For our latest installment of “Green Issues only Rich People Have”, we examine how to eco-up a Museum/Opera/Awards/Disease Gala for hundreds of the Well-Connected. These events typically involve elaborate catered meals of unpronounceable foods and literally tons of tailor-made decorations and fresh-cut flowers. Sure it looks pretty, but was Mother Nature invited this year?
After the party, most of the stuff gets thrown out. Things like tables and tableware are normally rented, and attendees and workers can generally snag the lighter decor and flower arrangements to take home for one last gasp, but that’s only a small part of the overall set up. The NYT describes the halting efforts of expensive event planners across the US to fancify their incredibly wasteful to-dos with more environmentally friendly decorations. Some have used recycled objects in their designs- one guy glued soda cans and bottles caps to the windows of the Barneys New York store for their Christmas display (hey, NYCityfolk, can you go visit the storefront and take some pictures for me?). Another guy shredded 3 tons of paper, soaked it in organic flame retardant, and rolled it into balls to hang from the event space’s ceiling. Let’s just say that I never get to do anything like that at work. There’s no word on how the food is being done better yet, though (more organic? Who gets the leftovers?).
What can we learn from this for our own holidays? The Barneys guys offers a suggestion:
“You can do this stuff at home…You can go gold with decaffeinated Diet Coke, and there’s lots of blue and silver in drinks like Pepsi and Red Bull. You can make wreathes out of old silver pot scrubbers. We’ve done a green version of the 12 Days of Christmas, which I will happily sing to you and which ends with ‘a Prius in a pear tree.’”
A professor from the University of Florida makes an apt observation on this juxtaposition of Ultimate Consumption and Going Green:
“It’s all about symbols and sensation,” said Professor Twitchell, whose many books deal with how marketing shapes a society. “That’s what I find so fascinating about our Prius culture. We know things are wrong. We don’t know what we can do. We can’t know. And so we do what marketers encourage us to do to get those feelings we want to have. We buy the Prius, we recycle at the party, pretty much overlooking the fact that what we know about these objects and these actions comes from their marketing.”
Good call, Twitchell. Making actions sustainable requires reflection and research, especially for an event that is rooted in excess. The very nature of huge parties becomes the display of wealth- “We can afford to drop the GDP of a small nation on one night to impress you and make you give us money/thank you for all the money you gave us so we could throw this party! This is a normal impulse!” So maybe let’s rethink the whole concept of spending-money-to-awe for these things. I feel like Rich People would be cool if maybe for one event, say, a cancer fundraiser, the organizers just donated 95% of the budget to actual cancer and had them all over to the MOMA for Brunswick Stew and beer. Everyone loves Brunswick Stew and beer. Do they have cancer fundraisers at the MOMA? I would know if I were rich. Anyway, they could decorate with some big collection boxes and give some markers to kids with cancer so they could make signs labeling the boxes, and boom, funds raised. That’s not exactly a “green” plan yet, but there’s a base you can easily work from: organicise the stew, get the beer from a local brewery (organic brewery?), compost or donate the leftovers to the needy, and recycle/auction off the kid’s posters, and there goes your impact.
Now that I have illustrated why I will never be a good expensive party planner, I wish to leave you with the description of the decorations for the alleged “greenest party of the year”:
The décor was supplied by Gelitin, four male Viennese conceptual artists who wore high heels and buckets on their heads but no pants, and who spent the evening building a plywood structure over the bewildered guests’ heads. Anthony Roth Costanzo, a countertenor, sang a 16th-century melody called “Flow My Tears.” And then the Gelitin members, along with three Icelandic artists, also men, from a collective called Moms, took the buckets off their heads and urinated — with dead-eye accuracy, said Dodie Kazanjian, a Vogue editor and one of the events’ hosts — into one another’s pails.
Gives me an idea for my holiday party…