By: Tom Hobelman Issue: Energy & The Environment Section: Collaborator Profile
Collaborative Environmental & Social Justice Conferences
Pop culture often serves as a fairly effective barometer of that most ephemeral of American icons, the national mood. Preoccupations and underground movements that may not make the talking points around the water cooler nevertheless find broader expression through various modern media, from television to music to cinema. Although many headlines and television shows continue blaring dire predictions about the economy, a different theme has recently emerged from the national consciousness: how to live a more meaningful life, one in harmony with each other and with the environment. “The Day After Tomorrow” and “The Happening” fight for viewer/consumers alongside “AC 360” on CNN, annual music festivals like Bonaroo and national bestsellers like Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, & Crowded.
Sustainable living is becoming accessible for everyone, from individuals to corporations looking to expand on their “triple bottom-line” goals (financial, environmental, social), and the annual Green Festival provides the blueprint. The Festivals unite green businesses, social and environmental groups, visionary thinkers, and tens of thousands of community members in a lively exchange of ideas. Each city’s Green Festival agenda has the same over-arching themes: learn (through star-studded lectures and workshops), network (via organizations effecting sustainable change locally, nationally, and internationally), and socialize (meeting different people committed to the possibility of a better world, sharing common interests, building movements).
Since the first fledgling event in 2002, Green Festival has created a model of environmental and social leadership, consistently providing authentic information for consumers on every aspect of green living. Green Festival has created a model of environmental and social leadership, consistently providing authentic information for consumers on every aspect of green living.
The Festivals are essentially a two-day party with a serious purpose: to accelerate the emergence of a new economic paradigm that is life-affirming and life-restoring. Each Festival (Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and now Denver) cultivates a culture of sustainability and social equity that honors one’s interdependence with all life. The festivals began as a joint project of Global Exchange and Green America (formerly Co-Op America), two leading non-profit organizations dedicated to environmental and social justice for more than twenty-five years. width=
Global Exchange is a 20-year-old membership-based international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world. The group prioritizes international collaboration as central to ensuring peace, and aims to create a local, green economy designed to embrace the diversity of our communities. They educate communities about realities outside their audiences’ purview using a diverse range of educational methods.
Green America is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1982. Their mission is to harness economic power - the strength of consumers, investors, businesses and the marketplace - to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society. Taking a different approach than Global Exchange, Green America focuses on economic strategies to solve social and environmental problems. They mobilize people in their economic roles (as consumers, investors, workers, and business leaders). Addressing their constituents as well as acolytes in this manner, they empower people to take personal and collective action in working through issues of social justice and environmental responsibility. Amazingly, Green Festival is just the tip of the iceberg for both Global Exchange and Green America. They promote green and fair trade business principles, while also building the market for businesses adhering to these principles.
And these two groups are not alone in their mission. The Green Festivals continue to attract and expand upon a truly impressive base of speakers and educated individuals who anchor their time in each city with workshops, discussions, and speeches of great import to the “green” movement. Festival speakers are articulate, powerful advocates for a just and sustainable world. From authors and filmmakers to politicians, musicians and scientists, these renowned individuals inspire packed audiences with their expertise - one of the most compelling draws to Green Festival™ since 2002.
width= There is Dr. Cornel West, whose writing, speaking, and teaching weave together the traditions of the black Baptist Church, progressive politics, and jazz. The New York Times has praised his “ferocious moral vision.” West burst onto the national scene in 1993 with his searing analysis of racism in American democracy – Race Matters. This bestseller has become a contemporary classic, selling more than a half a million copies to date. Another dedicated soul is Van Jones, founder and president of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California. Headquartered in San Francisco, EBC is a national organization that challenges human rights abuses in the U.S. criminal justice system. He recently started the group Green For All (www.greenforall.org) , which is focused on bringing green-collar jobs into lower-income communities. For many featured speakers, pop culture is both the medium and the message in bringing social justice and sustainability to the forefront of common discourse. As leader and co-founder of the legendary rap group Public Enemy, Chuck D redefined rap music and hip hop culture. His lyrics addressed weighty issues about race, rage and inequality with intelligence and eloquence. In May 2005 the U.S. government’s Library of Congress included “Fear of a Black Planet” in a list of 50 recordings worthy of preserving in the National Recording Registry.
If the “oral traditions” don’t fit your bill, there are literal “grassroots” speakers as well. Paul Stamets has been in business since 1980 with Fungi Perfecti®, a family-owned, environmentally friendly company specializing in gourmet and medicinal mushrooms to improve the health of the planet and its people. Stamets has published 6 books, including Mycelium Running, a book of mycological rescue for healing habitats and increasing sustainability using low-tech techniques for restoration of damaged ecosystems.
Two speakers that are now slated to appear at the newest stop for the Green Festivals (Denver, CO) will have a powerful impact on a metropolis somewhat infamous for oil production and corporate malfeasance – Amy Goodman and John Perkins. An award-winning journalist and author, Amy Goodman and producer Jeremy Scahill went to Nigeria. Their radio documentary Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship exposed Chevron’s role in the killing of two Nigerian villagers in the Niger Delta, who were protesting yet another oil spill in their community.
John Perkins, a former “economic hit man”, is a founder and board member of Dream Change and the Pachamama Alliance, non-profit organizations devoted to creating stable, sustainable and peaceful worlds. Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, which spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller lists and has been published in more than 30 languages, details the clandestine operations that created the world’s first truly global empire.
The recent addition of the Mile High City to Green Festival’s roster was no random event. As Mayor John Hickenlooper put it: “Having just hosted the greenest national political convention ever, we think Denver is a natural site for the Green Festival in May 2009 and are excited to host this successful event. Denver is proud to be creating safe, healthy, sustainable communities and a strong local economy by raising awareness, sharing best practices and collaborating on greening initiatives. The Green Festival is a terrific place to trade success stories, brainstorm innovative new ideas and learn about the newest technologies and services.”
Denver’s City Hall is backing the upcoming Green Festival in Denver with synergistic reasoning: Mayor Hickenlooper’s “Greenprint Denver” program fits hand-in-glove with the guiding tenets of the Festival. Hosting the DNC in Denver taught the city an exciting lesson. Colorado’s capitol could indeed handle a large-scale event without abandoning the Mayor’s program or other much-touted “green principles”. This lesson was accomplished by adhering to a set-up process (Green Festival’s) and location (the Colorado Convention Center) steeped in green economy details. A stringent screening process ensures all exhibitors meet the highest standards for environmental integrity and social responsibility. While many events and tradeshows are notoriously wasteful, the efforts of hundreds of Green Festival™ volunteers ensure meticulous sorting procedures to reuse, recycle and compost, translating into only 3% of the waste going into landfills. In 2003, U.S. residents, businesses and institutions produced more than 236 million tons of municipal solid waste, approximately 4.5 pounds of waste per person every day. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Coloradans dispose of 6.1 pounds of waste per person per day: 26% more than the average American. Green Festival organizers mitigate that statistic with the help of Seven-Star, Inc., the country’s foremost “green event” experts. They organize and manage the landfill diversion, product conversion and carbon offsetting for each Green Festival. For example, every plate, knife, bowl, napkin, coffee stirrer and sample cup is 100% biodegradable and will be collected with all food scraps to be composted.
The setting for Denver’s Green Festival, the Colorado Convention Center, follows suit with the Green Festival™ efforts. Photovoltaic panel installations on the roof are capable of continually providing 300KW of power. Timed lighting systems controlled by electricians allows lighting levels to be at 50% during event move-in and move out, and 100% only during event hours in occupied space. The Convention Center is now on a citywide “steam tube and shell system” for heating, allowing for lower preset temperatures when the building is unoccupied as well as more efficient overall control.
Seattle’s Green Festival takes place in late March, followed by Denver in early May and Chicago in mid-May. Washington D.C. gets hosting honors October 10 and 11, while the final stop is where it all began – San Francisco November 13, 14, and 15.
Take a moment to visit the website (www.greenfestivals.org) if you are unable to attend in person – you may make more of an impact than you realize. Become part of a virtually zero-waste carnival of ideas, and let the economy figure itself out for a change!