by Scott Brown
For anyone trying to go green these days, recycling your soda can and turning off the lights just won’t cut it anymore. Featuring everything from eco-friendly soaps to organic snacks to low-impact funerals, the Chicago Green Festival, which came to Navy Pier from October 24 through 26, showed that sustainability can play a part in every aspect of our lives.
The festival, the largest and longest-running sustainable living event in the U.S., was in its ninth year in Chicago, expanding to a three-day event for the first time. About 20,000 people attended to listen to speakers, eat sustainable food, and stroll among almost 270 vendors, businesses and nonprofits.
Chatter echoed around the high ceiling of the convention center as attendees wove between long rows of booths, listening to pitch after pitch in exchange for free samples and giveaway items. Organic, vegetarian and vegan foods were offered around every corner, featuring ingredients like seaweed, chia seeds and hemp. Eco-friendly beauty vendors slathered lotions and sprayed perfumes, all derived from natural plants and oils. Organizations and nonprofits spoke passionately about causes ranging from animal rights to ecosystem protection to climate change.
Yellow Tractor, a joint nonprofit and for-profit organization that builds gardens for companies and other nonprofits, featured a model of one of their garden beds at their booth, complete with dirt, plants and worms.
“We feel very strongly in the idea that we want to leave something positive behind for the world,” said Anne Sorensen, chief operating officer at Yellow Tractor. “This is so simple and so grounding that it seemed obvious.”
Outside of her booth, Sorensen, along with Yellow Tractor CEO Wendy Irwin, spoke at the Green Festival about how to make cities greener. Throughout the weekend, attendees also heard talks from a diverse list of CEOs, chefs, fashion designers, authors, and more. Notable names included Jeff Garner, international sustainable fashion designer, and Eric Heineman, senior sustainability advisor to former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.
Co-founded in 2002 by eco-activism nonprofits Global Exchange and Green America, the Green Festival got its start in San Francisco. The event travels across America, and in addition to Chicago, it was also held in New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles this year. Kevin Donaher, co-founder and former executive producer of the festival, said the event is pointing people in the direction our society needs to go.
“It’s seeing the problem and seeing the solution right in the problem,” Donaher said. “People see that the next economy, the green economy, already exists.”
For Wendy Campos, a freshman at Northwestern University who attended the Green Festival, realizing that these green resources existed inspired her to go vegetarian.
“Seeing the different food options that there are pushed me to actually go for eating greener,” Campos said. “It changes your perspective… seeing that it wasn’t something that was weird or that people looked down upon.”
According to Sorensen, helping people make these kinds of changes is essential for preserving the planet.
“I grew up with the “leave no trace” sort of mindset, and I think that we’re not necessarily doing that,” Sorensen said. “We’ve really disconnected, and it really matters because we have this one space and we need to know how to take care of it.”