Five Green Things About the Green Festival

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navy pierAs I strolled through the Great Hall at Navy Pier a few weeks ago, trying out samples of raw carob cookies from Karyn’s, a raw/vegan restaurant here in Chicago, I thought that I had died and gone to green heaven.

Crowds of people were walking and riding their bikes to the biggest green celebration to hit my city every year, and I just could not get enough of the samples of vegan food, the representatives from green non-profits explaining what they do, and the friendly green business owners promoting their products.

Yet the Green Festival has its detractors. Some people say it is not green enough, others say that just the idea of a green trade show is hypocritical. After all, how can an event that burns fuel to promote the environment really be good for the Earth? Here are the five things about the Green Festival that I think are truly, remarkably green (and one issue that still needs a lot of work).

  1. All the food served at the festival is biodegradable/compostable.

Try the organic, fair-trade coffee, the mate tea, and some mango bean salsa from Whole Foods without feeling guilty. Each sample comes in a plant-based cup or tiny dish. Eat and drink, and when you have finished tasting everything once or four times (like I did!) put the biodegradable container into one of the compost bins available throughout the festival hall. It will end up in someone’s garden or city park again some day.

2. The festival is sustainable and carbon neutral

In addition to composting biodegradable food containers, the Green Festival organizers work very hard to make the event sustainable and carbon neutral. According to Katie Hunsberger of OrganicWorks Marketing

“Green Festival works to encourage sustainability and sustainable practices throughout all facets of the event- from production to education and programming to offering opportunities for “greener” practices to attendees. Green Festival is not just an event that offers green ideas or more eco-friendly options, the event’s production strives to be sustainable, and to encourage everyone coming to practice sustainability in their attendance and takeaway.

This entails the following on the production side:

-hundreds of thousands of pounds of waste have been diverted from our landfills: plastics, aluminum, glass, mixed paper and cardboard, electronic waste, compost and grey water

-many valuable resources have been recovered

-attendees have been educated about eco-product alternatives, composting and landfill diversion

-almost 130,000 pounds of materials from the 2007 Chicago, DC and San Francisco events were diverted (we are putting together Chicago 2008 numbers currently and will have them soon)

recycling1.jpgLast year, the Chicago Green Festival had amazing results:

Total waste collected: 48,745 lbs

Went to landfill: 1,000 lbs

Reusable content: 47,745 lbs reusable, recyclable and compostable materials

Other initiatives to reduce the festival’s carbon footprint, educate, and reduce waste include:

– Discounted admission for bicyclists (including free bike valet) and mass transit riders

– Ewaste bins at event entrance for attendees to bring old batteries, compact discs, cellphones and other handheld electronics to be recycled

– Carbon offsets for traveling festival staff members.”

3. The booths are simple, not wasteful

As a doctor, I have attended many medical conferences. Big pharma has a big presence at medical conferences, and not surprisingly, corporate America spares no financial or environmental expense to create huge displays made from non-sustainable materials that are most likely tossed out, never recycled. The businesses and non-profits represented at the Green Festival had refreshingly simple booths. Business owners, food and beverage suppliers and non-profits displayed their wares on tables without huge signs, loads of paper and cardboard, and entirely lacked the free pens, pads and plastic water bottles omnipresent at all the medical conferences I have ever attended.

4. Sustainable non-profits are well represented

The Green Festival offered a great opportunity for local green non-profits to set up a booth and spread the word about what they are doing. I particularly like talking to Naomi of BIG:Blacks in Green, an organization that promotes environmental awareness among African American in Chicago.

5. The Green Festival makes environmentally-sound practices accessible to the masses

If you are reading this, you are probably concerned about the environment and you probably try to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as you can. But what about your work colleagues, your neighbors, the other families at your child’s school? I believe that everyone should be enlightened, not only about the perils of global warming, but also on how easy, fun and delicious going green can be. Every festival goer who brings a less-than-green friend or family member with him or her to the event may very well convert another consumer to the benefits and pleasures of going green. How’s that for grassroots?

What still needs work?

Transportation to the festival could be a lot greener. I can’t blame the organizers for America’s lack of adequate mass transit. Even though Chicago has a decent mass transit system, the more limited Saturday schedule did not work with my own plans for the day, and so I drove my car. As my eco-conscious friend and green publicist Sharon Meyers remarked when I said I was driving to the Green Festival because I could not get there in a convenient way on mass transit, “Well, that is a statement, itself.” So here’s my plea to the organizer for 2009: I know you can’t build a better mass transit system in Chicago in less than 12 months, but can you arrange for hybrid buses, a carpooling website or a more pedestrian friendly location next year? I will be there, wearing my comfortable shoes.

First photo courtesy of David Paul Ohmer on Flickr

Second photo credit: chip py the photo guy on Flickr

About the Author

In trying to find the most effective way to help other people reduce their carbon footprints, Sarah turned to one of her favorite activities: writing. She started a green business,, to help her clients plan newsletters for their eco-friendly businesses. She also started her blog,, to provide useful advice to anyone who wants to lead a more environmentally friendly life. She also regularly contributes to, to let other Chicagoans know about eco-friendly stores, restaurants, and events. Sarah, an internal medicine doctor, works part-time in community health centers in the Chicago area. She graduated from Barnard College and Columbia University, and she lives in Evanston, IL, with her daughter and her husband. Stop by some time for some delicious, sustainable food--Sarah and her husband love to cook and entertain--any extras will end up outback in their composter.