“We need to consciously redesign the entire material basis of our civilization.”
— World Changing: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century
Ever have this happen? You turn on the evening news and hear some tragic story about the environment being destroyed or people getting blown up in a war fought over petroleum, and you wish you could just snap your fingers and have a green economy where all products are produced in harmony with Mother Nature.
That green world may be the future but you can see it in microcosm April 21-22 when the Green Festival comes to Chicago’s McCormick Place.
Co-produced by nonprofit groups, Co-op America and Global Exchange, the Green Festival brings together 350 green economy exhibits, 100 dynamic speakers, workshops, organic vegetarian restaurants, diverse live music and green activities for the kids. Every sector of the green economy will be represented: renewable energy, organic food, green building materials, hemp clothing, water conservation technology, fair trade goods, natural body care products and much more.
The Green Festival is a party with a purpose to jumpstart the local economy. Ever since the first event in 2002, the public response has been growing enthusiastically across the country. Last November, the San Francisco Green Festival attracted 36,000 attendees and the Washington, DC, Green Festival last October drew 24,600 people. The Chicago Green Festival may be even bigger, given the fact that the city government has been extremely supportive and will have an entire pavilion at the event.
Sadhu Johnston, the city’s Commissioner for the Department of the Environment says the Green Festival “…will be a great opportunity to showcase the many different kinds of green products and services available to Chicago residents and further underscore some of the environmental initiatives we’ve already started here.”
As more and more people have realized that our profit-driven industrial activity is destroying Mother Nature’s ability to support human life, the green economy has entered the mainstream. Signs of that mainstreaming are all around us: organic food sales growing at 20 percent per year for more than 10 years, renewable energy getting price competitive with fossil fuels, school systems adopting organic salad bars and getting rid of junk food, hybrid cars outselling the more polluting variety, Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” setting records at the box office and winning an Oscar, mega-corporations like Wal-Mart, GE and BP proclaiming their commitment to green policies, and major business publications (e.g., Business Week, The Economist, Forbes, Fortune ) featuring glowing stories about the Green Economy.
Yet this growing popularity of the green economy brings with it the contradictions of success. As more companies climb on the green bandwagon, some will try to water down standards and spend more on PR than on actual changes in policy.
Last year, General Electric spent lavishly launching Ecomagination, a program to create “innovative technologies that help customers address their environmental and financial needs and help GE grow.” Wal-Mart increasingly has embraced green and has become the largest purchaser of organic cotton. On the one hand this helps to push large amounts of capital investment in a green direction but it also creates the possibility that green will be co-opted and become just another corporate product.
Urban farmer and author Jason Mark warns, “The progressive movement must carefully weigh each act of corporate greening to measure the real impact it will have, and we can’t let up on pressuring companies to do more. But we also should avoid rejecting any act of corporate greening just because it comes from a corporation. Some of them are led by people who really understand that we must act now to prevent disastrous climate chaos in the near future.”
This is where the Green Festivals make an important contribution by linking products with social justice. We want to do more than simply replace toxic products for green products. We are suggesting entirely new business models that honor all life in the process of generating wealth.
A good way to catalyze authentic local green economies would be through a green real estate model that unites and synergizes all of the pieces of the green economy in the same building. The Global Citizen Center (globalcitizencenter.org) was established in San Francisco to purchase a building and unite green enterprises, environmental groups, the S.F. Dept. of the Environment and other organizations wanting to create a launch pad for the green economy in the Bay Area.
We found out that Chicago beat us to the punch when we learned that Baum Realty was setting up the Green Exchange (greenexchange.com) with a 250,000 square foot building that will open in early 2008 with all green tenants. David Baum says the plan for the Green Exchange is “to create a building that will generate jobs in the neighborhood, while expanding the green marketplace and help people make a shift in the kinds of products they buy.” David’s brother, Doug, adds, “We need to prove the depth and breadth of the green marketplace—there are still many people who don’t believe in the strength of the green economy, and we need to show them that this is the economy of the future.”
You can get your own proof of that emerging green economy on display at this year’s Green Festival (www.greenfestivals.org). If you want to get in free by volunteering to help run the show, you can visit the Green Festivals website and sign up. We hope to see you there.
Kevin Danaher is Executive Co-Producer, & Karri Winn is Associate Producer, of the Green Festivals.