Green Movement Meets Him Halfway in the City

Yeah, a lot of environmentally sensitive products are too pricey for regular folks, but believers say education is the first step, and he managed to take another after getting a few lessons.
Go Green Expo
An exhibit at the Los Angeles Go Green Expo.

We hear a lot about "the green economy" and "sustainable living" and "renewable energy" these days.

The development and adaptation of environmentally friendly products and renewable energy technologies are motivated by a number of concerns, including climate change, dependency on foreign fossil fuels for our energy needs, high oil prices, and pollution. President Barack Obama has made the development of green industry a top priority in his administration, encouraging increases in government support and incentives as a way to help the environment and create jobs.

It all sounds good — but it can be expensive to be green. Just check the price on a hybrid car compared to a standard model.

I had that in mind when I decided to visit the 2nd annual Go Green Expo, a business and sustainable living lifestyle show held recently at the Los Angeles Convention Center. An estimated 200 exhibitors displayed the latest energy efficient and environmentally-friendly products and services. They ranged from big-ticket categories such as heating and water conservation systems, windows and shutters to smaller consumer items, including clothing and health and beauty products.

I wanted to learn if green products and services are feasible for individuals and families across the income spectrum. The prevailing sentiment in my inner-city, middle-class neighborhood is that only folks with incomes at the higher end of the socio-economic scale can afford to participate in the green movement. A lot of folks believe that the middle class and more modest income earners need not apply.

The Go Green Expo seemed to confirm those feelings — at first glance, anyway. It is easy to see how people could make that assessment. Green products are expensive. Solar heating systems, for instance, can cost thousands of dollars. Salesmen highlight tax credits and monthly savings on utility bills as they pitch their big ticket items as cost effective and affordable. Clearly, their products and sales pitch are geared for homeowners and not the many renters in urban markets. And the current economic downturn means that even many homeowners are hard-pressed to invest large sums of money in green products that are well-intentioned and might bring savings over the long haul but are not immediately necessary.

A number of exhibitors at the show acknowledged that outlook as part of the challenge they face in making the green market more affordable to all.

"The solar industry is concentrating its efforts on bringing down its manufacturing costs and, in a few years, we should be able to reduce our prices, and our products will be more affordable for low income families," said Masud Fgarsic of Transoptics, Inc., a solar heating systems company.

Effie Laffite, who owns Tomat, an organic children clothing line marketer, conceded that the price of going green keeps a large part of the market out of her company's reach.

"There is much truth that organic products are expensive," she said. "We try to keep our costs down as much as possible but it is still too much for many people to afford our products."

I kept after the exhibitors, though, and I soon learned that 'going green' is more than purchasing products. It's a mindset and lifestyle.

Meg Brighton of Letitbeejewelry.com, which donates a percentage of its proceeds to fund research into the decline in the bee population, made a passionate declaration that helped convince me.

"Everybody can participate in the green movement," Brighton said. "The movement is about making choices, a shift in our behavior to bring us more in harmony with our environment. It is also about creating awareness that our environment is in jeopardy if we do not change our behavior. There are creative ways to accomplish that goal that do not cost a dime."

Dennis Jackson of California Solar Innovations, a solar installation company, agreed.

"There is a place for everyone because the earth belongs to all of us," Jackson said. "The first thing people need to do is to learn about it. Many resources are available to help everyone discover where they can fit in."

The Go Green Expo did just that, providing educational seminars to increase awareness on environmental and energy conservation issues. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) shared information about free winterizing programs to conserve on energy bills. Representatives from grocery chains told attendees about their reusable bag programs, a great way to participate in the movement and save as well, with discounts offered to shoppers who use the cloth bags to carry home groceries.

I worked up an appetite getting all that information. I decided to stop at a grocery store on the way home. I headed inside the store, but then turned around, realizing I needed something. I retrieved the reusable cloth grocery bag that someone had given to me to months ago. It had been sitting, forgotten, in my car ever since.

I did my shopping, packed the groceries in the reusable cloth bag — and got my discount.

I got something else, too: Membership in the green movement.

Walter Melton is a writer for the L.A. Garment & Citizen.

Photo from www.gogreenexpo.com.

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