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From the bar to the bedroom, eco-friendly just got more fun

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Natalie Bovis-Nelson, a.k.a The Liquid Muse, is currently on tour teaching a class called "Sustainable Sips," which shows participants how to make a variety of organic drinks. Stops include Boston, New York and Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of TheLiquidMuse.com)

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Natalie Bovis-Nelson, a.k.a. The Liquid Muse, teaches a class on creating organic drinks. Pictured here is the "Sustainable Sips Margarita Martini," made with: 1.5 oz. 4 Copas organic tequila; 1 oz. organic lime juice; 1.5 oz. organic grapefruit juice; 1 slice jalapeno; 1 tsp 4 Copas agave nectar and coarse sea salt. (Courtesy of TheLiquidMuse.com)

Michael Pace is trying to raise environmental awareness--one cocktail at a time.

Pace, general manager of San Francisco's W Hotel, last month introduced “Ecolicious,” an eco-friendly cocktail hour at the hotel's XYZ Bar, offering some biodynamic wines and organic beers as well as organic cocktails.

“We wanted to go beyond just using energy saving light bulbs and recycling,” said Pace. “Ecolicious is a way to get our guests involved and show them that being environmentally conscious can be fun and easy to do.”

Whether patrons order the bar’s most popular drink, the $10 “Eco-Elderflower,” made with organic vodka, prosecco, citrus juice and biodynamic elderflower syrup, or any other menu item, 10 percent of the money goes to the environmental organization Save the Bay.

“It’s been a huge hit,” said Pace. “The best way to get exposed to sustainability is to taste it.”

For a growing number of people, “eco-friendly” is more than just a buzzword—it’s the way they get buzzed. From wine, beer and cocktails, to tobacco and sex toys, organic options among sinful pleasures have started gaining popularity as people try to find more ways to incorporate green living into their everyday lives.

Organic beer sales nearly tripled to $25 million in 2006, up from $9 million in 2003, according to the Organic Trade Association's 2007 Manufacturer's Survey. During the same time period, organic wine sales almost doubled to $90 million, up from $48 million.

Several smoke shops also report an increase in the number of customers asking for organic tobacco and cigarettes over the past two years.

“We've seen growing interest in organic tobacco,” said Mark Smith, the vice-president of communications for Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, a subsidiary of Reynolds American, Inc., which sells certified-organic tobacco. “In the last year we have had to double our manufacturing and production because of demand.”

Smith doesn’t argue that the organic tobacco is any less dangerous than commonly produced tobacco. But, he says, organic tobacco has better flavor because it is pesticide-free, and he argues that smoking organic tobacco is a way to help the environment and small farmers.

“Our factories use windmill power,” said Smith. “And we have been committed to sustainable farming and the environment since day one.”

For those whose sin of choice is alcohol, organic drinks have become popular since 2006 in trendsetting bars around the country, including Counter in New York, the Funky Buddha Lounge in Chicago and Elixir in San Francisco. These drinks are made not only with organic fruit and fruit juices, herbs and sweeteners, but with organic spirits as well.

“The organic cocktail trend is something that we are seeing nationally and that is only going to grow,” said Laiko Bahrs, a consultant with Andrew Freeman and Co., a San Francisco-based hotel and restaurant consulting firm. “Because there is more availability of organic fruits, vegetables, mixers and spirits, people want it and they want to integrate the way they drink, the way they have fun, with living organically.”

Mark Wrin, 38, is an organic cocktail convert.

Wrin, a Boston resident and member of Conscious Consuming, an environmentally conscious consumer advocacy group, took a class called “Sustainable Sips.” Taught by Natalie Bovis-Nelson, a mixologist and blogger who runs the site TheLiquidMuse.com, the class showed him how to make cocktails that use ingredients like organic figs, organic pear nectar and acai berry liquor.

“I’m always looking for ways to be more environmentally conscious,” said Wrin. “I’m not convinced that there is a direct taste difference between the organic and non-organic premium liquors, but it’s worth it if I can do something that helps my fellow human beings.”

Square One Vodka and 4 Copas Tequila, both certified green, are among the top-selling organic liquors.

Chris Melendez, president of 4 Copas, said the company is working toward becoming completely sustainable and has seen a 600 percent increase in sales over the last year. But Melendez, like some other organic proprietors, is pitching more than just the environment with his product.

“I don’t recommend it, but you can drink a lot of this and still feel good the next day,” he said.

But nutritionists and experts caution against the myth that organic spirits don't cause hangovers.

“It’s a little cleaner and better quality,” said Bovis-Nelson. “But anytime there’s alcohol and anytime you overindulge, you’re still going to feel the consequences the next day.”

The growing interest in the environment has encouraged companies to create eco-friendly products, particularly since people saw Al Gore's documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” said Phil Lembert, an expert on consumer behavior and trends.

“Organics are still a tiny percentage of the mainstream market,” he said. “There is no question that sustainability is important to consumers and we will continue to see more and more products becoming green.”

Jonas Sapienza can’t remember whether the wine he was drinking was organic when he came up with the concept for Earth Erotics two years ago.

The company, based in Portland, Ore., is the first green-certified online sex toy boutique, he said, selling products that do not contain the chemicals found in mainstream sex toys: phthalates, which soften plastic, and polyvinyl chlorate (PVC), which gives the toys their rubber jelly-like texture.

“This is sort of the last eco-frontier,” said Sapienza, 31. “People are starting to incorporate green into everything, so why not into their sex lives?”

Sarah, who declined to give her last name, learned about eco-friendly sex toys two months ago, she said, after a friend took the Portland resident to a party thrown by Earth Erotics.

“It was like a light bulb going on,” she said. “I knew about the organic food issue, but I didn’t think about organic versus non-organic when it came to sex toys.”

Sarah, 28, said she replaced all of her non-organic sex toys for the more eco-friendly organic ones.

“Once I learned about this, I told all my girlfriends,” she said. “It’s another way of being conscious of what you put in your body and how you affect the environment.”

New York-based Babeland introduced the “Eco-Sexy Kit,” which includes a rechargeable latex-free, phthalate-free vibrator, soy massage candle, organic lube and condoms.

“The Eco-Sexy Kit has received more attention from the customers and the media than any other product we've released,” said Pamela Doan, a spokeswoman for Babeland, who said the company is introducing the “Eco-Delight Kit” as a follow-up because of demand.

As with organic food, the downside to organic and eco-friendly sinful pleasures is that they can add up to a thinning pocketbook. Organic cigarettes are about $2 more per pack than regular cigarettes; organic liquors are priced similarly to ultra-premium liquors; and eco-friendly sex toys can cost up to $20 more than their regular counterparts.

“Companies have to charge a premium because ingredients are of higher quality and more expensive to produce,” said Bahrs. “But people are willing to spend the money for a first-rate product.”

Many say the cost is worth it.

“Being environmentally conscious is not about wearing Birkenstocks and not shaving your legs,” laughed Bovis-Nelson. “We’re learning that you can still live a stylish, fun life in sustainable way.”

E-mail: sr2575@columbia.edu