Playing Green Isn't a Substitute for Living Green

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Described as the "Bay Area's Premier Eco-Lifestyle Festival," PLAYGreen was hosted by the Recreational Sports Facility (RSF) on Feb. 25. A day of food samples and other giveaways sponsored mainly by corporate vendors, the purported "eco-friendly" event was green only in name, not practice.

The leadership of Building Sustainability at Cal ([email protected]), a student-run, campus-funded organization contracted to provide waste management for the event, believe it is our responsibility to provide a public evaluation of this event. A year ago, many students and staff presented concerns to the RSF about how the event was not environmentally sustainable. The amount of giveaways undermined the message of reduction and rarely did the freebies have anything to do with sustainability. "Greenwashing," or efforts by corporations to portray themselves as environmentally responsible to mask environmental wrongdoings, was prevalent.

This year, the RSF promised improvements by earning Green Event Certification through the campus's Office of Sustainability (but fulfilled only the minimum requirements to achieve this) and also contracted us for composting services. They put a slideshow presentation with each company's sustainable commitments on the event's Facebook page. The following quotes are from promotional e-mails and advertisements about the event: "Priority of Zero Waste: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." " We've reduced the number of exhibitors at the event and have concentrated our efforts on maximizing the engagement with a core group of campus and community partners." "We'd like to ask for [the vendors's] help to reduce our waste production by bringing recyclable/compostable packaging, cutlery and food containers for festival giveaways, whenever possible. "

In our professional and personal opinions, this year's event did not live up to these promises, as demonstrated by these observations:

Vendor behavior. Despite the expectation that vendors would minimize the environmental impacts of their operation, all vendors provided excessive handouts, possibly even more so than in 2010. Bank of America handed out water bottles, each individually wrapped with cardboard and plastic. San Francisco Soup Company used non-compostable cups. Several vendors threw waste arbitrarily without ensuring the correct segregation of materials.

Event focus. In a casual discussion with Cal Dining farmers' market, we found that they agreed students were there "just for the free stuff" - otherwise they would have sold more vegetables, and student groups would have received more recruits. More vendors were brought in at the last moment, preventing the event from being "community-focused" as was claimed. Little to no attention was focused on companies' sustainable practices at the event.

Waste reduction was not taken seriously. The single commitment PLAYGreen made (to compost) was not completed satisfactorily on their end. Not only did they fail to provide waste hauling, which was not our contracted duty, but they also purchased only 26 compost bags when we agreed on 100. These bags had to be over-filled to handle the waste volume, which resulted in breakage and leaking. The one serious suggestion we offered for waste reduction (one plate and cup per student) was rejected.

Overall, the failure to implement sustainable practices prompts Building Sustainability at Cal to draw the following conclusions:

Many student and staff concerns from last year were not incorporated into this year's event, so we have little faith in its potential to improve. PLAY-Green halfheartedly took simple strides, like paperless event promotion. A real commitment to sustainability would have been to enforce standards with vendors. This "strong encouragement" was missing, though it was promised.

We recommend that student and sustainability groups refrain from participating in this event next year because they historically have gained nothing from this event, since the majority of attendees are not there to learn about sustainability.

The event itself is, by nature, unsustainable and, essentially, all efforts to "go green" are gestures that mask the true purpose of corporate sponsorship.

The campus and the RSF should realize why there is such concern about this event. When UC Berkeley hosts an event meant to be the most "eco-experiential" in the Bay Area, it must live up to that, or else our reputation as a leader in sustainability will crumble.

As students and campus stakeholders, we must consider the difference between playing green and living green.

Editor's Note: Anna Szendrenyi and Krishna Kalpathy contributed to this piece.


Sruti Bharat and Katya Cherukumilli are co-lead program coordinaters at [email protected] Reply to [email protected]

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