Founder Robert Redford's high profile environmentalism and the Sundance Film Festival's green-leaning movie lineup leave the organizers with little wiggle room when it comes to coping with the ecological footprint of some 40,000 festival-goers. Fortunately, they've worked hard on common-sense initiatives to meet the challenge of a massive influx of movie buffs to the small mountain town of Park City, Utah.
The biggest change this year was cutting way down on the mass of discarded water bottles. For the second straight year, Brita and Nalgene teamed up to give away 40,000 BPA-free, reusable plastic water bottles. Filtered water stations dispensing free water were also available at most venues. The free bottles, less visible in 2009, were omnipresent this year. And while there's room to nitpick over the increase in manufactured plastic, it was a big improvement over the mountains of empty bottles that plagued previous festivals.
A Sundance fact sheet also boasted that 2010 was the fourth year that the "energy required to operate the Festival's theaters and venues has been offset with clean, renewable energy through a relationship with Rocky Mountain Power's Blue Sky Program." According to RMP, the main source of the offset is wind power, and Sundance estimated that 216,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions would be offset.
Park City's public transportation system has been a mainstay of the festival. The buses can get crowded, but festival-goers rarely wait more than 15 minutes for one to arrive at the many available stops. Venues and theaters are close enough together that using the bus to get from one screening to the next is usually the best option. The recent addition of the beautiful but geographically distant Temple Theater, however, has made relying solely on public transportation harder.
Recycling is also big at Sundance, and one need not look far to find bins of every flavor. Additionally, the organizers said that "the disposable items at officially sanctioned Festival events are contractually required to be made exclusively with 100% recycled paper or with plastics made of natural fibers such as corn, potato, and sugar cane." Good steps for next year would be recycling the festival credential badges and doing something about the blizzard of paper tickets.
Using technology to cut back on the number of trees harvested for the festival's weighty printed guide is another good green step. The online film guide is useful, but the iPhone app is even handier when making snap screening decisions or reacting to updates to the schedule.
The festival also announced Southwest Airlines as the official airline of the Sundance Film Festival and highlighted Southwest's environmental initiatives, such as paperless tickets and eco-friendly cabin materials. Hopefully the partnership will make it possible for festival-goers to offset their air travel emissions.
For the first time the Sundance Film Festival has also commissioned a comprehensive environmental study of the festival's impact by SWCA Environmental Performance Group. According the SWCA's Richard Young, the assessment entails:
"SWCA is performing a detailed baseline assessment of the overall impacts, including identifying boundaries, collecting data, performing an analysis, identifying opportunities to make reductions, developing a sustainability plan and setting goals, and preparing a detailed report.
SWCA is focusing on the major environmental impacts of the Sundance Film Festival including energy use, transportation, material use, waste, recycling, water use, emissions, green benefits, etc. Once the data is collected and an analysis completed we can develop a baseline "footprint" of the Festival."
Donald Carr is a press secretary for the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group. He also writes about music and film for the Washington City Paper and is the author of Psaurian: A Novel of Semi-Intelligent Design.