It makes people identify as consumers rather than citizens who have a whole range of resistance methods rather than just to buy or not buy."
Although Danaher stressed that each company at the festival went through Green America's screening process where they are subject to almost 250 questions analyzing their true social and environmental impact Jensen said even "green" products often rely on the wasteful industrial system to be manufactured and transported.
"It is not difficult to see. You just can't have infinite growth on a finite planet. The hyper-exploitation of even renewable resources won't last, by definition. For any economic system to be sustainable, it has to benefit the land base it is based on."
Many of the companies at the event had obtained Green America's sought-after Seal of Approval, which takes into account issues including the company's manufacturing and marketing of products, as well as treatment of employees and effects on surrounding communities. At the same time, certain corporations that didn't meet those criteria, like eBay, were invited anyway and labeled "corporate innovators."
Hamler said these are corporations that are moving toward social and environment responsibility, and they are still subject to a very strict review. Noting that only 60 out of every 300 corporations make the cut, she emphasized the changing nature of markets and the place for corporations within them.
Yet for Ahmadi, the very idea that large corporations can be a part of this change is misleading. "Even if a majority of their product line is green, the global ecological footprint of a corporation will almost always be beyond measure," he said. "The notion of consolidated corporations is counter to the diversity we need to create an equitable and sustainable economy."
While the Green Festival offsets the carbon emissions of its organizers and hosts carbon-offsetting companies, it doesn't pretend to be a carbon-neutral event that covers anywhere near all its vendors and attendees. Indeed, environmental activist Josh Hart said that the system of carbon offsets whereby people, companies, and states can claim to reduce their carbon emissions by investing in carbon-friendly projects elsewhere represents yet another move in the wrong direction.
Hart went to festival as a representative of Cheatneutral, a satirical company that claims to offset romantic infidelity by paying someone else to be faithful. He said he wanted to expose the "pink elephant in the room" that no one else seemed to discuss at the festival.
"Offsetting is just another way of using the psychological technique of denial. It says you can carry on as normal but pay someone else to be green. This is the wrong approach and it is a fiction, not a reality," he told us. "The festival is putting itself forward as green, but people are doing this really unsustainable thing: flying out to the conference from all around the country for a few days and then leaving. This acts as a greater disservice to what we really need to be doing."
Although Lee did not yet know the carbon emissions total from this year's festival, she said the five green festivals from last year produced about 900 tons of carbon - the equivalent of roughly 355 roundtrip cross-continental flights not including electricity, product consumption, or local travel.
But for Hart, this number represents a "massive underestimate" of the true carbon footprint, considering the number of people who attended the San Francisco event alone. He said the festival should take into account all the people who flew to the event, including company representatives and ticket-buyers, not just festival staff.
"The CO2 from a roundtrip flight from New York to San Francisco is around 2,280 kg, the equivalent of running a refrigerator for more than 22 years.