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Review of the Chicago Green Festival

June 2, 2011

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The Green Festivals are hosted yearly in select cities around the country including San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles.  They are sponsored by Global Exchange and Green America and promote the key themes of sustainable economy, ecological balance, and social justice.  The event is a celebration of sustainability efforts in the communities as well as an educational experience for all who attend.  There are national speakers, authors, workshops, vendors, and community groups representing the inspired passion each city has to offer.

On May 14th and 15th, Chicago hosted its 5th annual Green Festival at McCormick Place in the downtown area.  I had been trying for the previous 4 years to attend the Green Festival in Chicago but had been prevented from making the trip due to work and financial commitments.  I nearly missed the festival again this year as I had an important meeting on Saturday that I decided to skip.  So, with much anticipation, my wife and I left the kids with the babysitter and headed to Chi-town for a weekend of “green” fun.

As you might expect from a “green” festival, there would be certain amenities at this event that you wouldn’t see in a typical gathering of thousands of people.  Most notably, there were “Resource Recovery Stations” throughout that separated compostable and recyclable items from the landfill contributions.  Meat lovers would have been frustrated with the food selection as the majority of the choices available were vegetarian or vegan.  The production of meat products has far ranging ecological impacts on global warming emissions, soil fertility, and water pollution.

I had the opportunity to speak with one of the promoters from the Global Exchange, and I questioned the decision to pick McCormick Place as the location for the event.  I was told there aren’t many locations that can support such a large event in Chicago, that Navy Pier had become very expensive with very commercialized surroundings, and that McCormick had been making a lot of progress in their own green efforts.  I don’t know the details of McCormick’s steps, but locating the “hall” that housed the festival was a surreal experience.  The center is a cavernous wasteland of enormous hallways with open ceilings some 8 stories high, gigantic meeting rooms, and miles and miles of carpet.  If cathedrals in Rome were built with high ceilings to represent the power and glory of God in the presence of man, then what does the scale of McCormick represent to the events it hosts?  Is this Chicago?

I do know that Chicago has a lot of great sustainability efforts going such as signing the Cool Cities Agreement from the Sierra Club, an accelerated growth of green roofs across the city, and many LEED projects. The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago had a booth promoting the Smart Home exhibit that is a fully functioning, eco-friendly home on the grounds of the museum.  Despite the hundreds of vendors in attendance, they seemed to be missing representation from government and community organizations that brought green roofs, neighborhood recycling, and public transportation solutions to the city.  At central Illinois events, we see Peoria County Recycling and the Tri-County Regional Planning promoting their green efforts, but I didn’t see much of that at this event.

The best part of the event for me was getting to explore all of the community organizations and the creative projects they are working on to make a difference.  The most innovative and exciting solutions to environmental problems often are nurtured from groups like these.  For example, the Working Bikes Cooperative takes donations of discarded bicycles in the U.S. and sends them overseas to developing countries.  The New Life for Old Bags project turns plastic grocery bags into comfortable mats for the homeless.  The Food and Water Watch faces the daunting task of working to change the Farm Bill and farm subsidies.  Groups like these are energized by passionate people who volunteer their time to make positive change happen.

I have listed below many (but not all) of the organizations and vendors what we collected information from.  It will take me some time for me to explore the flyers, brochures, and web sites, so I am listing them with links and brief descriptions here for your perusal.  They are listed in no particular order and do not represent any specific endorsement by me.

Organizations, Nonprofits & Community Groups

  • Citizens Utility Board – offering the CUB Energy Saver program to track your home electricity use, create a personalized energy-saving plan with recommended actions, and receive email messages that show actual savings.
  • Environmental Law & Policy Center – “the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization.”
  • Midwest Renewable Energy Association  – “Promotes renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable living through education and demonstration.  They are hosting the Energy Fair in Custer Wisconsin June 17-19.
  • Food & Water Watch – empowering people to take action to protect the food we eat and the water we drink.
  • Green America  – co-sponsor of the Green Festivals whose mission is “to harness economic power for a just and sustainable society.”
  • Climate Cycle – hosts an annual Ride to Recharge to raise money to fund solar panels and environmental project in Chicagoland schools.
  • Ricky Recycle – An educational program to promote recycling to kids, adults, teachers, etc.
  • New Life for Old Bags (NLOB) – “A project that provides meaninful and purposeful engagement and opportunities for collaboration while up-cycling plastic bags.  Search “New Life for Old Bags” on facebook.
  • Sierra Club – Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
  • Lights for Learning – “an education-based outreach and fundraising program to develop children’s awareness of energy efficiency.”
  • Midwest High Speed Rail Association – “positioning the Illinois economy for the 21st Centurey and beyond with fast trains.”
  • Working Bikes Cooperative – giving an old bike a new home in developing countries.
  • Chicago Fair Trade – “celebrating Chicago as a fair trade city.”
  • We Add Up – help stop climate change.
  • Green Living Project – Capturing sustainabillity.  One project at a time.


Local Food

  • and the Local Beet provided a Chicagoland CSA Guide directory
  • Door to Door Organics – “The freshest organic fruits, vegetables and groceries delivered to your door.”
  • Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks – local and organic produce, dairy, meats and more delivered to you all year around.
  • Dill Pickle Coop – grocery store owned, financed, and operated by members of the community.
  • Seed Savers Exchange – “non-profit, member supported organization of gardeners and plant collectors who save and share heirloom seeds of our garden heritage.”

Electricity Suppliers



Mindful Metropolis Magazine –  connecting Chicago’s conscious community.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2011 12:54 AM

    I didn’t find any specific brochures, but I found the web site for the company who set up the display for the Powercube. or you may contact them at Eco-Solar-Solutions 1420 S. Highland Ave., Lombard IL. 773-733-0840.

  2. June 24, 2011 8:57 PM

    thanks Todd 🙂

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