Right now we are in the heart of festival season. You might be reading this article in your home or office, but somewhere not too far away, people are festivaling.
People in Wisconsin are tossing cow dung around in the "Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival." In Austin, they are doing Lord knows at Eeyore's Birthday Party Festival. And from the sounds of the Underwater Music Festival in the Florida Keys, some people are dancing the drowning fish dance (oh you know the move, you put your hands on your ears and pretend like they're gills).
And as millions of people from all over the world are uniting with their tribes to commune, learn, and celebrate their common goals and ground — there is an environmental dark side to these human gatherings.
Cue scary music: From the millions of plane tickets bought to attend festivals, to the emissions from millions cars, to all the human and non-organic waste produced from a summer’s worth of festivals — we run into the classic clash of our current times — how do you consciously plan or consciously attend a festival without comprising your commitments to Mother Earth?
The environmental question is especially stirring if you work on a festival like Beloved near Tidewater, Oregon. The ostensible purpose of this gathering is to raise consciousness of its attendees. So Beloved is held to and holds itself to a high environmental standard. That leads to some great top to bottom implementation of practices that are a plus for the earth.
Elliot Rasenick is the founder of Beloved. As the festival enters its tenth year this summer, his festival has adopted an environmentally realistic set of policies, goals, and procedures.
"You have to be realistic and thorough, putting the environment at every level," Elliot says. Beloved works to maximizes environmental learning opportunities for attendees in conjunction with reducing environmental impact. Beloved looks at the real impacts it will have on the environment, works to minimizes those, and sees the festival as a classroom. For all attendees, there is exposure to some really cool environmental practices.
It's an environmental "practice" because it's never perfect. But a festival that has a mindset capable of leading its attendees to green lifestyle choice? That should be worth some Facebook hearts! A festival getting this type of green buy-in could cause its attendees to produce less waste during the festival than they otherwise would have at home. And this deserves some more Facebook likes and hearts.
I caught up with Elliot from Beloved to discuss what he's doing to make a better festival for the environment. His perspective, insights, and policies are applicable to anyone planning and attending festival or large scale human gathering.
Be Honest About Your Festival's Environmental Impact
“There is a core dishonesty many festivals have about the true impact they have on the environment," Elliot says. "If we are to truly do the best we can in working with the environmental problems Beloved creates, we first need to outline all of the impacts our festival has on the environment and then work from there to mitigate these." And don't even get Elliot started about the tremendous dishonesty at the heart of GMO corn compostable products some events use to toot their green horn.
Eliminate Single-Use Petroleum Products
One of the ways Beloved has worked to reduce its impact is to work with its food vendors to implement a program that uses reusable dishes and utensils. This program has the impact of a reduction of of tens of thousands of single-use plastic plates and utensils which would otherwise end up in a landfill.
See Your Festival as a Model for Cities
We can create the solutions we wish to see in the world within our festivals. Running a festival is like being mayor to a large city — festivals are models of cities. Elliot says it's important to "Grasp how choices that humans make impact the environment [on this scale]."
When asking the general question, "How can we do better as human beings in cities?" we can implement solutions on a city's scale within our festival. Festivals aren't playing around here. They have the opportunity to prove something on the grandeur human scale. Diligent counties across the country ought to take note of the festivals finding working solutions to the problems they too face.
Think of Festivals as Classrooms to Teach Environmental Living
Beloved is aware of the opportunity of having the full attention of some 3,000 attendees over four days. They have a huge educational opportunity on their hands that they want to see played right. One of the ways Beloved does this is with its 5-stream waste management system that puts the food waste compost on site and front and center.
Experience is the best teacher. Beloved wants waste to be not just something you get out of site, but something its attendees understand. There is no better place to teach this lesson then on the toilet. "We're shitting in freshwater and using the forest to clean ourselves, when we should be shitting in the forest and using clean water to clean ourselves," Elliot says, making me hope my editor at Mother Earth allows this quote to hit print. "These are usable materials that need to remain usable materials – and this festival is an opportunity for us to educate the population about this reality."
Currently 70% of all human waste is going into compost toilets and being put to a useful purpose. By 2018, Elliot plans to work with the county to bring this number up to 100%.
Environmental Consciousness Encouraged at All Levels
At Beloved, environmental consciousness has been handed down to all levels. From the grounds crew, to purchasing department, to the management team — everyone is looking at how they can do things environmentally better.
Keep Your Festival in Nature
Beloved occupies a patch of land near Tidewater, Oregon which was clear-cut 25 years ago. So part of the responsibility that Elliot feels his festival has to this land is to return it to its natural state. "My dream is not just a festival that mitigates its negative impacts, but one that is regenerative to the land it holds.
Eliot sees his festival as being part of a natural environment (as opposed to paving over paradise to put up a parking lot).
What Attendees Can Do to be Environmentally Friendly Festies
Elliot hopes that if they didn't realize it already, everyone who attends Beloved will leave "grasp[ing] that choices humans make affect the environment." He wants them to get out of a single use mentally and see that all it takes is shifting our mindset and our actions will automatically follow. He wants them to think about borrowing a tent instead of buying a cheap Walmart one and abandoning it. He hopes they'll carpool, use ride-share sites, and take public transportation rather than riding solo in their SUV.
Beloved's attendees tend to think along similar lines — how to maximize the best we can do in any circumstance — this is being a conscious human being. I'd venture to say it's a lot easier to move your body freely on the dance floor knowing you're doing the best you can for yourself and your world. Beloved as a festival provides its attendees with this inner smile.
And these guidelines and considerations are valuable for any festival or any festival goer who has that space in their heart for the planet. Let the band play, the dance begin, and may the earth smile at the efforts we've made on her behalf.
Luke Maguire Armstrong has worked in development everywhere from Guatemala, to Kenya, Uganda, and the Bronx. He lectures on topics ranging from human trafficking, economics, philosophy, creative writing, and international affairs. He is the author of the intrepidly acclaimed travel anthology The Nomad’s Nomad. Follow him @LukeSpartacus and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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