Green Washing at the Green Festival

As soon as I heard about DC’s Green Festival held this weekend, I set out to scour its webpage for more information. Touted as “America’s Largest and Longest Running Sustainability and Green Living Event,” I decided right away that this was an event I must attend.

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Boy was I in for a rude awakening when I learned moments upon arriving that this wasn’t at all what I’d expect a “green festival” to be.

Immediately as I entered the registration area, some interesting-looking furniture caught my eye.

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Unsure whether these chairs were a piece of modern art or held a more practical purpose, I took a closer look at the information post. These chairs were made from recycled materials like coaxial cable and zip ties. Fabulous use of creativity and repurposing, I thought. Then I read on. The cost per piece? $5,000! $5,000 for something that’s made out of discarded materials—I was shocked! Surely the average green-festival attendee couldn’t afford to outfit a room with furniture created from trash.

Frustrated but undeterred, my friend M(who graciously agreed to tag along with me) and I entered the festival. The very first “exhibit” we noticed was a BMW placed at the center of the hall. I wondered out loud: how exactly does a BMW contribute to a sustainable living festival?

Flipping through the event guide I found my answer. The Green Festival’s Platinum, Gold and Green sponsors (top donors) consist of Audi, Volkswagen, BMW and Ford. Coincidence? I think not! It dawned on me then—this “green festival” that was supposedly about “making ‘greener’ practical” was actually a thinly-veiled attempt at green-washing the worst offenders of global climate change: the automobile industry. It would have been one thing had these companies sponsored the event and discussed practical tips on reducing our reliance on cars. Instead, though, the hall was abound with raffles to win a car, opportunities to test drive one locally, and even lease one on the spot.

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This festival was ultimately a platform for all sorts of firms to sell products that were at best tangential to green living, and at worst, antithetical to a sustainable lifestyle. Green living doesn’t mean purchasing earrings made from upcycled glass bottles for $35. Nor does it mean using a credit card made from bio-degradable materials.

Overall, I was disappointed majorly by DC’s Green Festival. Sure the cooking demonstration by vegan celebrity chef Leslie Durso and the vegetarian food court featuring local eateries were nice touches. But these additions seemed more like an after though than a mainstay of the 3-day event.

Poor Leslie stood a cumbersome several feet above her cooking table, which was poorly equipped with a barely-functional hot plate. The lack of a camera over her work area left her audience in the dark and unable to visually follow along. Luckily she had the foresight to begin heating the water at the beginning of her demo so that it might come to a boil an hour later, at the conclusion of her show. Leslie did the best she could but clearly the organizers of the event had little interest in promoting one of the most powerful and effective lifestyle changes one can make to truly live green—eating a plant-based diet.

I had imagined much more from a Green Festival but perhaps that was my fault. Afterall, they were indeed successful in creating “the ultimate marketplace” to entice visitors in opening their wallets to spend a lot of our hard-earned green.