As green as possible
A music and arts festival adopts sustainable ways.
IT is the final show of Splendour In The Grass and Coldplay has just released some balloons into the air. Almost immediately after, the band’s Chris Martin looked at the balloons wistfully and quipped, “Oh, we shouldn’t have done that. This is an environmentally-responresponsible festival.”
When even the frontman of one of the biggest bands in the world has heard of your environmental practices, you know you are doing something right.
Splendour In The Grass is the largest music and arts festival of its kind in Australia and possibly AsiaPacific, with over 30,000 festivalgoers thronging the quiet, tranquil Woodfordia festival site near the countryside town of Woodford, Queensland, for a three-day showcase of world-class musical acts.
Organising an event of such immense scale is in itself a daunting task, so how do you make it as green as the grass in its name suggests?
Since its early days as a small, one-day event at Byron Bay near Brisbane, the organisers, Village Sounds and Secret Service, have always wanted to make the event sustainable. For nine out of the festival’s 11 years, Mat Morris of Global Protection Agency has been its environmental consultant.
“The promoters have always been interested in being as green as possible for their event. I happen to know them well, and since I had a background in environmental science, they asked me to come and help them with that,” he said during an interview at the festival.
After seeing attendance for the festival growing larger and larger over the years, the festival was moved from Byron Bay to the current site in Woodford. The most recent festival in July saw over 30,000 festival-goers, 21,000 of whom camped at the festival grounds.
“The move brought a whole lot of challenges. First of all, the capacity increased from 7,500 to maybe 30,000 punters. Secondly, we went from 2,500 to 21,000 campers. So you can imagine the logistics involved here. We’ve actually created a small town, larger than many of the rural towns around Australia!”
They now have to think about energy, carbon emissions, waste management and raising recycling rates.
Backed by data
Morris said to be serious about going green, data collection is crucial.
“You need to establish a baseline to start with, and you need good data to work your way up from there. You have to know how much waste there is, what the composition of the waste is, how much recycling is needed, what sort of emissions is produced, how much diesel fuel is burnt in the generators, how many vehicles we have, how many kilometres they travelled, and so on,” he says.
“All that data is critical in helping to identify the issues and develop programmes. If you don’t have it, then you’re always flying blind, and you could lose a lot of money.”
One of the main issues Morris had to address was the festival’s carbon emissions. His team started calculating the carbon emissions of every aspect of the event at a very early stage of the festival (approximately seven years ago), from the freight transport for the artistes’ equipment to the various vehicles that the staff and crew used throughout the event.
“We’ve pretty much got that down to a fine science now. We know exactly how much carbon all the elements are producing and using that data, we then offset it by purchasing Australian-accredited carbon offset, GreenPower,” said Morris, adding that the festival spends about A$11,000 to A$12,000 (RM34,650 to RM37,800) a year offsetting their carbon emissions.
GreenPower is the Australian government’s scheme to encourage the use of energy from renewable sources. When someone purchases GreenPower, the company they buy it from has to buy an equivalent amount of energy from an accredited renewable source, and feed it back into the nationwide energy grid.
Hence, when an event like Splendour offsets their carbon emissions with GreenPower, they are channelling funds towards supporting the production of electricity from renewable sources.
They also gave the public an option to offset their carbon emission. Through data culled from past festivals, they worked out the geographic spread of their punters, including where they live and how far they have to travel to get to Woodford.
With that data, Morris’ team worked out the cost to offset the carbon emission for those who have to travel to and from the festival, which turned out to be about A$3 (RM9.45). When punters go online to buy a ticket, they will come to a screen that asks if they would like to pay A$3 to offset their carbon emissions.
“All they have to do is tick a box, and they can purchase this green ticket and feel good that their journey to and from the festival is carbon-neutral,” said Morris, who estimated that about 20% of the audience members took up that option to purchase the carbon offset ticket.
On-site, the increasing number of campers at Woodford called for a different approach.
“We had to tackle the problems on a bite-sized basis. We started by working out specific zones for camping, and breaking them up into 11 different zones. Then, we worked out what sort of power needs are required for each zone, what sort of recycling infrastructure to install,” he said. “By dealing with each zone like they were mini cities, it became a lot more manageable and we could be a lot more effective in providing those services.”
A lot of effort was also spent on educating festival-goers about Splendour’s environmental practices. At the festival grounds, they ran programmes that encouraged punters to recycle. One offered prizes to people who brought back a certain amount of cans and bottles for recycling.
“Eco Cops” dressed up in police uniforms roamed the grounds, talking to people and explaining the green initiatives. Over at the campsites,“Green Chiefs” (actually environmental science undergraduates from the University of Queensland) went out each day and spoke to people about how they could be more environmentally friendly while camping.
Despite all that they have done, Morris reckoned there is a lot more to do.
“It is a continuous process of educating fans, constantly fine-tuning programmes, making the signage better, making sure the info we put on the website is better, and making sure that our contractors know what we want to do,” he said.
“We need to continue to educate people, and get them to change their behaviours. That behavioural change is the most important part for me. If everyone who came to the event did exactly the right thing, that is, took public transport or carpooled or recycle, we’d have a very, very green festival.”