Local Love: The man behind the BGFG Expo

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: shopping while trying to keep the environment, the heart and the wallet all happy can be pretty tricky. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed (and to, well, pretend you’re less aware than you are) that oftentimes donating your hard-earned dollars to Mr. Zara seems like the best bet. (It’s not!) But lucky for us, the Buy Good Feel Good Expo is here to help.

We spoke to BGFG founder Rafik Riad to chat all things feel good — from how those pesky millennials are actually buying for social and environmental good (bless em) and how they’re doing their part to keep waste to a minimum at the ole Expo.

When did the idea for Buy Good Feel Good Expo first take seed?
BGFG really came from my work in international development and policy development. Or I should say it came as a reaction to that work! I was watching our development projects fall victim to funding gaps and global recessions and corporate donors that would lose interest in an issue. There was no stability in this model and I watched wonderful projects crumble and all our work to improve lives take two steps back for every advance we made. I just couldn’t keep pushing the narrative of traditional international development. So when I discovered social enterprises I became very excited! Here was a model that combined the strengths of business with the soul of international development. I jumped into the social enterprise and haven’t looked back.

You’ve managed to transform BGFG from a 15-vendor show to one hosting over 100 vendors in just five years. Why do you think it’s being embraced so eagerly?
I think BGFG has seen so much growth because the world is changing its mind about “business as usual.” People are becoming more aware of the impact, whether positive or negative, that business can have on the world. And they’re increasingly demanding that brands not just give donations or plant trees. They want to see a brand build social and environmental good right into their business plan, which is exactly what all our vendors at BGFG are doing. I also have to give credit to the millennials for this shift. They’re demanding accountability and transparency from brands and rewarding the brands that heed this call. Millennials are actually buying for social and environmental good. And the millennials are dragging their parents and grandparents along with them, which is fantastic! 

Expos and shows and the like are notoriously good at producing waste — how do you go about making sure yours is as green as possible? 
That’s something we keep working on year after year. Hosting the show in the Enercare Centre means we have access to onsite waste streaming, which helps a lot. We offset our carbon emissions resulting from powering the Expo. We also partner with leaders in the field such as Live Green Toronto and learn from their experience.

How do you vet your vendors? What boxes do they have to tick off to sell at the Expo?
Our vendors have to demonstrate to us that their business has social and/or environmental good built into their business structure. We’re less concerned about certifications, although these are valuable, and more focused on seeing how a business is contributing to positive social and environmental change. We want to avoid ‘greenwashing’ or ‘goodwashing.’ We divide the very large category of social enterprise into five different categories: Environmental Impact, Social Impact, Fair Trade, Organic and Local.

Anything else we should be aware of?
Everyone should bring their mothers out to the Expo on Saturday and Sunday. It’s the perfect place to get a Mother’s Day gift and show Mom what a good person you are!

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