cultural creatives" or "conscious consumers." Now they say we're 36 million strong; we're men and women of all ages who spend around $230 billion a year on everything related to health, the environment, personal growth, alternative spirituality, social justice, and sustainable living.
Like the label or not, LOHAS people, or Lohasians, are putting monetary pressure on corporations to do the right thing: care for the planet, use less toxic ingredients, and create just social policy. Though I've been a card-carrying Lohasian for ages, this year I attended my first LOHAS conference, in its 10th year, catching speakers who included Steve Case, Paul Ray, and other "green" players. I heard again and again that the LOHAS movement has reached a "tipping point" (and so, apparently has the term "tipping point"). More people than ever are buying hybrid cars, eating organic, and consulting natural medicine. Yet planetary devastation continues unabated; wars rage. As Ray said, "Things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster." At the LOHAS conference in Santa Monica (April 26-28, 2006) I found out what's going on behind the scenes of those striving for—and marketing—"better and better" on your behalf. Turns out there's a lot of passion, action, and a Joan Baez-led drum circle. My journal is below.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
1:30 pm: A Pre-Conference Stroll: Ashes & Snow in the Sand
Almost immediately I hit the vast beach and head toward the Santa Monica pier. I see a huge warehouse ahead. Only here for a few months, it holds Gregory Colbert's Ashes & Snow; exhibit, a "nomadic" show of spiritual, sepia-toned photos of children praying, resting, and reading with elephants, eagles, and other wild animals. The gallery itself is made of recycled, sustainable materials—metal shipping containers and hardy cardboard. Inside the dim, cavernous, temple-like space, vaulted ceilings peak in seemingly sacred triangles; photos are suspended over river rocks. Ancient-sounding music murmurs.
The photos are intimate, moving, a little heavy-handed, but mostly sad: In each sentient animal eye I see mourning. As if they know what's happening to the Earth, and, unable to watch TV or overeat or shop, they're bearing the knowledge of this sadness unbuffered, as we can't, or won't. I buy a string bracelet at the gift store, whose proceeds (like everything at the exhibit) go to Flying Elephants, an organization that protects nature through art.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
9:00 am: Gearing Up
There's some fierce business card swapping next to organic bouquets, then we fill the incongruous conference ballroom, huge crystal chandeliers above, elaborate wall-to-wall carpet below, and chairs for all 600 attendees. It feels odd, like we should all be outside, barefoot, comfy.
James Rouse, naturopathic Lohasian
9:20 am: "Soft Buddha Eyes"
James Rouse, a naturopath and TV host bounds onto the stage, a blur of white teeth, blue eyes, spiky blondish hair, and tele-riffic enthusiasm.
He thanks us for going on a "trust walk" this morning. He tells us about "people who live heart first," and his desire for "but reduction" (meaning not his tush, but excuses in life). I'm in deep eye-roll mode. But then we stand. We're going to "try a Buddhist practice to help you put your guard down," he says. "Find someone across the table," he instructs, "and look at them for about 10 or 15 seconds with what the Buddhists call soft eyes—kind, compassionate, non-judging." I smile at a woman with long brown hair and big matching eyes. Nervous laughter breaks across the room. "That's a very different beginning to a business meeting, isn't it?"
I feel newly present, joyful, arrived.
*(That's marketing-ese for haute hippies, the Birkenstock set, metrospirituals, treehuggers, urban yogis, trustafarians, and the eco-chic—a.k.a. modern-day bohemians)