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Businesses talk up green initiatives at eco-friendly summit

It's not easy being green. But organizers of the Global Business Summit for the Environment gave it their best shot.

VIPs were transported to the venue in compressed natural gas vehicles; organic and locally grown food was served - and extras donated to charities; energy-efficient light bulbs were installed in all the guest rooms; all paper was recycled; and there wasn't a plastic water bottle in sight.

And to offset the estimated 289 metric tons of carbon emissions that the 600 guests produced - from air and ground travel and use of the hotel and city facilities during the two-day summit - organizers donated to reforestation projects in Nepal and wind and solar power projects elsewhere in Asia, actions that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This was all good news to celebrity guest Daryl Hannah, an actress and leading environmental activist who was the keynote speaker on Friday.

"I think it's really exciting and amazing and inspiring that business and the environment is such a hot topic," Hannah told the audience. "It seems to me there is a real consciousness shift going on, it's not just a trend. It's growing exponentially."

On Thursday, officials from the United Nations Environment Programme and the U.N. Global Compact - organizers of the event - urged businesses to integrate environment-friendly practices in order to remain competitive.

Friday's speakers, starting with Hannah, echoed that theme, also pointing out that the Global Compact includes human rights and fair labor initiatives.

"I don't want to buy eco-jeans made by slave labor, or chocolate harvested by kidnapped children, any more than biofuels from slash-and-burn operations or imported from halfway around the world," she said, stressing that individuals could affect change at home by just unplugging appliances or drying their laundry on outdoor clotheslines.

She said more and more people are recognizing the need for more eco-friendly habits.

"The demand is growing faster than the supply for these goods and services. Shortsighted companies that put windmills or sunflowers on their commercials but don't walk the walk will have a short life span in this new state of awakening. People will know. People like me are going to tell them."

Other panels Friday addressed partnerships between businesses and non-governmental organizations that could affect policies, as well as sustainable tourism and green construction habits.

The two-day conference sought to highlight the businesses that are proactively trying to reduce carbon emissions and to impress upon other companies that there is an urgent need to embrace environmental responsibility.

But for all the talk, was the message taking hold? Before opening Friday's session, the host asked guests if they had unplugged their cell-phone chargers before leaving their rooms, a move suggested the day before as a simple way to save electricity. Only a few scattered hands went up.

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