THE Eco Expo, a conglomeration of exhibits, seminars, and shows, has primarily been a West Coast phenomenon since it premiered in 1991. But last weekend this ecological extravaganza, billed a ``theme park for the environment,'' made its debut in New England at Boston's World Trade Center.
``This exposition is about environmentally-sound products anyone can incorporate into their lives,'' says Marc Merson, co-founder and president of the Eco Expo.
``We're here to show it doesn't have to be painful, it doesn't have to be sacrifice,'' he says. ``It may help and it will cost you less.''
The Eco Expo is the largest environmental consumer and trade show in the country. Visitors here were treated to more than 300 exhibits and 1,000 different products from biodegradable golf tees to organic cotton clothing to urine-powered batteries.
With plenty of mass-marketing hype, the show nevertheless featured many practical items for the home and office.
An energy-efficient washing machine manufactured by Asko Inc. of Richardson, Texas, for example, uses one-third less water than a normal machine. A Xerox copier is designed to use recycled paper and switches to a low-voltage ``power down'' mode when not in use. Xerox's plastic containers used to store ink-powdered toner are made from 60 percent post-consumer waste.
Besides appliances, the show also featured an array of stationary supplies. Amerigain, a division of Discas Recycled Products Corporation of Waterbury, Conn., sells pens made from recycled rubber tires called ``Wheely's.'' The company also sells plastic rulers made entirely from egg cartons, flashlights made from post-consumer rubber tires and plastic, and video cassette casing that has no metal hardware and is 100 percent recyclable.
Transportation vehicles were another attraction. Natural-gas and electric-powered buses ferried people from a nearby subway stop to the exposition site. Visitors got a chance to test-drive the vehicles at the exposition.
For the less practically minded, there were plenty of trendy fashions, jewelry, T-shirts, posters, and knickknacks. Included were such faddish items as a black rubber vest made of recycled inner tubes, a ``world bandana'' adorned with designs of animals and plants, and an antiperspirant in the form of a small rock called the ``deodorant stone.''
``Some of the things may certainly be fringe,'' Mr. Merson admits. But the education, business, and consumer aspects of the conference make the exposition attractive to different tastes, he says.
THE education part of Eco Expo is vital, says Amy Konstant, communications director of the environmental consumer group Green Seal. An environmental business conference, featuring more than 20 seminars on topics such as energy and the economy, transportation alternatives, and the environmental office, was included as part of the exposition.
``At most trade shows, the emphasis is on selling,'' Ms. Konstant says. ``Here, it seems to me the workshops and the panel discussions are educational in nature.... It's not only about the market.''
At the Expo, consumers were offered some enticing perks.
For example, Lights of America, a light bulb manufacturer, was selling three compact fluorescent energy-efficient bulbs for $2.99, a package worth $70. One of the bulbs was the 20-watt MiniCirc Energy Saver bulb that is said to save $78 in costs compared with a regular 85-watt incandescent bulb. It also reduces air pollution due to reduced energy used.
While a previous Eco Expo in Los Angeles attracted as many as 30,000 people, exposition officials said they hoped last weekend's three-day show here would draw a crowd of 20,000 for its first Boston appearance. Surveys showed Boston to be a prime area for the exposition, Merson says.
``New England suddenly stood out there,'' he says. ``[Our surveys were saying] that's where there's more environmental concerns and more environmental businesses.''
The next Eco Expo will held April 7 to 10, 1994, in Los Angeles and will then return to Boston Sept. 23 to 25.