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Green Festival Features All Things Eco-Friendly

by Carolyn Said

SAN FRANCISCO - Nem Jovie hooked his knees around the bright-red OmGym - a "suspension yoga system" made from a recycled parachute - and swirled backward until he was hanging upside-down.

"I'm getting a good feeling, very blissful and relaxed," he said, as he folded his legs into a lotus position.

Sonam Morad arranges Himalyan fabrics sold by her sister, one of the vendors at the festival. (Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle) Nearby, several toddlers assiduously shook jars of organic cream to churn it into butter, while a woman wearing a suit made of 500 plastic bags - the amount the average American discards every year - waddled past people queued up for free shots of wheatgrass juice.

So it goes at the Green Festival, a celebration of all things organic, sustainable and planet-friendly taking place this weekend at San Francisco's Concourse Exhibition Center.

The event assembles 450 exhibitors peddling everything from vegan cookbooks to hemp wedding gowns, plus 125 speakers on topics such as social media and sustainability, holistic fair trade and "ecostruction."

"We want to show people the green economy already exists," said Kevin Danaher, co-founder of San Francisco's Global Exchange, which co-sponsors the annual event, now in its eighth year. "It's not something in the future; it's here and now."

Organizers expect about 45,000 attendees over the show's three days, up from last year. Needless to say, they're an eco-conscious crowd, but aren't meek about ferreting out companies that try to "green wash" themselves in a cloak of pseudo-environmentalism.

"The audience in San Francisco will challenge you and ask good questions," said Jennifer Sall, a marketing consultant with Gaiam, a Colorado company that sells subscriptions to inspirational and spiritual DVDs. "They're educated and know what's legitimate and what's not."

Casey Ridell, whose company, Beyond Borders, sells wall hangings made by Haitian artisans out of recycled oil drums, said consumers at the event "are interested in the background of things, rather than in just an item. People love the product; but here they want to hear the story of how it's made."

Across the aisle from her, Yonten Raza, who owns several Bay Area shops called Dolma, unfolded some of the vibrant quilts and shawls she imports from India and Nepal. "These are very gentle people," she said of customers at the festival. "They really care about the planet. They are very aware of everything."

Unlike many sectors, green businesses may be benefiting from hard times. The recession has spurred more interest in sustainability, said Denise Hamler, director of Green America (formerly Co-op America Business Network), the other co-sponsor.

"The economy taking a dive has caused people to rethink how they consume," she said. "Everyone knows they need to think about how they spend their money. Consuming less is green."

Event organizers try to walk their walk, placing a big emphasis on recycling, composting and reusing materials from the Green Festival. "It's an almost zero-waste event," Hamler said. "Last year we sent less than 1,800 pounds of material to landfill."

Becca Schwalm, the marketing director for Chico Bags, which makes reusable bags, was the lucky lady dressed up as the "Bag Monster" in a mechanics jump suit covered with 500 plastic bags that weigh about 20 pounds.

"People love to photograph me," she said. "It takes me hours to walk down the aisle."

Chico Bags actually has several Bag Monster suits and lends them to schools and nonprofits to help bring home the impact of nonrecyclable, single-use bags.

Danaher said organizers will add a second San Francisco Green Festival in the spring starting next year.

Green Festival

When: Today, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: Concourse Exhibition Center, Brannan and Eighth streets, San Francisco

Price: $15 a day, discounts for students, seniors, bike riders, public transit riders and union members. Children free.

Info: www.greenfestivals.org

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