Finding Eco-Friendly Companies

Having a hard time finding eco-friendly products and companies? Check out the Co-op America-sponsored Green Festivals, popping up across the country.

Green may be the new black but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to find eco-products and services that are worthy of your support. It seems that everyone is repackaging their goods and adding a dash of organic or fair trade to jump on the bandwagon. How do you know that these companies have cred? The only way is to try the products, finger the goods, read labels and ask questions. Lots of questions.

Time consuming? Perhaps. But if you take your investigation to one of the Co-op America-sponsored Green Festivals popping up across the country, you’ll get a lot more than groovy new swag. You’ll find one rockin’ green-loving party.

Founded in 1982, Co-op America started out as a group of friends who wanted to use the power of business to do good. Since then, the non-profit organization has grown to include over 2,500 business members (who sport the Co-op America: Approved for People and Planet green business seal of approval). The group publishes the National Green Pages, a guide to businesses that walk the walk. And in 2001, it partnered with Global Exchange to launch the first Green Festival in San Francisco.

The most recent Green Festival went down in Chicago in April. It brought together over 350 exhibitors, 150 speakers and pulled in over 31,000 green-loving Chicagoans. Festivals are also scheduled for October 6-7 in Washington, DC and November 9-11 in San Francisco. Seattle joins the roster of hosts in 2008.

Like any event that calls itself a festival, there’s a lot going on. Speakers share insights on everything from embracing solar energy to sustainable farming, socially responsible investing to eco-justice. It sounds like a throwback to the 60s. And, yes, there are ageing hippies in attendance. But there’s also a trendy young hipster vibe permeating the scene.

With the large number of vendors on the floor, you still have to wade through some granola-quality products. But stroll the aisles and you’ll quickly be rewarded with gems from up-and-coming green trendsetters.

Like the funkily gorgeous handbags from HER Design. From swanky linen and cool organic cotton bags to the creative hemp Poppy bag, shaped to look like the seed pod of a drying poppy flower, these bags are fun, chic and as easy on the planet as they are on the eye.

Or the stylishly etched tumblers and wine goblets from The Green Glass Company. Brian Roome and his wife Christa own the Wisconsin-based company. They collect recycled wine bottles and transform them into functional glassware. The green quotient of most recycled glass is lowered by the energy needed to melt the glass down and then prepare it to be blown into new forms. Green Glass’ patented process avoids this step entirely by simply twisting, cutting and etching to produce unique pieces that are proud testament to their wine-bottle heritage.

Many green companies donate a percentage of their profits, often in the single digits, to environmental organizations. Food For Thought gives away a whopping 50%. Based on an organic farm in northern Michigan, founder and chef Timothy Young is committed to sustainable business. Food For Thought recently launched a line of gourmet organic preserves, the first certified Fair Trade preserves in the U.S. By buying cherries, blueberries and other produce from local farmers, Young has always known that most of his ingredients were as ethical as possible. The problem was the sugar. Because it’s imported from warmer regions, Food For Thought couldn’t always be sure that its production was respectful of people and planet. Now, all the sugar used in the product line is organic and Fair Trade certified from Paraguay. With flavors like Apricot Chardonnay, Blueberry Lavender and Tart Cherry Cabernet, these preserves deliver enlightened eating habits straight to your breakfast table.

And, of course, many well-known green luminaries are also in attendance, including HEADS favorites like American Apparel, Pangea Organics, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Dr. Bronners, Recycline, Manitoba Harvest, Organic Valley, Seventh Generation and more.

But the Green Festival isn’t only about acquiring more stuff. It’s about making connections, learning the story behind the items that you use every day and becoming an educated consumer. It’s an invitation to be inspired to make a difference.

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