Chicago’s Green Fest

Last weekend I was back home. In a city that purports, according to our mayor, to become the nation’s “greenest” city.

Indeed, Chicago has done a bit to become green – but there is still a long way to go. The city’s “Green Festival” – put on by a range of organizers, both governmental and non-, and organized by Global Exchange and Co-op America, showcased thousands of new eco-friendly businesses, products, and initiatives. Guest speakers from across the country, and even internationally, were there to spread the good word.  I got to say hi to the folks at Angelic Organics (Farmer John) and at the Center for Neighborhood Technology, who set me up with a car-sharing membership. Thousands of people flocked to the event, and the media coverage was pretty good.
But I still left Green Fest with some angst.  More often than not,  free samples of new protein powders and organic juices were given out in little single-use plastic cups; the message for many there seemed to be “buy green” rather than “think green” or “live green.”  The tables with really cool initiatives, which weren’t giving away free crap, unfortunately seemed to be getting very little response.  As I stepped back into being an observer there, I watched as time and again attendees spent between 30 and 60 seconds at each booth, getting a free sample and perhaps picking up a brochure, and then moving on.  The amount of waste produced was immense, and although it was awesome that some of the organic stuff was going into someone’s compost bucket and that there were recycling bins there, my reaction is this: Wow, do we have a long way yet to go.
How much did event spark new connections within the environmental and fair trade world? Did it create buzz about environmental initiatives, beyond greenwashing in Chicago and just more green consumerism? I tend to think that on the balance, it did. It was especially important to see so many fair-trade businesses represented there, along side the organic ones… progress is being made on bringing the worlds of social justice and environmentalism closer together in the US, bit-by-bit. 
Maybe there is some instinctual drive in all of us for seeking free stuff when it’s offered.  But let’s remember that with all of the options out there, what we should be capitalizing on with these events is making good contacts, expanding our knowledge base, and strengthening community.  And that takes a lot more time and effort than picking up a free sample and a brochure and then moving on.