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The LOHAS Lifestyle and Marketplace Behavior

Establishing Valid and Reliable Measurements
  • Sooyeon ChoiEmail author
  • Richard A. Feinberg
Living reference work entry

Abstract

Increasing interest in sustainable consumption/development suggests the need to define sustainable lifestyles. People have become concerned about personal and environmental health, social ethics, and morality, and they have incorporated these values into their daily practices. LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) is an empirically defined lifestyle that reflects this shift. Saying that LOHAS exists does not make it “real” or important to research areas or useful to marketing. Although the LOHAS lifestyle defines a life in pursuit of balance between the individual, the environment, and the society, there is very little work empirically validating its measurement or its relationship to actual behaviors. This chapter will provide an overview of the extant research on the LOHAS lifestyle. We will discuss the market place behaviors of the LOHAS consumer and our development of a reliable and valid measurement tool for LOHAS.

Keywords

LOHAS Health and sustainability Psychometric scale development Consumer behavior 

Introduction

The importance of sustainability is simply etched by the belief that the global future depends on it. Pick a topic…environment, energy, health, well-being , and clean water, and one could easily create an argument, a compelling argument, that sustainability is the broad overarching issue. Sustainability (sustainable development) is about how people consume and dispose of products and how people make choices to innovate and develop yet protect the environment and others lives. But sustainability is not simply about the environment; it is broader in that it is about illuminating how what we do affects health and well-being. Adams (2006) presented a well-developed history and definition of the intersecting world nature of sustainability and the challenge we face in becoming more sustainable in all areas of economic, social, and environmental health, and that discussion will guide this chapter.

Let’s start with a definition of sorts. The issue of sustainability is not that we stop progressing or innovating but how do we live in harmony with our world protecting it from damage and guaranteeing that it will all survive (Liu and Diamond 2005). Why…because it is believed that societies collapse due to adoption of unsustainable practices. Whatever the issues under consideration, our world cannot endure if humans continue to use up, pollute, eat, and behave in unhealthy ways. It starts and ends by human action and inaction. A simple Google search (May 2017) using the search terms sustainability resulted in 184,000,000 web sites (3,870,000 scholarly works searching Google scholar). The search for “importance of sustainability turned up 96,800,000 web sites (2,710,000 scholarly books and papers). We use the Google search to highlight the fact that this is not a minor issue or an inconvenience…it is attracting scholarly and popular attention.

Over the last several decades, the increase of affluence and the growth of middle classes in countries have increased interest in quality of life (e.g., Senik 2014). High levels of economic welfare and material abundance have led people to take more of a philosophical and conscious approach in their lives (e.g., Mostafa 2013). In 13 years of survey research on Americans’ values and lifestyles, Ray and Anderson (2000) revealed a newly emerging subculture differentiated from the traditionalists and modernists in the values of authenticity, harmony with surroundings, social conscience, and ecological and human welfare (Cortese 2003; Hoffman and Haigh 2010). These values are seen by some as an important new trend in our everyday life (e.g., Veenhoven 2010). The emergence of LOHAS reflects this.

LOHAS Is Born in the Natural Marketing Institute

The terminology that defined this emerging trend was called LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI-http://www.nmisolutions.com). Originally, it was an attempt to integrate, describe, and define a cultural value and a growing body of research and thinking. It was an attempt to define a rapid growth of global trends (N.A 2016). LOHAS designates a group of people who make behavioral decisions based on the concern beyond their immediate environment (e.g., Cortese 2003). LOHASians (as we will call them) strive to live healthier and more sustainable lifestyles, and they consider how what they do and buy impact on the environment, the community, and the planet (e.g., Emerich 2011). The NMI believes that the LOHAS lifestyle represents nearly 25% of the US population and describes more than a $200-billion-dollar marketplace (Urh 2015).

While the NMI indicated that there is a clearly identifiable LOHAS segment, researchers from other countries have put an effort into investigating the existence of LOHAS in their own cultures (e.g., Cowan and Kinley 2014). Considerable writing and research have attempted to make LOHAS a brand (e.g., Wan and Toppinen 2016). However, research findings are quite mixed. Studies originating from the NMI have found behavioral patterns of the general US consumers to differ from those they identify as LOHASian. The LOHAS individuals, compared to the general population, were more inclined to purchase eco-friendly products such as organic foods or beverage. They tended to consider environmental impact of consumer products before they purchased (Natural Marketing Institute 2008). It is important to point out that this is NMI published and sponsored not independent and peer reviewed as we come to expect social research to be. They do not empirically validate the tool used to measure LOHAS. In addition, the NMI has a vested interest (profit) in becoming the place for LOHAS research. This may be why there are many independent studies that show that LOHAS differences do not reflect behavior differences.

Saying that LOHAS exists does not make it “real” or important to research areas or useful to marketing. Although appealing and instantly understandable when reading the background literature of the NMI, very little research has been completed on the nature and scope of this lifestyle. Indeed, it would be surprising if social researchers not connected to the NMI but interested in sustainability and environmental issues have ever heard of it. Indeed, a look at titles in the upcoming American Marketing Association annual conference (2017) does not have a single paper with LOHAS in the title although sustainability and environmental issues have a large research presence.

While not well known in the USA, LOHAS has attracted a loyal following in South Korea. To be specific, there is research defining consumption behaviors associated with or caused by the LOHAS lifestyle and the level of the LOHAS consciousness . Another stream of research is concerned with identifying and studying the antecedents which affect the LOHAS-oriented behaviors or the LOHAS consciousness level. And finally, there is a track of research that investigates the strategic application of LOHAS in various industries. Although these studies have triggered an interest in LOHAS, it has limitations in leading LOHAS theory advancement in the scholarly arena for several reasons. First, much of this literature is published in South Korean journals and is not attainable to US researchers to read and replicate. Second, most of the research papers stay at the level of investigating managerial implications for expanding the LOHAS market or assessing the LOHAS industry . In these studies, there is little consensus about the LOHAS measurement instrument. Each study used different scales, and no agreement or consensus exists with defining an operational definition of the LOHAS lifestyle.

Conceptualizing LOHAS

LOHAS is an acronym standing for Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability. LOHAS is based on the two words of health and sustainability . Although the health and sustainability are the core concepts of LOHAS, the lack of agreement on more operational definitions of the concept has led to a wide variety of conceptions and perceptions for each word making it impossible to compare research (Emerich 2000). But given a superficial understanding of the lifestyle, we can infer certain things that could ultimately be empirically tested.

LOHAS defines people who have interests in increasing personal and their family’s health and well-being (Ray and Anderson 2000). They should purchase a wide variety of natural and organic products that enhance physical fitness and its ranges from the foods to the personal care products (e.g., Emerich 2000). When purchasing healthy foods , they should trust the information recommended by similarly LOHAS-centric friends or media (Yeh and Chen 2011). In terms of disease prevention and health management , LOHAS consumers would be attracted to integrative healthcare approaches that address human being as a balanced entity of mind, body, and spirit (Emerich 2011). They should be interested in seeking out information and services relevant to the alternative and complementary medical care such as Ayurveda and acupuncture (e.g., Kettemann and Marko 2012).

The second theme in the discussion of the LOHAS marketplace pertains to the personal development (Cohen 2010). Developing self in LOHAS refers to achieving full potential as human being. It is concerned with getting in touch with deeper self and cultivating one’s spirituality, which is a recovery of one’s true nature (e.g., Mróz and Sadowska 2015). LOHAS personal development is fulfilled by understanding one’s connectedness with all life and matters and by healing the self in the process of recognizing the unity of mind, body, and spirit (Nieminen-Sundell 2011). The LOHAS-oriented person should be interested in spiritual products or practices such as meditation, yoga, Qigong, aromatherapy, or macrobiotics as a means of the self-fulfillment (French and Rogers 2010). It is estimated that the spiritual market forms an eighteen percentage of the LOHAS market in the USA (Westerlund and Rajala 2006).

The third theme in the literature includes the philosophical and psychological values inherent in the LOHAS population. The values embrace an optimistic future view , experience of new challenges , desire for peace, and relationship orientation (e.g., Mróz and Sadowska 2015). Yeh and Chen (2011) believe and found that the LOHAS-oriented people are open-minded and have a positive view on things and it enables them to deal with problems in a positive way. Liu and Wu (2014) also argued that they tend to be more optimistic for their future and are against pessimism and cynicism.

The fourth constant factor in the literature is ecological orientation. The environmental consciousness is the manifest characteristic that defines the LOHAS consumer . LOHAS orientation should lead to concern about the impact of a product on the environment. In other words, they should consider the manner in which a product is made, sold, consumed, and disposed and if the process is done without harm or depletion to the nature (Emerich 2000). According to Korhonen (2012), the LOHAS segment should value environmental value more than the functional, emotional, or instrumental value of product packaging such as recyclability and biodegradability. Zentner (2016) argued that the people committed to LOHAS tend to live vegetarians or vegans because the food products need less energy and less harmful by-products than meat or fish during the production process. LOHAS consumers should prefer the local food products or organic foods because of its mild farming techniques to the environment in addition to its health benefit (Essoussi and Zahaf 2008). Furthermore, Cowan and Kinley (2014) suggest that the LOHAS mindset would facilitate purchase intention toward the environmentally friendly apparel.

The LOHAS consumers should be less price sensitive and more value sensitive (French and Rogers 2006). In other words, they are not deterred by higher prices for sustainable products or services in order to translate their sustainable belief into their purchasing choices. Wan and Toppinen (2016) found a positive impact of LOHAS orientation on the willingness to pay a price premium for children’s furniture made by sustainable materials. The NMI estimates that LOHAS consumers are willing to pay up to 20% more for the products made in a sustainable way (Natural Marketing Institute 2008).

Lastly, discussions of LOHAS market practices should include social responsibility issues (Bamossy and Englis 2010). A strong sense of social justice should impel the LOHAS consumer to choose products from the companies which share the values that they endorse (Mróz and Sadowska 2015). Corporate social responsibility (CSR) that pertains to human rights, workplace equality, and solicitude for the minority such as children and women should attract and influence the LOHAS consumer (Urh 2015). LOHAS-oriented people should be inclined to purchase Fair Trade certified products which indicate, for example, farmers receive higher than product price for their commodities, producers from economically less-developed countries can earn financial benefit, no child labor is exploited in the production process, or no discrimination was made in wages between men and women (e.g., Heim 2011). LOHAS consumers might also dominate boycotts of businesses which they perceive to be socially irresponsible (Natural Marketing Institute 2008). It is noteworthy that LOHASians should reward ethical actions (purchasing ethical products over alternatives) as well as punish unethical behaviors (refusing to choose unethical products), given that the two types of social actions are theoretically distinct concepts in that many who reject the products/services deemed to harm society do not necessarily choose ethical products over alternatives (Carrigan and Attalla 2001).

There are three issues that need reflection:
  • First, just what is the nature of the National Marketing Institute that first proclaimed that LOHAS exists and is measurable using “our” (our words) LOHAS scale . Although the NMI site is clearly correct in suggesting the importance of a generalized sustainable lifestyle, the NMI is clearly a business and has a vested interest in “selling” the LOHAS concept and anything they do that comes of it. NMI is a marketing company selling their proprietary services to commercial concerns…not that there is anything wrong with that to quote Seinfeld. Yet without peer-reviewed scholarly publications into the nature and scope and even the existence of LOHAS, we must hold off proclaiming that LOHAS is to be revered. This does not deny any usefulness of the LOHAS concert for marketing and commercialization or even for anecdotal and heuristic understanding of human social behavior. It just means that it does not completely smell right to us.

  • Second, how is the thing to be measured? Measurement is not a minor annoyance or inconvenience. Science progresses isomorphically with our ability to measure it (whatever it is). As empiricists, we have to measure it to see it; otherwise, we are just guessing. The LOHAS definition is clear, and we should be able to measure it and demonstrate reliability and validity …we should but haven’t. A concept can only be a construct if it can be reliably and validly measured. It is this hurdle that researchers have appeared to skip or ignore. The NMI published a LOHAS measurement scale, but no research has been found that demonstrates that the scale is a reliable and valid measure of the construct. This is important for doing research in one culture but is particularly important for comparing research cross-culturally and internationally. One scale even if reliable and valid in one culture may not be reliable and valid in a second culture. For example, a reliable and valid scale in country a is done. The scale has been validated and shown acceptable reliability for country a. The findings are valid for country a (pending replication and extension). Now one takes the scale to country b and assumes it is reliable and valid for that country/culture . If the answer is yes, then comparison between the two countries is easy and meaningful. But what if the scale is not reliable or not valid in country b. Assuming that it is and doing the research leads to misleading findings...the findings in country b are completely wrong since the sale on which it is based is not reliable and valid for that country. So cross-cultural reliability and validation of measuring instruments are critical for LOHAS-type research. Although the LOHAS lifestyle defines a life in pursuit of balance between the individual, the environment, and the society, there is very little work empirically validating its measurement or its relationship to actual behaviors. We are currently doing research to develop a reliable and valid measurement tool for LOHAS. The development of a tool to measure differences in LOHAS allows then an examination of how differences in LOHAS cause and explain differences in behaviors. This really is the whole ballgame and must be done before findings can be used to direct marketing campaigns and gurus can proclaim this and that about how people are and are changing.

  • Third, until LOHAS research is done independent of the sponsorship and publishing arm of the NMI, it will always be suspect. This does not mean that the research from NMI is fabricated. We just do not know. This highlights the importance and usefulness of independent replication.

LOHAS: The Gospel or Science of Sustainability

The problem with LOHAS is that it has not attracted the type of scholarly attention needed to move LOHAS from a friendly concept to an important scientific scholarly issue.

In a recent national workshop, the National Academies of Science brought together the leading scientists in the field of sustainability. Four needs to fill the gap in the research of what they viewed as an important scientific and applied field were agreed upon (Brose et al. 2016. p 53):
  1. 1.

    Sustainability indicators

     
  2. 2.

    Models for supporting decisions

     
  3. 3.

    Frameworks for environmental decision-making

     
  4. 4.

    Efforts needed to address the range of needs and opportunities related to sustainability

     

Here is the important issue for the point of this chapter. In their discussions and review of the research in this area, not once was LOHAS mentioned. Not once was LOHAS cited. We expected that given the supposed importance of LOHAS, there had to be a scientist somewhere who talked about it as a scholarly principle.

In her recent book, The Gospel of Sustainability, Monica Emerich (2011) quotes from an article published (preface pg 1) in the LOHAS Journal, “Businesses the world over are leveraging LOHAS as a way to understand the consumption preferences of a growing number of people who care deeply about personal, community, and planetary health and well-being , and are willing to spend accordingly” (The LOHAS Journal is now extinct which should tell us something). The problem is that the hyperbole is outpacing any research support for these notions. Until research catches up, LOHAS is just a word not a scientific or marketing construct. Emerich introduces LOHAS as a movement, as a marketplace, as a new demographic, as social justice , and as a new business opportunity. Emerich also believes that LOHAS received its greatest “validation” (her words not ours when it was mentioned in a front page article in the New York Times (Cortese 2003)), not the social scientific validation that really is needed.

Emerich is not hiding her belief that LOHAS is more than an empirical construct worthy of study. The tone of her book is that we have gone way beyond having to do traditional social science and marketing research straight to LOHAS is a movement, almost a religion (our interpretation but given the title of her book The Gospel of Sustainability: Media, Market, and LOHAS a reasonable statement).

Emerich’s book is a well-written document outlining what LOHAS is claimed to be (and its history). It is not an integrative and descriptive work on research and theory development. Let us just review her methods and data in this book (from the preface) – participant observation, work as a journalist, textual analysis (an analysis of “hundreds” of web sites, radio programs, promotional and marketing materials, etc. (no claim for any representativeness)), interviews (12 upper management from leading LOHAS media (most if not all extinct now), and personal experience. We would simply say that if we attempted to publish a scholarly paper based on this methodology, it would not get off the editors desk…rejected. We wouldn’t even get it published or presented at the leading LOHAS Journal and conferences because they are both out of business.

There can be no real question that consumers are at least thinking about (if not acting on) the quest for health, wellness , and environmental sustainability. The issue with the LOHAS religion is that the fact that these consumers exist doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a scale that measures a lifestyle that could be called LOHAS in a reliable manner and that differences in scaled scores on that scale reflect predictable differences in some behavior that is part of a defined LOHAS lifestyle (validity). The fact that researchers call something LOHAS and there is a commercial research organization (NMI) who say there is LOHAS and that there are other marketing organizations that subscribe to that organization’s research (e.g., Nielsen) does not mean there is LOHAS.

The motivation and need to understand consumers’ increasing motivation for health and sustainable lives are not the same thing as saying that LOHAS exists. There is a need for a general scale to measure a consumer’s motivation for a health and sustainable lifestyle. It is needed for research purposes as well as marketing purposes. It is clearly needed if we want something called LOHAS to be an integral part of scholarly discussions.

Although the consumer interested in and motivated by and to buy health wellness and sustainability products and services is growing, until such point that ALL consumers have the same levels of motivation and interest means that consumer segmentation is crucial to understanding marketing strategies for health, wellness, and sustainability products and services. Effective and valid segmentation is not only important for marketing and selling goods and services in this area but for understanding how to educate consumers to promote health and well-being and environmental sustainability. This does not mean that there is LOHAS only that it is a consumer issue.

From the research perspective, there is absolutely no good way to evaluate the hundreds (probably thousands) of studies in health and wellness and environmental sustainability unless we have a common measuring instrument. The growth of science is really measured by the growth of the ability to measure what is being studied. LOHAS needs a simple and effective reliable and valid measurement tool .

The problem we are addressing is highlighted by a recent joint NMI /Nielsen research publication called “Health & Wellness in America August 2014” Neilson Perishables Group, Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) (2014) (available for download at http://tinyurl.com/y7cseb8f). The newer reports cost from 5000 to 10,000 dollars. For evaluative reasons, let’s look at what they say in the report as an illustration of the issues we see in the current state of LOHAS research.

From page 21 of the report cited above:

NMI Health and Wellness Segmentation: A segmentation model that divides the entire U.S. adult population into one of five mutually exclusive segments. Developed in 2001, the model derived through a combination of advanced statistics including exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, convergent cluster analysis, and discriminant functions, among other techniques. It has been validated across multiple industries and global geographies. A tool (algorithm) is used to segment data sets, with an accuracy of 80+ percent.

Oh my...who would not be impressed with this methodology? Who would not think that these guys and gals got their act together? Who would not think that this has got to be the bible of segmentation and illuminating how consumers think, feel, and buy in this area of study and marketing? Yet there the outcome cannot be accepted until the inputs can be assessed. Was their measurement valid and reliable for the purposes of the study? If we are buying a report for $5000 and then making million dollar marketing decisions, we really want to know if the measuring tool works in the traditional psychometric sense. All good scales have that characteristic.

LOHAS Around the World

The research seems to indicate that the LOHAS phenomenon is more relevant in the USA than Germany or the US LOHAS consumers are more likely to be active in engaging in the pro-environmental behavior . However, this comparison may be invalid unless the researchers used an identical measuring tool for LOHAS in the two countries. Assuming the two different scales for each research, one presumable reason for an inconsistency in pro-environmental behavior might be attributed to the different psychometrics of the measurement scales (Auger and Devinney 2007). If each scale measured different aspects of LOHAS, a meaning of LOHAS in one country would be different from that of another country. Furthermore, if the US scale reflected behavior questions more as opposed to attitudes, beliefs, and intentions, predictability for the consumers’ actual engagement in pro-environmental behavior would be greater than the German scale (Carrigan and Attalla 2001).

Despite recognition that a standard global scale that thoroughly measures LOHAS is necessary, efforts have been scarce to work on developing a valid and reliable scale. Although several measures are devised for the purpose of individual research across a broad range of science, including social, behavioral, and life science contexts, each of them is for one’s domestic uses, and they are discipline specific (e.g., Wan et al. 2015). In addition, the scales in the research have not undergone rigorous development procedure nor extensive validation test because a scale development for a hypothetical construct was considered secondary to the substantive scientific issues. In result, the scales differ in terms of operationalization of LOHAS and methods of measurement across the studies. In sum, the currently available scales are insufficient to thoroughly measure and empirically estimate the LOHAS as a cultural phenomenon.

Absence of an accurate and valid measurement scale raises several issues. First, it depreciates the legitimacy of research as a scientific work. Although imperfect measure other than no measure might provide some pieces of information, they may be flawed or fragmented (DeVellis 2003). Indeed, problems with reliability and validity of the measures make it difficult to interpret the results and temper the conclusions accordingly (Schriesheim et al. 1993). In this sense, without a valid instrument, mass production of the substantive findings on LOHAS phenomenon may not be warranted.

Second, it hampers theoretical progress. In order for a theory to be verified and generalized, it is important for findings to be replicated by a number of research (Tsang and Kwan 1999). However, diverse incomplete scales make it difficult to have a strong convergent conclusion (Schmidt et al. 1985). Despite the LOHAS theory being introduced about a decade ago, it is still nascent in terms of a replication. Although some general laws are founded in the sustainable behavioral context such as LOHAS-minded people’s likelihood to purchase environmentally friendly products, little is known about the general tendency in health behaviors . A sound scale that accurately explains LOHAS lifestyle will generate reliable findings, and it will increase replicability of the findings by the following research. In sum, it will further strengthen the advance of the LOHAS theory (Schriesheim et al. 1993). A sound and global LOHAS scale is imperative particularly to the consumer scientists in that it provides a new lens for understanding the behaviors of the rapidly growing consumer segment in a postmodern era.

The LOHAS Marketplace

The economic value of the market for goods and services for the lifestyle that revolves around a healthy and environmental sustainable lifestyle is estimated to be 300 billion + (Urh 2015). The fact that the personality used to describe this lifestyle is called LOHAS does not diminish or increase the value of the goods and services that define that lifestyle nor does it prove that the lifestyle exists. There is well-meaning and serious-sounding literature that goes into detail about the types of products and services in this category. This literature also talks passionately about these consumers and people. These literature talks of these things in terms that make even a skeptic believe that the evidence exists to “prove” that these consumers exist. The literature (e.g., Urh 2015) even claims that “23% of the population (about 50 million adults) in the United States, and 29% of the population in Japan (about 37 million)” (Urh 2015, p.172) are in this group. Urh continues, “The speed with which this group is growing is astounding…Countries around the world are showing interest – Japan, Taiwan, China, Australia, New Zealand, India, Germany, Holland, England, France, Canada, and more – all want to integrate LOHAS principles into their own culture” (Urh 2015).

The problem is that there is no clear segment we can call LOHAS (Urh 2015). Even though a proponent of the existence of LOHAS as an important consumer group, Urh then goes on to dismiss her own conclusion by saying, “although they are not a homogeneous group of consumers, LOHAS share some certain characteristics, for example, they mainly live in urban areas. They do not only think about their own benefits but also about the effects their lifestyles have on other people and the environment. Therefore, for example, LOHAS tend to buy organic products , consider ethical standards, fair trade and sustainability” (Heim 2011; Urh 2015). Simple research studies like this are not by themselves reliable and valid endorsements of the LOHAS paradigm. There is no clear evidence (scientifically validated) for the existence of a LOHAS marketplace or a LOHAS segment.

LOHAS as a Market Segment

This sharply etches the main issues of this chapter. LOHAS is a term that supposedly represents a reliable and valid segment of the consumer public. Nothing is wrong with the hypothesis. But is there evidence for this?
  1. 1.

    As an acronym to describe a set of products and services, we have no argument, and having acronyms is useful but in our opinion until now only as a heuristic.

     
  2. 2.

    However, the act of naming this group and defining it within the context of a worldwide tsunami of beliefs has created a set of disciples who believe that there is some truth to this lifestyle rather than something less. Is LOHAS a fact or a myth? That is our question. The LOHASIANS believe that this is a movement. The LOHASIANS have created a cult of LOHAS (The Gospel of Sustainability Emerich 2011). They seem to believe that LOHAS exists, can be measured, is predictive of behavior and beliefs, and maybe will become a political movement (so we will have Democrats, Republicans, and now LOHASians ).

     
  3. 3.
    From a purely marketing perspective, there is nothing wrong with defining a consumer segment as LOHASIAN if…and herein lies the main argument of the chapter:
    1. (a)

      The segment can be clearly identified. It is homogeneous and unique from other groups.

       
    2. (b)

      The segment is measurable in reliable and valid ways.

       
    3. (c)

      The segment is accessible.

       
    4. (d)

      The segment size is worthwhile.

       
     

LOHAS can be clearly identified by common concerns and beliefs, but these concerns and beliefs are not unique to males or females, old or young, and rich or poor. The beliefs and values cut across demographic and socioeconomic groups. The naming of this potential segment has outpaced the research necessary to measure it in reliable and valid ways. Indeed, the speed with which the commercial entity (NMI) has pushed the existence of LOHAS has probably deterred more academic basic research into the existence of a true segment that they call LOHAS…such is the danger of a cult. The potential segment is accessible by specific media attracting people with these beliefs. The segment size has yet to be determined. There is certainly a LARGE market for goods and services that could interest the LOHASIAN, but that does not mean there is a specific segment of consumers who purchase sustainable and healthy products that makes them unique.

LOHAS as a Lifestyle Segment

LOHAS would be considered a psychographic lifestyle segment. This type of segment is defined by research on attitudes, beliefs, interests, and opinions that through sophisticated statistical treatment (factor analysis, discriminant analysis, multivariate analysis) of representative, populations show segments or groups of people sharing common lifestyle factors. Focus groups, depth interviews, ethnography, and other qualitative techniques cannot be reliable and validity used to define and prove the existence of lifestyles…although these are probably the most common techniques used. In addition, spewing 500 questions and getting an online group of consumers to respond doesn’t count either since online surveys are notoriously unreliable and have little validity. The LOHAS lifestyle is built on a platform of totally unreliable data that lack validity. In order to keep everyone involved in getting Bill Clinton elected President in 1992 focused and on message, James Carville (lead strategist for the campaign) coined the phrase “The economy , stupid.” The phrase and its variation “It’s the economy, stupid” became the tag line for all that was important to communicate to potential votes in the election. For our purposes we would say It’s the reliability, stupid, show us the reliability. And, it’s the validity, stupid, show us the validity. Reliability and validity are what is missing in most LOHAS research and need to be clarified if we are to generalize LOHAS across applications and cultures.

This does not mean we believe that LOHAS as a lifestyle segment does not exist. It may. But at this point in 2017, the work that describes and supposedly “proves” its existence is weak at best and fraudulent at worst.

The method of data collection is critical. The questions asked are critical. The questionnaire length is critical. The spokesperson for the study is critical. Are the researchers’ skills for some organization that has a vested interest in the existence of LOHAS or does the researcher have an independent record of research that demonstrates neutrality and methodological and statistical knowledge and sophistication. LOHAS is built on a platform of all the wrong sides of these questions.

There is tremendous upside to proper segmentation:
  1. (a)

    Advertising messages can be more effective than chance.

     
  2. (b)

    Guidelines for branding flow directly from segmentation.

     
  3. (c)

    Position of brands and products are easily designed to differentiate them from competition.

     
  4. (d)

    Segments can be blueprints for new products and services.

     

LOHAS lifestyle is nicely laid out in a paper by Barbara Urh (2015). This paper is unfortunately published in a low-level relatively unknown journal of almost no “citation index” (arguably a measure of research quality). There is no primary data collected. The definition is the definition according to Conscious Media in Broomfield (www.consciousmedia.com) who organizes an annual LOHAS forum event and publishes the LOHAS Journal (that does not exist anymore – postponed publication in 2008). As a humorous aside, if one goes to the Google and searches for LOHAS Journal, this is the article that comes up (six steps to design original bowling team short (May 2017)). It is difficult to take LOHAS as a theoretical and/or empirical paradigm in marketing seriously. This does not mean that it is impossible to do so…only that the influence of LOHAS has far exceeded its reliable and valid support.

So…there is no shortage of potential predictive validity measures for researchers studying LOHAS. However, the use of unreliable measurement scales…the use of poorly defined constructs, the use of anecdotal reports, the use of vague survey data, and the dependence on a company with a vested interest in promulgating the existence of LOHAS cause great concern to us. The fact that there are consumers who show interest in sustainable development by behaving in a certain way or purchasing specific products and services does not mean that there is a LOHAS lifestyle. Calling some assumed relationship LOHAS does not make it so.

Measuring LOHAS

The argument we are advancing is that the existence of a LOHAS lifestyle, the existence of LOHAS people/consumers, and related behaviors, attitudes, and choices do not rest with a simple declaration by a commercial marketing firm but with empirical research. The empirical research rests with a valid and reliable measurement tool . By analogy, if I look at you and say you look like you have temperature above normal and then do research, looking at symptoms and consequences cannot be the evidence of how body temperature affects behavior and health. The ability of a physician to use body temperature as a measurement of health rests with the ability to reliably measure such temperature and be able to have independent physicians measure it and get the same temperature temporally.

The NMI proclaimed that LOHAS was measured by 12 questions:
  1. 1.

    I protect the environment.

     
  2. 2.

    My purchase decisions are based on its effect on the world.

     
  3. 3.

    I choose environmentally friendly products .

     
  4. 4.

    I prefer products manufactured in sustainable ways.

     
  5. 5.

    When possible, I choose sustainable-source products.

     
  6. 6.

    I prefer products made of recycled materials.

     
  7. 7.

    I am socially conscious.

     
  8. 8.

    I teach the benefits of environmentally friendly products to family or friends.

     
  9. 9.

    I am willing to pay an additional 20% for sustainably manufactured products.

     
  10. 10.

    I choose renewable energy sources.

     
  11. 11.

    I prefer sustainable agriculture practices.

     
  12. 12.

    I buy products from companies with values like my own.

     

While these questions have face validity, the NMI or independent researchers have not asked two important questions. Do these 12 questions really measure what we could call LOHAS (reliability and validity )? Are these 12 questions all there is to really measure LOHAS (e.g., spirituality, health)? Do these 12 questions work in the USA, South Korea, or any other country where researchers are interested in a LOHAS lifestyle?

The purpose of this section is to review LOHAS scales in the previous literature in terms of the conceptual requirements and reliability/validity. Most of the LOHAS research thus far has been done for the market research using questionable scales and techniques. For example, Cowan and Kinley (2014) measured a level of LOHAS using general questions pertaining to the environmental consciousness , environmental knowledge, and pro-environmental attitude but how can these findings be compared to a study by Häyrinen et al. (2016) that used a different set of questions still calling it LOHAS. Furthermore, Fu et al. (2012) measured LOHAS from a different perspective, which regards the LOHAS as an optimal mental state achieved from the satisfaction in a wide range of life domains, but they did not include sustainability issues when conceptualizing the LOHAS. Koszewska (2011) limited the ethics of LOHAS to the purchase behavior which is a choice of products from the companies showing socially responsible practices, with little to measure other domains.

It seems that few previous research view LOHAS from the perspective described in the NMI view of LOHAS one which embraces the issues of health, environmental sustainability, and ethics. In other words, almost none has developed a research instrument that matches the broad perspective that reflects general descriptions of the LOHAS lifestyle.

Proposed Plans for Research

The previous sections outline the problems we faced as we tried to describe and integrate and guide research in LOHAS. Here is what we propose for research in this area.

First, develop the LOHAS scale that is reliable and valid for consumers.

Using the original 12 items used by the NMI add items suggested by the literature by never tested and then using well-developed and tested standards of psychometric scale development and testing determine the best reliable and valid set of questions to use in research pertaining to LOHAS.

Second, following scale development in the USA, look at cross-cultural reliability and validity using standard methods of language translation.

It may be hard for a researcher to use the current 42 Korean consumer-oriented questions as universal LOHAS scale items unless the researcher proves the equivalency of Korean and American consumers. The researcher will develop comprehensive LOHAS questions that capture features of both Korean and American consumers. LOHAS measuring items for American consumers will be developed, and it will be combined with the current 42 Korean items.

Third, extend and redefine LOHAS to include health dimensions .

Health and wellness are related but are not synonymous. Wellness is commonly conceptualized as a self-evaluation on whether the healthfulness is satisfied in multiple domains. The wellness is an abstract and a higher order concept that integrates several areas of health (Schuster et al. 2004). Therefore, it seems more appropriate to conceptualize health in LOHAS as health “behaviors” that form healthy lifestyles. Health behavior questions will be included by adopting the scales from previous research.

Fourth, determine whether the spiritual health is a separate dimension or if it is associated with the emotional or mental health.

The spirituality includes a belief in the existence of a higher power and interconnectedness among the spheres of life such as a self, the environment, as well as a sense of meaning and purpose of life (Adams et al. 2000). In some research, the spiritual wellness is regarded as an independent area that affects overall quality of life in harmony with other areas of wellness (Mackey 2000).

Fifth, determine if LOHAS is even a broader concept.

It seems more appropriate to define LOHAS more comprehensively to encompass healthy, pro-environmental, and ethical consumption . The social justice dimension will be incorporated in LOHAS, and a corresponding scale will be added to the current scale.

Sixth, conduct validity tests defined by Churchill (1979) looking at the relationship between LOHAS level and predicted behaviors.

It may need to see whether those who put high values on health and sustainability would carry these values through into relevant behaviors such as particular consumption choices.

LOHAS Measurement and Culture

Culture determines systematic differences in behavior (Tse et al. 1988). The values and emphases in the culture shape people’s perceptions, dispositions, and behaviors (Markus and Kitayama 1991). Hofstede (1980) specifically argued that the culture is not only reflected in the persistent preference for affairs over others but also in the interpretations and responses to environmental cues. Culture can be operationalized and defined at various levels (Steenkamp 2001). For example, if culture is defined at a national level in cultural anthropology, it means unique practices, norms, and beliefs shared by an ethnic or national group (Edgar and Sedgwick 2005). In contrast, a micro- or subculture is defined by cultural homogeneity within the country. The subculture develops its own unique contents and patterns of propensity as well as containing the main patterns of national culture (Steenkamp 2001).

There are three reasons why LOHAS research needs to be defined within the context of national culture .
  • First, LOHAS can be considered to be a type of subculture. It appears to be differentiated from other national subcultures in emphasizing health, well-being , and environmental sustainability. However, given that LOHAS forms within the national borders, LOHAS is expected to share some national cultural values.

  • Second, LOHAS is understood as a personal lifestyle at the individual level as an integrated system of attitudes, opinions, interests, and behaviors. Given that cultural factors affect the formation of personal value systems, it can be assumed that the LOHAS lifestyle is indirectly influenced by culture. In this respect, it may provide useful insights to include culture as an external variable in the nomological network of LOHASian’s consumption behavior. Let’s suppose that we are studying on the effect of personal value on the LOHAS consumer’s purchase behavior across nations. If differences are found in the strength or the direction between the constructs in the hypothesized nomological network across countries, we may be able to explain the underlying systematic differences in LOHAS consumption behavior in terms of the moderate role of the national culture .

  • Third, the validity of the LOHAS as a theory and an empirical phenomenon has been developed in the USA but has not been examined in other cultural settings although LOHAS is defined as a global market segment . The generalizability of the LOHAS has not been studied. An important issue in extending the LOHAS theory to other countries is whether the instrument designed to measure LOHAS is invariant across different cultures or nations. If evidence supporting measurement invariance is found, it demonstrates that the LOHAS phenomenon has universal appeal. If the nature and scope of LOHAS differ between cultures and countries, the usefulness and scope of LOHAS must be questioned. The cross-cultural comparison approach to the LOHAS measurement instrument is crucial to validate the argument that LOHAS is a standardized global market segment. In addition, examining the similarities and differences in the LOHAS phenomenon across cultures could be a basis for developing an international marketing strategy for the global LOHAS market .

Cross-References

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Consumer SciencePurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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