Get Together, Go Green
December 12, 2008 9:04 AM
These days, not a weekend passes without some sort of “fest.” You can find anything from regional film, music and food festivals to the year-round Lebowski fests for those with a devotion to one particular movie. In San Francisco, the green movement has been steadily permeating everyday life, starting with the prevalence of compact fluorescent light bulbs and reusable shopping bags and expanding to encompass hybrid taxis and Muni buses. Green lifestyles are full of endless options, permutations and movements within movements, such as those built around sustainability and slow food. Still, despite the forward-minded efforts of the proponents of everything green, there is an apparent need for better consumer knowledge about the products and services that exist in this new realm of eco-commercialism.
Global Exchange and Co-op America, two non-profit organizations based in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. respectively, have been putting on the annual Green Festival in a handful of American cities since 2002. From November 14 through 16, San Francisco’s green community came together once again as organic foodies, environmentally-conscious fashion designers and sustainable land developers converged to share their latest developments and learn from one another. For the civilians, the festival offered a way to experience the scope of greenness and discover the easiest ways to incorporate it into their own lifestyles. Beyond the environment, Green Festival included speakers such as Dr. Cornel West, a famous progressive activist, as well as exhibits by human rights groups and even a yoga lesson on Saturday afternoon.
“We don’t think of them as companion causes,” says Zakiya Harris, the San Francisco regional director of Green Festival, which is also held in Washington, D.C., Denver, Seattle and Chicago. “Mind, body, spirit—it’s all connected.”
Harris’s sentiment was palpable at Green Festival. Several halls housed endless booths with everything from organic chocolate and fair trade coffee to sustainable interior design and renewable energy companies. It seems that everyone has jumped on the green wagon, including Clorox bleach, which just introduced its Green Works line of products. However, Clorox got the veto from Harris when they asked to participate in Green Festival. Just because companies introduce a “green” line of products, Harris says, doesn’t make them a green company. “Greenwashing is using deceptive marketing and PR regarding practices,” says Vicki Kreha, describing the recent marketing blitz by companies as environmentally unfriendly as Wal-Mart attempting to capitalize on Americans’ growing awareness of issues such as global warming and dependence on fossil fuels.
This phenomenon is disquieting to members of the environmentally aware community. Many have adopted the new label of “sustainability” in response to the prevalence of “green.” Though Zakiya Harris and the Green Festival fully support this move, they keep the seven-year-old Green Festival title in order to appeal to the masses. “People who are tired of ‘green’ are more educated on the issue,” says Harris. “But ‘sustainability’ doesn’t connect. Using ‘green’ is easy to understand for the average person.”
Despite turning away hundreds of thousands of potential exhibitors who didn’t meet their standards, Green Festival still managed to display an impressive array of environmentally friendly companies. Jane Hillhouse of Colorful Coffins began her movement for green burial ten years ago in Great Britain. “I thought, ‘I want to be buried in a plain pine box, decorated with my favorite things,’” says Hillhouse. Today she sells caskets made of woven bamboo or willow leaves that will fully biodegrade in a year, allowing the buried to return to the soil and complete the circle of life.
One booth was covered in disposable silverware, plates, cups, take-out containers—all of the plastic and Styrofoam things that we know are either non-recyclable or non-biodegradable and horrible for the environment. But... surprise! All of the one-use products are completely “biocompostable” -- the utensils are made of cornstarch and the plates and cups are made of bagasse, the sugar cane fiber left over after the juice is extracted. The products are sold in bulk by World Centric, an eco-friendly company that has figured out a way to combine our necessity for disposable products with our knowledge that there’s only so much landfill space out there. “It’s a great way to green up your picnic,” says Alexa Adams, an account manager for World Centric.
The major focus of Green Festival is how to make conscious decisions every day, in everything we consume, that will contribute to a healthier planet. A few things are simple. Sweatshops, oil companies, plastic water bottles: bad. Organic, fair trade, biodegradable: good. But it’s not all cut-and-dry. “How do we evaluate industries without a physical product, like the internet?” asks Vicki Kreha. One company may have an answer.
The Mozilla Foundation, creator of the Firefox web browser, is committed to making the internet a more green place to be. Admittedly, Firefox’s millions of users require many energy-sucking computer servers and a paper-consuming office to get the work done, but Mozilla is working hard to offset its impact and to create an internet company that is not only superior in quality but ethical as well. “It’s a global community of people working to make the Internet better for everyone,” says Mary Colvig. “The Web is a critical platform for bringing people together and enabling them to organize and communicate to make change.”
Even eBay is trying to clean up its act, with the launch of World of Good, a fixed-price eBay affiliate where customers can buy products that go beyond bearing labels such as fair trade and organic. Each product is certified with Trustology™ and a goodprint™, two processes that verify the sellers and producers of products as well as the environmental and human impact of each product. Co-founder Siddharth Sanghvi developed the store and brought it to eBay, who welcomed him with open arms. “They’re really committed,” says Sanghvi. “They’ve made us feel like partners instead of employees.”
Much like a county fair, Green Festival’s immense amount of exhibitors and food vendors created the inevitable, dirty word of the green movement—waste. However, 98 percent of that waste was diverted with help from Seven-Star Inc., a green event planner. “We’re trying to convert to a green economy,” says Zakiya Harris. Green Festival proves that all of the tools are there—it’s only a matter of convincing the masses.
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