Idealism Meets Cynicism at Go Green Expo Los Angeles

I’m at the Go Green Expo Los Angeles in the Convention Center when I notice the plastic water bottles.  At the speaking event entitled “Broadcasting the Green Message,” the panel consists of best-selling author Josh “the Lazy Environmentalist” Dorfman, Boise Thomas, co-star of the “Alter Eco” television program on Discovery’s Planet Green, and Sherry Beall, host and producer of “Healthy Planet, Healthy Me!” on local Pacifica radio station KPFK. They’re sitting up on a dais, and have brought their own personal, reusable water bottles. Yet, prominently placed in front of each of them, with its label pointing at us, is a plastic water bottle, the King of the Landfill. Underneath the nearby speaker’s podium, which is transparent, are more water bottles.

The panelists are saying some valuable things. Josh points one novice toward Treehugger.com to get some basic info in how to be more green. He also says that we’re in an “uncomfortable” period where some companies that were not eco-friendly before are trying to get there, and others are trying to claim that they’re green when they really aren’t (“greenwashing.”) Boise tells us about “Million Tree Campaign,” representatives of which, according to him, will show up in your Los Angeles neighborhood with shovels, and will plant trees for free. But I’m distracted by the water bottles.

The posing water bottles
The posing water bottles

I seek out Josh after the panel discussion, and ask him what he thinks about sitting there speaking about greening our lives and our planet, being photographed and filmed, with plastic water bottles posing prominently in front of him.  He says it’s “totally lame.”

So I find the water bottle folks. Their company is H2Om, based in Studio City, and they have a booth at the Expo. I ask Sandy Fox, the co-owner, how their bottled water products are green. She gives me a technical answer that I don’t quite follow. That explanation can be found here on the company’s website, under the heading “What about the bottle?” I know there’s a good faith attempt here to make the product more eco-friendly, and that they encourage people to recycle the bottles. But it’s still a plastic single-serving water bottle.  As H2Om’s website even indicates, “If you drink a single-serve water or carbonated beverage from a plastic bottle, chances are you’re drinking it from PET, identified with a small number “1” or “PETE” on the container side or bottom. The PET bottle is a well-accepted package all over the world and is completely safe to drink from as well as lightweight, unbreakable, and recyclable.” I’m sorry, isn’t that then just a common water bottle?

How green was my stiletto?
How green was my stiletto?

This introduction has affected me. I look up at the Convention Center’s very bright lights. What’s powering them? Yet, I remain open-minded. I talk to a lot of the exhibitors. Many of the businesses are based in and around the Los Angeles area. A beautiful, bright burgundy $100,000+ Tesla Roadster is there. It runs on electricity. It looks and supposedly drives like a sports car. It has no exhaust pipes and no exhaust (although something carbon-producing was likely burned to make the electricity you would constantly need to power the car). Building materials companies are also at the Expo, selling solar panels and CFC lighting. Ok, that’s more like it. Organic bedding. Clothing made of sustainable materials like bamboo. Kits to convert your diesel car to cooking-oil biodiesel.

Tesla Roadster
Tesla Roadster

Then I get hit with the falafel chips. There’s a booth where a group of people are selling bags of falafel chips.  They’re giving away free samples, and the booth is crowded.  The cardboard cartons containing the bags of chips are stacked behind them.  Here’s my conversation with the head honcho:

Me:  What makes these chips green?

HonchoThe box and the bag.

MeWhat’s green about them?

Honcho: They’re recyclable.

Oh really? A regular cardboard box which can be recycled. No kidding. That’s all it takes to call yourself “green?” Then I guess those water bottles were green after all.

Unfortunately, the green industry is still in its snake oil stage. As Josh pointed out, some companies are making green claims about their products that just don’t, er, hold water. Consumers need to ask a lot of questions.

I really want to believe. Please, make me believe.

Your own personal windmill
Your own personal windmill

10 Replies to “Idealism Meets Cynicism at Go Green Expo Los Angeles”

  1. Good catch on the Tesla. Electric cars are zero pollution only at the source of operation. GM’s much loved by the greenfolks all electric the EV1 was a pretty remarkable car for the time and yes it was zero pollution at the source of operation.

    Some engineer type took a look at its use here in LA and the fact that 85% of our electricity comes from coal burnt in the AZ desert. That electricity when used to charge the EV1 translated into roughly 20mpg. The carbon footprint isn’t so hot, about what you get from a regular mid-size car like a Camry, Accord or Taurus v6.

    The folks at Tesla did what some thought impossible, an all electric sports car. They even have a sedan rumored coming our way. The problem is few of us can afford a $100,000 car, and until it is either all solar, hydro, nuke or wind powered it is going to have a carbon footprint, and one with nasty sulphur and ash problems you won’t get with a modern gas or diesel.

    I’m a much bigger of the fuel cell for a lot of reasons but at least the electric cars are finally flexing their technology and show them as viable cars not cute curiosities driven by blue hairs in a Del Webb community.

  2. I think it’s smart to be skeptical and ask a lot of questions. Many things are spun to be “green” and people just buy into it and pat themselves on the back. Kudos to you for digging a little deeper.

  3. The Green Movement has become trendy and it’s hard for people like me who want to learn about real choices vs stuff that’s just quickly thrown together to appear as if it’s inventively considering a sustainable future.

  4. Thanks Jodi. Hey Victoria, that’s what someone asked at the panel, and Josh recommended Treehugger.com as one place to get some better information.

  5. “Green” is (or has been co-opted into being) a marketing term used to flatter people into believing they are actually doing something helpful when it comes to acting environmentally responsible. It creates a perception, rather than doing anything concrete. That’s enough for most people. Sad.

  6. “Green” is nothing more than another silly marketing buzzword, and the folks promoting “green” products are the same empty headed marketeers who spent the entire postwar era getting us into this eco-mess. I trust a product marketed as “green” at the same level as a cigarette marketed as “low tar”.

  7. @Frazgo, I agree. I feel that electricity is almost a hidden form of fuel burning, since many people just plug in and don’t think about what it took to produce that electricity. Maybe if there were a little coal-burning smokestack next to our computers that we leave on all day while we’re saving paper. And more electric cars means less gasoline but more coal burning? Is that such a great tradeoff? It seems to me we have got to use more renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, to produce electricity.

    However, I’m not in the camp, as some seem to be, that says EVERYTHING labeled “green” is automatically phony. That lumps in the bad with the good. Some people, products, and companies, if not necessarily carbon neutral, are “greener” or more eco-friendly than others. Some make a really big effort and achieve some positive results. It’s important to try to identify which ones and then vote with your consumer dollars.

  8. The water bottles get me too. Did they mention it’s also all-natural, diet and low-carb? Was there at least a recycling bin there?

    The only way to reduce the flow of snake oil is for people like you to keep calling them on their BS. Keep up the good work.

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