In my search for what’s fresh in the world of healthy, natural living, this past year I hosted events, met industry leaders, participated in seminars, and traveled in Europe for 17 days. As a recap of these adventures, I invite you to read about  highlights from the sites I visited, sound bites heard, and lessons learned.

Sound Bites

The Sustainable Cosmetics Summit,  an international gathering of senior executives focused on sustainability, fair trade, and ecology in the natural and organic cosmetics industry, was held in New York City from March 24-26, 2010. This three-day event organized by Organic Monitor from the UK was a powerhouse of leading natural brands with a common vision and a commitment to raise the bar on practices within the beauty industry. It could have been called Sustainable Innovation Cosmetics Summit with its open exchange of ideas and dialog on “How do we do this better?” whether the challenges is production, packaging or sourcing.

Lessons Learned

  • Team up with your suppliers to be co-developers/partners to develop new solutions. Challenge the current way of doing things. As one presenter commented, “you are only as green as your suppliers.” As a manufacturer, you ensure your credibility if you are involved in the process.

  • Look to nature for solutions. One example cited is the use of natural preservatives.

  • Marketers watch for sustainability washing, the next fallout of green washing. Sustainability is not a buzz word, but a full company commitment.
  • As marketers, we need to be aware of the common mindset that natural products do not work. Prove that they do.

Expo East logo

The Natural Products Expo East trade show came to Boston in mid-October, and while it is a much smaller show that its companion Expo West show in March, it still had all the makings of a great trade show ? up and coming brands, lots of networking, and inspiring speakers. With a smaller show floor (38% fewer exhibit than Expo West) and fewer attendees, larger companies downsized their multiple booths and towering displays in favor of simple booths. This created a more equal playing field to discover the newer, smaller companies just launching, the types of companies that many attendees seek out to discover what’s new.

Expo East trade show floor

The new product trends I spotted: rise in coconut-based products, raw foods, tastier and new gluten-free options, and an increase in certified organic and fair trade food and personal care products. The Natural Products Expo shows are a feast for tasting foods, and thankfully some exhibitors opted for eco-friendly sampling spoons such as the smiley EcoTaster from EcoTensil and Bambu’s bamboo spork to reduce plastic waste.

The BostonEco community and tweetup event series I started last year continued to grow with two well-attended events. In April, BostonEco celebrated the 40th anniversary of Earth Day bringing together a diverse group of individuals committed to healthy, sustainable living. Attendees included leaders from the food scene (Slow Food Boston, Vegetarian Times), green entrepreneurs (all puns intended), and eco-fashionistas (Ecolissa). We enjoyed an evening of organic food, relaxed networking, and interesting conversations about what’s happening in the green scene locally and globally.

To celebrate BostonEco’s one year anniversary in July, I hosted a video launch party with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and held a screening of The Story of Cosmetics. In addition, there was a showcase of locally based natural cosmetic/body care companies and leading natural companies, as well as BostonEco sponsor’s Whole Foods Market to showcase brands that are beautiful inside and out. BostInnovation  did a nice recap of the event.

BostonEco natural beauty video launch party 

Secrets Learned: Backed by my belief that we are not only what we eat, but also what we use on our body, I put my knowledge to an ultimate beauty test, and after 15+ years I stopped coloring hair because even natural permanent hair colors contain the chemical p-Phenylenediamine (PPD). It’s been an interesting journey to acquaint myself with my new, natural look while discovering what a rarity non-colored hair is in a world where 75% of women use hair dyes.

The Sites

Europe is often cited for its higher level of commitment to natural products and eco-friendly lifestyles, and in September I hopped over the big pond to check out the European green scene. As a consumer of plant based, biodynamic products I decided to take a closer look at the source and process from garden to bottle so I took a tour of the biodynamic gardens at Weleda, a global natural skin care company, in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. From the insect hotel and working greenhouse with an amazing array of plants for wellness and healing, it was impressive to see Weleda’s commitment to purity and nature.Weleda site map

To find out what’s happening in the “greenest city of Germany” with sustainable living, environmental consciousness initiatives, and green design, I visited Vauban and Sonnenschiff (sun ship) solar city in Freiburg, Germany.

It was an eye-opener with its bold colors, creative architecture, and urban design. To learn more about how this contemporary living model and thriving community addresses the issue of low-impact transportation, alternative energy, and embraces community space, check out this Inhabitat article.

I loved the European bike scene with its large community of year-round bike commuters and sea of bike racks at the train stops, and even enclosed bike lockers for more expensive bikes. Unfortunately, in cities there is a still a fight to share the road and accidents do happen.

Moving onto the food scene, I checked out Alnatura, a German natural food store chain, and discovered lots of new brands including nicely designed private label brands. And while vacationing in Lugano, Switzerland, I visited the Migros supermarket and sampled fair trade and Swiss made natural products. Surrounded by majestic nature and healthy, natural foods, it was a delight for all senses.

Secrets Learned: Europe has an abundance of glass packaging and most everyone carries a reusable tote, yet there is plenty of plastic everywhere — from the popular plastic water bottles to bulk grains sold in plastic packages at natural food stores. Reduce, reuse, and recycle is a work-in-progress.

Here’s to new healthy, natural living ideas and conversations in 2011. What’s on your calendar for the coming year? New adventures? Where will you be in 2011?

Wishing everyone a very healthy, Happy New Year.