Residential developments that emphasise the health and lifestyle benefits of sustainability could stand out in an increasingly competitive market, property experts say.

Colliers International site sales director Josh Coburn says while some New Zealand developers and architects have used green building practices, the lifestyle aspects of sustainability are often overlooked.

"There's a real opportunity here for developers to tap into the so-called 'Lohas' market, which is among the fastest growing consumer segments in the developed world," he says.

Lohas - which stands for lifestyles of health and sustainability - has been described by the New York Times as "the biggest market you have never heard of".

Advertisement

Its annual value is $190 billion a year in the United States, $32b in Australia and an estimated $18b in New Zealand.

"Lohas consumers aren't radical environmentalists, whose passion to save the planet is typically tied up with anti-consumerist ideology," explains Coburn. "This group is defined by their values and attitudes, which are individualistic and market-driven, with a strong emphasis on conscious consumerism, personal health and wellbeing, and notably are not thrifty in their spending habits.

"Lohas consumers combine their ecological activism with concern about the environment's impact on their own health - thus their support for sustainable products and clean tech, such as recycled building materials and solar power, is as much about personal wellbeing as the health of the planet.

"Their dedication to healthy outdoor lifestyles also influences how and where they choose to live. Easy access to the likes of beaches, parks, native bush and mountain bike trails is often more important than traditional green concerns, such as proximity to sustainable public transport."

Coburn, whose sites sales team specialises in residential development opportunities, says the Lohas market is underdeveloped in Auckland - New Zealand's largest and fastest-growing residential market.

"There's plenty of scope for developers to win over Lohas consumers by embracing sustainable lifestyles more holistically," he says.

"This goes beyond simply incorporating green building principles. Developers need to ensure their products are sustainably and fairly sourced, healthy and, where possible, all-natural."

And the benefit to developers? Local research suggests there's money to be made. In 2007, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise commissioned Moxie Design Strategy and TNS Research to conduct a study on the local market for sustainable products and services.

The study found some 26 per cent of New Zealanders were part of the global Lohas market segment.

"This is significant, as Lohas consumers have money to spend," Coburn says. "The research suggests they skew towards wealthy, well-educated demographics. They are likely to pay a premium - in some cases, up to 20 per cent more - for healthy, sustainable products."

Since this report, the Lohas market has nearly tripled in value in Australia, from some $13b to $32b, according to the Living Lohas report from Mobium Group Research.

This means the New Zealand market is also likely much more lucrative.

Pete Evans, Nation Director of Residential Project Marketing at Colliers International, says developers need to consider where Lohas consumers want to live. "Given their emphasis on health and outdoor lifestyles, Lohas consumer wants to be close to nature and outdoor amenities, which makes greenfield and urban fringe developments much more desirable," he says.

"The Lohas consumer wants to either live permanently in a master-planned community or will have two residences, possibly an apartment in the city fringe, and traverse between lifestyle amenity and tranquil retreat.

"The rise of hybrid and electric vehicles has made it much more sustainable to live farther from the city centre, which has removed the 'green guilt' barrier of living in exurban areas and driving into town.

"With the rise of fast broadband and flexible employment, many more people are also choosing to work from home, which negates the need to commute into town."

Evans says developers need to consider what shared spaces and amenities they offer. "Lohas consumers want to be part of a sustainable community of like-minded people," he says. "Shared organic gardens, green roofs and fruit trees are relatively inexpensive to provide, but can make a big difference to that sense of community."

Developers willing to invest more could offer clean tech such as solar and wind power, battery storage and grey water systems.

What's important is to embrace the philosophy fully, Evans says.

"Lohas consumers are informed and technologically savvy," he says.

"The NZTE-commissioned report noted they are seeking authenticity from the brands they engage with. Traditional marketing approaches won't work; be honest and authentic, and the benefits will follow."