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November 11, 2010

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Fair unites green consumers, designers and businesses

THE city's "green" entrepreneurs offer fashions from natural fiber, tough and trendy bamboo frame bicycles and organic children's bedding. Katie Foley reports on an eco design fair.

In a little Eden tucked away from the concrete jungle of Shanghai, like-minded souls gathered to swap notes about low-carbon living, buy "green" products, learn and socialize.

They came for the latest Eco Design Fair, a growing biannual event that brings together Shanghai's eco-conscious community and provides a venue for the city's "green entrepreneurs" to show their wares. The two-day event, featuring around 50 vendors, ended on Sunday at Jiashan Market in Xuhui District.

Participants are part of a growing movement toward sustainability and eco-friendliness, and not just among expats.

Eco Design Fair founder Sherry Poon is a Canadian expat, as are most of the core organizers, but she estimates that Chinese represent around 40 percent of the attendance this time, compared with only 10 percent when the fair started in 2008.

In that first fair they had just 15 vendors. This time there were 50, but a number others had to be turned away because of limited space.

"For every single fair there has always been a waiting list and a lot are actually Chinese companies who have only just heard of it and want to show their products," she said.

The eight-member board of volunteers that organizes the fair have been approached to help set up similar events in Beijing and Guanzhou, Guangdong Province.

In addition to a greater level of awareness, Poon said the depth of knowledge had increased, particularly in younger-generation Chinese. "I think it's partly because of education and partly reflects what's happening elsewhere in China."

"They have been through the Olympics. They have been through the Expo now. So they hear all that terminology from the press. They hear it all the time - what's green and what's organic."

Three years ago some locals assumed anything that came out of the ground was organic, Poon said.

"Now, they understand what organic is and they are asking things like: 'what is your certification?'

"So it is one step above already, and really it's happened in just a year or so."

Fair visitor Grace Liu, from Heilongjiang Province, works in Shanghai training hotel staff.

She said she attended because she identified with the ideas and ideals of the event, but a focus on getting rich quick meant most Chinese didn't identify.

"They want to make money. They want to live some kind of better life, but only for the material life, for money, for good health, not for the environment."

But the idea of the fair, and the lifeblood of its vendors is that it's possible to do both - live well and be good to the environment.

New expat Katie Middleton said the lack of mainstream focus on green consumerism creates opportunities for those who see the emerging trend.

"There are a lot of people here and the impression is that it is not necessarily the greenest spot to be at the moment."

"But there are niches for people to start their own businesses. There is opportunity, definitely if you are entrepreneurial and you see opportunities coming up, or if you have a design flair."

Vendors at the Eco Design Fair fell into a number of categories: those that encouraged and utilized waste reduction, consumer education, environmentally friendly materials and energy efficiency throughout the product or service life cycle.

Gabriela Lo is the managing director of "eco business" Naked Retreats and a member of the fair's organizing board.

She said Shanghai's green movement was coming from "pockets."

"You have got pockets of people in the government, pockets of people like consumers and pockets of people in business who are all trying to do this at the same time.

It will be a combination of these efforts that will raise the profile of green lifestyles," she said.

"That is how it will be brought to the mainstream."


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