Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jenny Goes To Washington

A joint project by Global Exchange and Coop America, Green Festivals are currently the largest sustainability events in the world. I had to see for myself. So a couple of Sundays ago, I hopped on a bus and two hours later landed in DC. The Chinatown bus qualified as public transportation, so Greenfest took five dollars off their already reasonable $15 entry fee.

Co-op America is a great resource for finding sustainable businesses to work with, so I knew the DC Convention Center would be packed with cool green entrepreneurs. What I was not prepared for was the sheer number of them. Part trade-show, part conference, there were food and product samples galore, world class speakers (Amy Goodman, Van Jones) and perhaps most impressive of all, an exciting sense of community, diversity and possibility.

I met the lovely Starre Vartan, the Eco Chick of blog and book fame, at a table for E Magazine. I met the authors of How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate, a fantastic book full of scientific facts and experiments geared for middle-school kids. I met the CEO of Honest Tea, Barack Obama's soft drink of choice. I met drummers, fashion designers, green party planners, activists, intellectuals and school teachers. And at a table hosted by the Goodwill, I met the DC Goodwill Fashionista, who helped me make this cool bag out of a second-hand t-shirt!

The Green Festival website says that through a variety of sustainable measures they "walk their green talk", so I was curious to see how it all worked on the ground. Were there ideas we could borrow for our production?

First, the waste management seemed extremely well-coordinated and definitely in line with the research we did on this blog a few months ago. According to the GF site, only 3% of their waste ends up in Landfills. Resource Recovery Stations were set up nearly every fifteen feet, so you were never at a loss when it was time to throw out your trash. Each station had a separate receptacle for Compost/Organics, Mixed Paper, Recycling and finally Landfill. And just to ensure that your trash ended up in the right place, each station was manned by a volunteer equipped with gloves to do a little sorting.

When I went to recycle my free bottle of Honest Tea, I was asked to remove the cap, something we have become accustomed to doing in the Future Weather office; however, the cap then went into the Landfill receptacle, whereas at our office, we've been collecting them to bring to Recycling Services. There was also no option for disposing of recyclable plastic film, which I'm sure found it's way onto the tradeshow floor. But halfway through the day, boxes began to appear at each Station for people to dispose of the shiny film that wrapped the ubiquitous energy bars samples. I guess that had been bothering someone else, too. (When are "green" companies going to realize that sustainability doesn't just end with products and sourcing?) But I didn't know they could be recycled. When I find out where, I'll report back.

The other major innovation Green Festival made was to mandate that every vendor and food service provider use biodegradable utensils. We blogged about this as well, so I was curious to actually test out these new materials. Of all the products that we covered, bagasse seemed to be the most environmentally friendly, so I was a little disappointed to see that it didn't hold up very well to hot food.
before & after

The innovations Green Festival implemented are changes that not only lessen the environmental impact of the event (we're talking tens of thousands of people, products and samples), but also teach the attendees about new sustainable practices. For instance, changing "trash" to "resource recovery" is a quick and hands-on way to get people to rethink the waste stream. To learn more about Green Festival's extensive waste management efforts, visit this page.

This November, Green Festivals were held in Washington DC and San Francisco. They'll pick up again this spring in Seattle, Denver, and Chicago. If you live nearby, I definitely recommend!