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.
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?
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.
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?
Honcho: The box and the bag.
Me: What’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.