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2007 06 27
Green Toronto Festival: Belatedly, Some Thoughts
Two weeks ago, the City of Toronto put on the Green Toronto Festival, a now annual showcase of some of the environmental products, services and initiatives that are available to local residents. This was the second such event, and it boasted a robust array of more than 80 exhibitors.

I am glad to see the city publicizing green alternatives, glad that the inaugural Green Toronto Festival last year was successful enough to garner continued support, and strongly in favour of endeavours that raise awareness of ecological issues. I have, therefore, been hesitant to post my rather lukewarm response to the event. Undoubtedly the festival makes pertinent information more easily accessible, and shifts public discourse in the right direction - for the sake of these benefits alone it ought to continue, and I wouldn’t want to say anything to indicate otherwise. Moreover, the current city council is sincerely enlivened by environmental considerations, and has frequently acted to reduce ecological harm and increase sustainability; I’ve no wish to throw cold water on these accomplishments. Nonetheless, I think that the festival suffered from some rather serious shortcomings, and if it is to be truly effective in advancing environmental practises, needs to be somewhat reconfigured.

(Sorry about the image quality - I only had my camera phone with me at the time.)

What I found myself noticing as I wandered from one booth to another was a strong emphasis on marketable products and services - a substantial number of the exhibitors were providers of more environmentally friendly versions of familiar consumer goods. There were, among other things, promoters of: recycled paper gift cards, gas tank supplements to ensure more efficient fuel use, clothing made from sustainable fabrics, hybrid car services, and biodegradable food containers. I came away with a large stack of flyers for things I might buy. Now, no doubt, if I am going to run a gasoline engine, it is better to run it more efficiently, and if I am going to package my food in any kind of disposable container, it is better that the container be biodegradable. But by far the best environmental choice is to buy less stuff, avoid driving my car at all, and keep my food in reusable containers rather than newly purchased disposable ones - even if they are biodegradable.

Environmental benefits are usually maximized by reducing the consumption and use of products - no matter how small their footprint may be - in the first place. This is a practise which has no advocates in the consumer marketplace, however, as you can't make a business out of encouraging people to stop buyng so many things. Information about more profoundly curbing environmental damage by simply consuming less was, in other words, in short supply.

Fortunately, because the festival is not a commercial venture (no entry fees are required to participate, and no sales are permitted onsite), its exhibitors are not limited to those with something to sell. In future years the city should encourage not just promoters of green goods to participate in the festival, but agencies and organizations which emphasize reducing or eliminating some kinds of consumption altogether. There were some such groups present this year, but there is room for many more, and the balance of exhibitors could well shift so that they predominate. Should the Green Toronto Festival move in this direction, it will truly live up to its name, and provide the kind of vigorous environmental advocacy we need.

Applications for next year's Green Toronto Festival will be available on the City of Toronto website after January 1, 2008.
[email this story] Posted by Hamutal Dotan on 06/27 at 04:14 AM

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