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Going Carbon Neutral at Sao Paulo Fashion Week
Sarah Rich, 29 Jan 07
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I'm just about to leave Sao Paulo after four packed days at Fashion Week. I had a chance today to take the "carbon quiz" which appears on computer screens placed throughout the show venue, and to talk with two representatives from The Green Initiative, the non-profit responsible for bringing environmental education to Fashion Week, and for calculating and offsetting the event's emissions.

The quiz asks for the following measurements: my household electric usage, my household gas usage, the type and amount of fuel I use in my car per month (biodiesel wasn't an option on the quiz, so I checked "alcohol"), the number of miles I drive per month, and how many miles I fly per semester. According to their formula, I need to plant 10 trees to offset my emissions (which covers me for approx. 37 years at this rate), and I use around 3 tons of carbon per year. The representative was careful to tell me, though, that the quiz's answers are specific to the Brazilian region and that the measurements and offsets would likely be different if calculated according to a North American context.

But this is actually what's really neat about The Green Initiative. To be cliché, they are definitely thinking globally and acting locally. Their organization is chiefly concerned with sustainable development in the "global South." Their lengthy overview of our 21st century environmental problems concludes with emphasis on finding ways for Brazilians to be responsible as they continue to aspire to the kind of living standards those in developing countries enjoy. It's a realistic assessment of the challenge and conflict inherent in achieving worldwide sustainability, recognizing that a precedent has been set wherein a horrendously wasteful, excessive way of life is the ideal, and that instead of trying to change people's aspirations, we need to provide alternative means for getting there.

Their lengthy overview of the problems is counterbalanced with an even more extensive "solutions" page, which primarily defines methods for countering greenhouse gas emissions. Theirs, obviously, involves planting trees. They are particularly concerned with riparian conservation, and are concentrating their restoration/sequestration work on the Brazilian coast, where much native vegetation has been decimated. On the site, they also offer a downloadable guide to native Brazilian tree species for aspiring seed and sapling planters.

The Green Initiative's approach at Fashion Week has in my opinion been excellent, as far as public outreach goes. They set up user-friendly computer stations and made themselves visible without being invasive. Their presence sparked curiosity and they reported to me that the response from attendees was extremely positive. The picture here shows a giant screen at the entrance to the venue which has been displaying an increasing number (in green-lit digits) over the course of the event, which represents the number of trees they will plant when this is all over. As of an hour ago it was 3,874. I hope they have a lot of energetic helpers...

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