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Impressions of the Green Festival in Chicago

May 25, 2011

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

We were pleasantly surprised by the size of the audience at the recent Green Festival at McCormick place in Chicago. A steady stream of visitors continued until late in the day. Since our booth was near the entry to the speakers’ area, the flow past it was elevated. When we did a 5-minute count during midday, 65 people passed us. During the day, about one in 20 stopped to inquire about our event and services.

Some who stopped to talk were old friends who caught up with the news. Others reminded us of their previous attendance at our event, the Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, and their intent to come to this year’s fair Aug. 13-14 at Ogle County Fairgrounds. Several expressed their appreciation of our efforts, reminding us of how important such events are in promoting efficiency and renewable energy, keeping up with what is happening in the field and interacting with others with similar interests.

We were not sure what motivated people to come, but several visitors shared their reasons. Some were motivated by the high price of gasoline and told of their arriving by train, bus, bike and carpool. Others were motivated to come based on a concern about the gulf oil tragedy and others by the nuclear catastrophe in Japan. Many were seeking ways to lessen the adverse impact of rising energy prices on their standard of living.

We also think the cold, rainy weather boosted attendance, as it was a warm, pleasant place to spend the day.

It appears there were fewer booths than in previous years; many who had attended in the past were missing. The event gave us a chance to talk with other vendors to obtain their perspectives on the state of the industry. Installers expressed their disappointment with the on-and-off nature of state rebates for energy installations. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) indicated he would look into the possibility of restoring some funds.

Competition between system installers has intensified. Some firms have laid off workers, cut back on advertising and indicated increased taxes have hurt their bottom line. The proliferation of community renewable energy events, while an important means of meeting potential customers, also adds expense to their operations.

Experienced firms realize participation in energy fairs may not produce an immediate increase in customers, but is essential to maintaining visibility in the marketplace and pays off over the long run.

We were impressed with the large number of volunteers, welcoming and processing new arrivals, tabling booths and walking through the aisles offering assistance where needed. Their efforts are essential to the success of an event. We look forward to assistance from those who volunteer at our Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair.

Several people asked us for our definition of sustainability, then expressed their concern that while green goods are better for the environment than non-green goods, excessive consumption remains a problem. Given the economic hard times, people seemed more interested in talking and appeared to be carrying fewer items home with them.

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. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the May 25-31, 2011 issue

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