Businesses Cash In on the Greening of Australia

IN Australia, 1989 will go down as the year business discovered the ``green'' consumer. More and more companies are assessing their product lines, factory processes, and marketing to become as environmentally ``friendly'' as possible.

``There's been something of a crisis or climax of consumer awareness. Companies which weren't looking at this issue are now realizing they absolutely have to,'' says Maria Trefely-Deutch, corporate operations manager for IBM Australia.

Within six months, IBM will have phased out use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) at a personal-computer factory in Victoria. Its Sydney headquarters plans to switch to recycled paper and begin an energy conservation program. Ms. Trefely-Deutch is also looking for environmental projects for IBM to fund as part of its community-relations program.

The Safeway supermarket chain has stopped selling aerosols made with CFCs and set up a recycling system for plastic shopping bags. Unbleached paper products and mercury-free batteries are showing up on store shelves. Some stores are switching to photodegradable plastic shopping bags.

Coles New World, another major chain, just opened a pilot grocery store. The only vegetables the store sells are organically grown. The store will not use CFC coolants for its air conditioning and refrigeration.

``If you're not environmentally responsible, you'll either be prosecuted or you'll lose market share,'' says a spokesman for Colgate Palmolive, a manufacturer which capitalized on being one of the first to market aerosol deodorants without CFCs in Australia.

Two of Australia's largest paper manufacturers have introduced high-quality recycled writing paper. Three hundred office buildings in Melbourne have signed up to supply some of the waste paper.

``Within the next six months, recycled paper could account for 10 percent of our office sales,'' says Sue Braddy of Australian Paper Manufacturers Ltd.

Opinion polls show that after the economy, environmental issues concern voters most. In July, Prime Minister Bob Hawke came out with a much-publicized environmental policy statement, mostly dealing with soil conservation. After strong lobbying by environmental groups earlier this year, the government refused approval to build a $777 million paper pulp mill using a chlorine-bleaching process.

Increasingly, there are calls for a national referendum to give the federal government more power over environmental regulation.

Oleg Morozow, manager of environmental planning at Santos Ltd., an oil exploration company, says if industry wants to avoid criticism and have fair environmental regulations, it must take a more active role in setting tougher standards.

``You're looking for that evasive thing - you're looking for balance,'' Mr. Morozow says. ``It's the role of industry, and industry groups, to sit down and look at the end products they produce and postulate ethically acceptable, environmentally responsible legislation.''

Some companies firmly based on these ethical precepts are riding the green consumer wave to greater profits.

The Body Shop, a British-based company selling ``natural'' products for skin and hair care, has seen spectacular growth. Begun in 1976, it now has 24 boutiques in Australia, with more planned. Worldwide, there are 414 stores. The Body Shop's products are not tested on animals. Products are biodegradable, made from plants, and packaging is kept to a minimum.

Body Shoppers can bring their own containers in for refills or leave them at the store for recycling.

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