The EPIC Sustainability Expo – afterthoughts

The Vancouver Epic Expo felt like a successful event by all accounts. A lot of effort went into the production, setting up, presentations and products that were incorporated. And we had a great time taking the kids there on Saturday. But was it sustainable?

EPIC Sustainable Living Expo

If you believe that the path to sustainability is through buying things, then you may be tempted to answer, “yes, of course, it is the epitome of sustainable, look their tag line is, ‘Style Meets Sustainability’!”

There was the usual assortment of organic products, ranging from bedding to cosmetics, through beer to bananas, with a strong focus on fair trade products. Toyota, and other car manufacturers were there with some of their latest “sustainable” products, including test drives. There were canning presentations, lots of food samples, and I think we really got out money’s worth in free beer, tea and coffee, as well as a generous slice of fair trade chocolate cake. I’m all for foods and beverages that are better for the environment, taste good, and I don’t mind a small sales pitch about the virtues of any product that is genuinely “green”, (hopefully not just “greener”)

Metro Vancouver had a display where they presented on a number of the sustainability initiatives that they are working on, and from the kids perspective, one of the best displays was the “Return It” stand, where they showed what happens to recycled products, they two guys manning the stand were excellent at engaging the kids and getting them thinking about the products and answering questions. The things I enjoyed most were the displays where there was no product to sell, just great information in a setting where learning and asking questions is OK.

It was the presentations that were missing that bothered me. With the expo dominated by “products”, some of seemingly dubious sustainability, it appeared that the non profits had been crowded out. Where was the information on feedlots or pesticides. Where were the backyard chickens, the root cellars, the thrift store shopping tips, the worm farms, the composting toilets, rainwater harvesting displays and building material reuse experts. I get the feeling that even in Vancouver, a city that embraces the notion of sustainability more than most Canadian cities, many of these ideas are counter cultural, as though people expect the sanitized version of sustainability. Technology and new products will play a role in moving our society toward sustainability, however, many of our problems will likely be solved only by scaling back our use of particular technologies that are damaging the environment.

The culture of sustainability as it stands in North America, is most definitely one of consumerism. Ideas that involve increased work, reduced levels of comfort or apparent status or the perception of “going backward” will never take hold in a mainstream way while we continue to be enamoured with concepts like growth and progress. A lot of what was on show over the weekend really just supports a way of life that cannot be continued indefinitely – we’re on the right track, but we appear to be falling behind in making progress on metrics that matter for life in general – farmland, pollinators, pollution, potable water, toxins, and resource extraction.

I know it’s a pipe dream, but these are the topics that I’d like to see tackled at a sustainability expo, am I kidding myself?

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

3 replies on “The EPIC Sustainability Expo – afterthoughts”

  1. Maybe we are kidding ourselves, Mike.

    The only thing that will really make things happen is when the oil runs out,and when the water. .

    We in the first world still want to retain what we have and the third world also wants what we have. I cannot see a way out. Mother nature will take care of things in her own way.


  2. Originally there were 4 R’s – refuse, reuse, reduce, recycle.

    The first was too radical and has since been dropped in favor of 3 R’s. The result is events like the one you describe.

    We can’t consume our way out the sustainability dilemma. But then, any consumption beyond 100% sustainable is by definition not sustainable – it’s only a question of running out of resources sooner or later. Do we want resources to last one generation, two or five? Take your pick – the end result is the same.

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