I’m recently back from the Green Festival in Washington, DC. Billed as the largest sustainability event in the world, the GF is a two-day extravaganza that started in San Francisco in 2002, took up annual residence in DC as its sort of Second City two years later and has now expanded to Chicago and Seattle with more to come.

Staged by Global Exchange and Co-Op America and co-sponsored by The Nation among scores of other publications, media outfits, non-profits and NGOs, the GF offers one of the best forums for exploring what’s next on the horizon for renewable energy, the climate change fight, green parenting, organic foods, the struggle against environmental racism and much more. It’s also a great place to buy a gift and get free samples of organic coffee! A massive green fair more than anything, the GF draws tens of thousands of attendees who swamp hundreds of exhibitors hawking the latest in hemp fashion, non-toxic toys, eco-tourist offers, fair trade chocolate, green building supplies, socially responsible investment options and vegan cuisine. And despite the emphasis on buying things, the festival also always manages to present talks and lectures by major progressive figures, and not always on traditionally green topics. In addition to Bill McKibben speaking on the climate change movement, last week’s DC fest featured talks by Amy Goodman, Jim Hightower, Medea Benjamin and Ralph Nader. What is maybe most striking about the crowd is the tremendous age span. High school and college kids were prevalent but so were old folks. And there was no shortage of Birkenstock-wearing boomers either.

Beyond all the free samples of coffee, fair trade chocolate, funky-flavored cliff bars, shea butter-based lotion and Yerba Mate tea, the best part of the GF is being able to connect with and learn about so many visionary projects under one roof in one weekend. The partnering organizations, taken together, represent a kind of alternative, sustainable infrastructure that is growing every day. There are magazines (Ode, Plenty, Utne Reader, Mother Earth News, Grist) and media outfits (Air America Radio, Link TV), green businesses (Annie’s Homegrown, Stony Field, Kimpton Hotels), an eco-shoemaker (Simple Shoes), green marketing firms (Seven Star Events–which produces the entire GF!, Organic Works) and the world’s largest maker of environmentally responsible baby diapers and wipes (Seventh Generation).

I spent an enjoyable 10 minutes talking to the local representative of the Rachel Carson Council, a non-profit organization started the year after Carson’s death in 1964 to continue the anti-pesticide and pro-environmental efforts sparked by the publication of Carson’s Silent Spring. We talked about Carson’s seminal book, what made it so timeless and what can be done to keep Carson’s name in the minds of today’s youth. The RCC has distilled the great activist and writer’s legacy into ten basic points, or commandments, if you will, that people looking to emulate her example can try to adopt.

Though I don’t really know him, from what I saw, Doug Moss, the founder and editor of E magazine, is probably as closely aligned with Carson’s principles as any successful magazine publisher in the United States can be. I was already familiar with his valuable publication but he told me about a feature called Earth Talk that I didn’t know about even though it currently appears in 500 print and online publications! A syndicated weekly reader-generated Q&A column which comes off as a sort of lefty, eco-Dear Abby, Earth Talk offers advice, information, guidance and resources on a range of questions practical, personal and political. It tackles key issues, helps people green their lifestyle, provides tips on how to plug into broader efforts to safeguard the global environment. Click here to receive an emailed version of each week’s column and if you have a website or print publication, Moss offers the column for re-posting free of charge.

One of the most impressive projects I saw all weekend is an organization called E+Co. A non-profit that helps local small and medium enterprises supply clean, modern and affordable energy to households, businesses and communities in developing countries, E+Co’s efforts have helped supply 3.4 million people with clean energy, have facilitated $140 million of financing for local clean energy initiatives and have led to the creation of 3,000 jobs. Their website offers lots of info about clean energy and how its widespread adoption could both help the environment and provide needed economic opportunities to many currently impoverished places around the world.

Watch this YouTube video for a brief history of the Green Festival. The next confab takes place in San Francisco this November. After that, the 2008 shows kick off with the inaugural Seattle Green Fest in April, Chicago in May, Washington, DC in October and back to SF in November three days after the 2008 election.