Fangirl Friday: Green America

Fangirl Friday is a semi-regular feature highlighting an environmental and/or social justice non-profit group. It’s named as such because asking me about some ecological issue can be as dangerous as asking a comic book fan about her favorite Batman storyline. However, I also love graphic novels, so you may want to be careful about that as well.

Green America is our focus this Friday, and is not-so-coincidentally one of the beneficiaries of the Climate Ride (aka if you support me, you’ll support them!). Green America focuses on our economic power as consumers to build a more sustainable planet. They consider not just businesses’ ecological soundness, but also actions towards economic justice and social community-building.

One of Green America’s best known projects is its organization of Green Festivals across the country. They’re also the work that I can speak best on, because I’ve attended the ones in D.C. the last three years. Green Festivals bring together sustainably-minded businesses, NGOs, speakers, and consumers into a grand event of networking and kibitzing. I’ve personally benefited from attending, being able to see both Joel Salatin, farmer/celebrity-extraordinaire and Ed Begley Jr., actor/celebrity-extraordinaire. Both were very enjoyable and informative; I was quite grateful that the Festival brought them to our area. I could drive out Joel’s farm, but the likelihood at being at a Hollywood event with Ed is quite low. (Although he did speak at Clean Cities events years back; I obviously missed the boat on that one.) Over the years, I’ve also picked up a sweet fair-trade messenger bag, a subscription to Sojourners, and some organic-cotton, locally-made leggings from Green Festival vendors. But more importantly than my personal edification, the Green Festival allowed Ecolocity DC to spread the word of the Transition Movement. For the Festival, we constructed displays that were as engaging as they were informative. One challenged attendees to write down on sticky notes what they would do if peak oil and climate change have catastrophic consequences, such as food and energy shortages. Another asked people to mark land that they would consider putting into food production on a giant map, whether it was their yard or a community garden. (Much thanks to my mom for helping set up that one.) Even if the hundreds of people who streamed by our booth never thought twice about our organization, hopefully we got them thinking about how to make their community truly sustainable, no matter what the future might hold. Without the Green Festival, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to reach such a diverse and large audience. Most importantly, the Green Festival actually gave us a soapbox above the crowd. Two years ago, the organizers offered us an entire panel to talk about the Transition Movement. Surprisingly (to me at least), I was picked to speak on it. Although at first it seemed like we’d just be talking to our parents and friends, a good number of people attended. I don’t think we gave Joel or Ed a run for their money, but we definitely got our message across and didn’t bore anyone to death.

Besides the Green Festival, Green America also compiles a number of resources to help consumers better understand the “behavior” of the companies they’re buying from. This ranges from their Guide to Fair Trade, which describes products and companies that meet the Fair Trade label’s social justice criteria, to their National Green Pages, “America’s only directory of approved green businesses.” If they don’t have information on the business you need, their Guide to Researching Corporations (PDF warning) provides help in figuring out how to start your search.

Once you have the information you need, Green America helps you act on it. If there’s a truly problematic business nearby, their Boycott Organizer’s Guide can come in handy. Similarly, their Socially Responsible Investing information describes how you can wisely use your retirement money to help others before you need access to it. Also, as the recent market crash has shown, investing in steady markets like affordable housing, education, and good health care can benefit your wallet in ways you may have never imagined.

I certainly don’t think that the only way Americans – or anyone else on Earth – can demonstrate environmental responsibility is through our role as consumers. But the truth is, everyone buys stuff. Whether it’s food, clothing, or things that fulfill less essential needs, it’s good if we can do so in a way that causes the least environmental and social harm and preferably helps those in need. But unless we know which businesses have practices that match our values, we’ll lack the knowledge to make that decision with our dollars. We’ll never have perfect information, contrary to economists’ models and libertarians’ dreams, but Green America helps us get a little closer.

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