Chicago Green Festival revisited

June 2, 2010

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

We attended the Chicago Green Festival at Navy Pier in Chicago again this year (May 22-23). The overall mood was positive and cheerful.

A new feature this year, the Chicago Climate Action group sent children (and adults) through the displays with passports to be stamped by representatives of organizations that support moving to cleaner power sources. The Illinois Renewable Energy Association was one selected. Being former teachers, we posed a one-question exam to each person whose card we stamped: What did you learn here? A broad variety of answers was provided.

Floor space was more open than in the past, almost a relief from previously-crowded conditions. An entire area that was formerly used was blocked off.

This year’s crowd seemed to be younger—an encouraging sign. Although most visitors were dressed conventionally, young people—men with beards and women with long, flowing skirts returned to the fashions of the ’60s and ’70s.

All food at the festival—meals, drinks and snacks—was vegan, including Chicago style, Jamaican specialties, soul food and others. Sales of food to take home, including chocolate, desserts, hamburger and meat substitutes, bread and snacks were also vegan. Organic products including milk, cheese and teas were offered.

A variety of folk arts and crafts were for sale. Some crafts were simply that—home-woven rugs and fair-trade crafts.

Several booksellers, many focused on vegetarian or vegan titles, some selling children’s books, others with general interest books or magazines, offered their goods.

Bowls constructed of washers and tools, vases made with used paper, bottles and cans demonstrated that trash can be used decoratively.

Organic fabric clothing, self-care products, home-care and decorating products appeared. Our friend, Ralph Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s Soaps, made an appearance Sunday. We reminisced about his singing silly songs at high school reunions and a previous Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle fair.

There were some displays about energy-related topics—insulation, doors and windows and LED lighting. The variety of colors available now from cold through green, blue, red and pink provides something for everyone. The salesman explained that LED lighting is a new technology and advised us to only buy from reputable manufacturers and dealers. As products improve, prices improve.

But there was only one small model vertical axis wind generator and few solar displays. Brandon Leavitt and his crew from Solar Service were prominent. We found one PV panel and an innovative solar hot air system, which was developed by a backyard inventor in Canada. It is composed of 240 used pop cans painted black. The cans are open at both the bottom and top; air drawn in through bottom is heated and blows out the top at a temperature of 100 degrees (or at least 50 degrees) higher than that entering on the bottom. The sales representative claimed the the units will heat 1,000 to 1,600 square feet in normal weather and have a two- to four-year payback. On an overcast day, as long as there’s UV, heating will occur. The units are eligible for 30 percent state and federal rebates.

A laudable project demonstrated how materials can be recycled. Making a significant impact on excess oil use, door mats made of used tires made a comeback. Tires are illegally dumped; homeless men collect the tires, clean up vacant lots and make the mats. A staff member explained that the men learn job skills, work safety and teamwork. Once through with the program, many have their own places, become self-supporting and move on to other employment. A voluntary alumni club is one of the means by which the staff keeps track of former workers. The project is sustainable socially and environmentally: the employees continue to become productive members of society; 7 gallons of oil used to produce a single tire is saved from the landfill.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the June 2-8, 2010 issue

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