LOHAS, Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, refers to the broad category of businesses that serve the socially, environmentally and health conscious consumer. The LOHAS market segment includes health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice. LOHAS companies are known for practicing responsible capitalism, with a focus on environmentally and economically sustainable business practices.
Leslie Berliant recently spoke to Ted Ning, the Executive Director of the LOHAS conference, the LOHAS Journal, and LOHAS.com. To get an idea of LOHAS on a global scale, we checked in with Toshi Ide, a self-proclaimed LOHAS evangelist and consumer who has written two books on LOHAS and recently founded the LOHAS Business Alliance. Ide lives in Japan, but spent 14 years in San Francisco developing music software before returning to Japan, where he currently combines his passion for music, business, and LOHAS.
Marni Fogelson-Teel: How did you go from being an electronic engineer and musician into a LOHAS expert? Also, how does your passion for music currently fit in with your professional pursuits?
Toshi Ide: Even before I came across the term “LOHAS”, I was a typical “cultural creative” person living in the Bay Area. So I resonated with the concept of LOHAS very much when I heard about it. About five years ago I had a chance to attend the LOHAS 7 conference. At that time, I was involved with a media and contents company that promoted Kitaro and other New Age artists. So my standpoint of LOHAS is not an "expert" but a typical LOHAS person, even though I have published LOHAS books and am an evangelist of LOHAS.
MFT: How has your lifestyle changed since LOHAS has become such an integral part of your life?
TI: LOHAS for me has been a total building-up process of my life itself for the last 20 years or so. I started exercising, drank Perrier, and ate organic food and supplements after I moved to the West Coast. Then I started practicing yoga about 10 years ago. At the same time, I went into a self-development phase by reading a lot of books about spirituality, counter culture, and ecology. "The Celestine Prophecy" became my bible. I also signed up for memberships of Sierra Club and Greenpeace and started to invest in an SRI fund. This all happened to me before I heard about the LOHAS keyword.
MFT: LOHAS has amazing name recognition and understanding in Japan. To what do you owe its widespread popularity?
TI: My LOHAS book, published in 2005, was the first literary work to explain LOHAS beside magazines. A few months before that, a popular green magazine called "SOTOKOTO" featured LOHAS and that was one of the triggers for widespread popularity.
I published another book in 2006 and have been evangelizing LOHAS through seminars, lectures, and through media appearances.
MFT: Do you see LOHAS in Japan as a passing trend or do you believe people are trying to incorporate it into their daily lives for the foreseeable future?
TI: Good question. In the Japanese market, buzzwords are mainly driven by media and marketing and PR. But in the case of LOHAS, it is interesting. I would say LOHAS in Japan went through two phases. One was a media-driven phase in 2005. A lot of ads featured LOHAS in the head copy or the name of a product or service. For example, there was the LOHAS condo and LOHAS food. A big trading firm even registered LOHAS as a trademark and announced it was going to charge a license fee for the use of the word “LOHAS”. They reversed that decision after getting a lot of flack from customers.
Then LOHAS shifted into the second phase. Real LOHAS people who connected with the concept of LOHAS wrote about their own experiences with LOHAS life through blogs and SNS. I would say LOHAS evolved from being a trendy eye-catching term to being associated with real content and substance.
In the end, I would say LOHAS is a rare keyword that has survived the trendy movements in Japan. I think the Internet contributed a great amount of citizen-oriented movement behind the scenes. Now the word recognition of LOHAS among consumers is more than 70% in Japan.
MFT: What are some of the biggest distinctions between LOHAS in the US and LOHAS in Japan?
TI: One distinction is the successful penetration among consumers in Japan. As a keyword, I would say that LOHAS in Japan is close to "green" or "organic" in the US. In the US, LOHAS still represents a consumer segment. LOHAS is spreading as a keyword to Asian countries such as Taiwan, Korea, and China. The Japanese movement is influencing these countries through media including magazines, and people are buying in to the concept.
MFT: You lived in San Francisco, which is known for being one of the most progressive cities in the United States in numerous ways, including environmental and sustainability efforts. Can you compare your experience of living in San Francisco with living in a Japanese city?
TI: Very good question. When I lived in San Francisco, I felt LOHAS was a mainstream lifestyle because many people I worked and met with were somewhat LOHAS-oriented people. In Japan, I heard a lot of "excuses" when I explained about LOHAS, especially among men around my age. However, I feel women ages 20-40 are adopting the LOHAS concept rapidly and bringing it into their own lifestyle.
MFT: One of your more recent efforts has been establishing the LOHAS Business Alliance. Can you give some background on the organization and its mission?
TI: LOHAS Business Alliance (LBA) focuses on the business side of LOHAS. Since I have business experience as an entrepreneur in software and IT fields, I wanted to develop something to stimulate business activities for LOHAS in Japan. It is a platform for entrepreneurs, business owners, professionals, and investors to exchange information, communicate and be educated. Recently LBA announced an international alliance with the LOHAS forum in the US, and we would like to do more collaborations between Japan and the US. It would be great if LOHAS in Japan and US could share the best practices from both the consumer side and a business approach.
MFT: What are the most important values and ideals of LOHAS that you would like to instill in your average modern global consumer?
TI: I think the beauty of LOHAS is to let people realize the connection between the self and environment. Through exploring healthy lifestyles, people purchase organic products. By knowing the story behind organic production, people learn how it is eventually connected to sustainability. In this sense, I think LOHAS is a silent but very effective citizen-driven activity that falls under conscious capitalism. People vote for business through purchasing LOHAS products and services. For example, if people start to consider becoming carbon neutral by offsetting CO2, it would be very influential to strategies to fight global warming. Currently about a quarter of the population of advanced countries is LOHAS, and the social and political changes will be greatly accelerated if more than half of population start to choose LOHAS in the next decade.