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).