Friday, November 28, 2008

San Francisco Green Festival

I have been meaning to share my thoughts on the recent San Francisco Green Festival that happened in the first week of November. I have been to several of the festivals, my first time as a volunteer about 5 years ago. The last few times as a "helper" for my friends over at Blue Lotus Blankets.

As with all festivals that you go to some years are better than other years. And I believe this was true for this festival too. I saw some really great talks from John Adams, Kevin Danaher and Riane Eisler. All three were very powerful and uplifting talks - dealing with paradigm shifts the green economy and new economics. Relevant and important conversations.

My concern came from walking around the festival and looking at the products that were being sold and the type of "atmosphere" that was being created. I have to admit that it felt like being in a glorified mall. Seriously - there were free samples of "green" chips in throwaway bags, "green" herbal drinks in plastic bottles, "green" health bars in wrappers, "green" beer being served in plastic bottles, stacks of magazines and newspapers.

In the end it felt like a version of a green consumer hell. This is not to takeaway from the really interesting and dynamic businesses and products that were being offered.

My point is that moving from these inspiring talks into the larger halls was like moving from the future back into the past. I was at pains to see the truly green economy, to see a community being developed or to see products that were offering innovative solutions rather then "alternatives" to the crappier product that you didn't really need to begin with.

Don't get me wrong I think that there is much gained from this movement towards greening businesses. I am a big advocate of it in many ways. What the festival really felt like it was saying is, hey listen to us talk, feel good, then go ahead and pick up some chips in a single use bag and head over to drink some beer out of those non-recyclable plastic beer glasses.

Co-op America says that they screen all of the businesses that join the festival and that this is a pretty stringent screening. But I failed to see what the message was that they were trying to convey via the businesses that they allowed to participate. I don't see how selling stuff solves the problem of over-consumption and environmental destruction. I have heard the argument of, "well, if they are going to buy a bed then wouldn't you prefer they bought a "green" bed?" My response is of course. But, a bed and a health bar, a magazine or a bottle of some herbal drink are very different things.

It forces the question of what is it that we NEED to life a decent life? What is SUFFICIENT?

The point is that if every person on the planet got up every day and purchased a "green" health bar or packet of chips that were packaged in a throwaway wrapper we would still be in huge trouble - no matter how green the product was, there are still finite resources. This is not sustainable.

This is not green, and the Green Festival has lost its focus and is not helping to change and redirect consumption behaviour but rather to offer people the opportunity to sustain the type of consumerist life styles that Americans, and many other people around the world have become accustomed to.

I am saddened by this development and I hope that the next festivals are more geared towards promoting community and a focus on what is a sufficient life style verse a sustained lifestyle.


Hudin said...

Yeah, I signed up as a volunteer, but ran away once I heard from friends in the festival that it was just going to be a green marketing festival. I've had enough of that and the money that goes along with it. They can pay people to work at the event if they're just wanting to make buck off putting leaves on logos.

Saul said...

@Hudin Thanks for the comment. I am not sure that anyone is actually making money at the festival - including GX and Coop America. My concern more is with the message that is being sent. I don't think it is really challenging us as consumers but merely promoting "alternative" ways to "sustain" our standard of consumption with a slightly smaller footprint.
I would like to see more cutting edge and challenging messages - and less single use consumption and promotion of "consuming" things we don't need - really!!