I spent a fascinating morning with the founding team of green product e-tailer Runka.com and I’m happy to see how well this eco-friendly product category is developing. For years now, those of us on the “coasts” often fell into the groupthink or bubble mentality that drove the flawed thinking that products and services that got traction in markets like the San Francisco Bay Area or New York would be embraced by the rest of the country. People with an interest in eco-friendly products and practices were reasonably concerned that these were “niche” areas for investment. Outside the “dark greens” – those that might grow their own vegetables, compost their waste, and eschew most things one might consider typical of an American lifestyle – there were not that many customer groups that could reliably support many green-oriented products. This was particularly the case when most anything bearing the “organic” or “eco-friendly” label came with a 30-50% price premium over more mainstream, branded products.
Any reasonably talented farmer or craftsman can create an eco-friendly, organic, or fully biodegradable foodstuff or knicknack of some sort of another, but the reach of that product would almost always end up being fairly local and the market for it miniscule. The challenge has long been for more mainstream manufacturers to provide everyday products — batteries, fabric softener, etc — that were both environmentally sensitive and price competitive to branded products commonly and traditionally available for consumers.
Happily, I think we might be getting there. While garden variety ‘green-ish’ household goods like low-watt light bulbs and eco-friendly detergents have been around for some time, we are now seeing some exciting new product categories come along that offer a ‘green alternative’ for most any household good or clothing item imaginable. Even product categories that would appear to be by their very nature ecologically hostile — auto care products and supplies, for example — are now offering greener, cleaner and more sustainable options.
If Runka.com is successful it will be in large part because the “crunchy, hacky-sack” connotations eco-friendly products have long battled are slowly being shed. There is also the matter of the greater reliability of green products. Growing up, I remember trying household cleaners, shampoos and other products that were ostensibly environmentally friendlier. Often times, they were terrible. They smelled bad and couldn’t clean worth a damn. I yearned for my Clorox wipes and my Prell. Fortunately, product efficacy has come a long way just as attitudes have shifted. To be sure, Runka’s site needs further refinements and the company could benefit from a tighter product mix, but if there is room for a “green” Amazon.com, Runka could be as ideally suited as anyone to be that kind of dominant market player.
Dare I say it, the green movement is growing up. This May 1st will be the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Not quite an overnight success, but a major accomplishment nonetheless.