My pedometer clocked in at 51,323 steps (~29 miles) traveled by foot at the end of Sunday night's closing Phish Set; a part of this years Bonnarro Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, TN. Extrapolating this across the massive 70,000 concert-goers gives us a cumulative 2,000,000 (plus) miles walked, grooved, or ran during the course of the 4 day festival. Only if all choose their feet as the preferred method of travel to Bonnaroo... While the final carbon footprint tally of the festival is still being calculated it is known that both the fan's and artist's travel to and from the event represents the majority of their carbon footprint. What can we do!?
Enter Laura Sohn, the Sustainability Director for Bonnaroo, responsible for managing all the festival's different departments, including concession operations and making sure there is both proper implementation and support for all sustainability efforts. This year's event implemented a diverse array of green practices including: composting and recycling (helping divert waste from landfills), a solar powered stage, and plans to mitigate the festival's impacts with Carbon Credits to offset the greenhouse gas emitted during the weekend. Bonnaroo has been on the greening path for the last six years, utilizing; thus these eco-practices that were once the exception and are now the rule: "our vendors are extremely knowledgeable they have been through the process before and know how to implement the plan", says Sohn. While the role of the Sustainability Director has the ability to affect on site operations, the performing artists whose stop at Bonnarro is just one of many during the course a lengthy summer tour schedule have their own carbon burdens to manage.
Enter Brian Allenby, General Manager of Reverb, a non-profit helping to make tours and the music industry in general more environmentally friendly. His work at Reverb focuses not just on one show, but rather the comprehensive tour and all related greening practices; thus where Bonnaroo leaves off, Reverb picks up.
The more popular acts of the summer, including Phish, seem to create the largest challenge in terms of greening: for "fan travel is the single largest impact on the environment", explains Allenby. With this in mind, Reverb has teamed up with PickUp Pal - or as Allenby puts it: "an online dating site for carpoolers". Those who do end up carpooling are given priority access to VIP-esque parking lots at the venues.
The greenest success of Bonnarro 2009 did not come in the form of a composted cup or a biodiesel bus, but rather in the new status quo. In the past, greening was the exception not the rule. This year it felt as if we were no longer striving towards a sustainable society, but rather we were living in one. The culture of green is now commonplace in this community.
The majority of merchandise vendors I encountered were committed to selling more eco-friendly 'fashion' products; but the difference came in that the fans were actually sporting their eco clothing. Companies like Playback are pushing the fashion envelope and taking sustainable clothing one step further. Sarah Kasbeer, responsible for marketing, explains her product's creation cycle: "Our clothing is made from an array of recycled products including plastic PET bottles. The bottles are broken down into a fiber component, re-spun into yarn, and then knit." The most evolutionary aspect of this process comes from the use of the original color of the bottle. This way Playback avoids using extra dye and minimizes the water used to manufacture their product.
The green culture further manifested itself at Bonnaroo through the various acts and stages. In addition to the great music acts, fans also had a chance to hear from environmental leaders such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. about his efforts to prevent mountain top mining or take educational workshops on sustainable water use, composting, and more. After a vibrant set by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, a large group of fans mad their way to the solar stage to catch a piece of the Rock the Earth Panel to learn about 'Social Change Through Music'.
The environmental progressivism that was apparent at Bonnaroo will not cease when the crowds go home or the artists move on to their next gigs. RFK Jr. came impart to Bonnaroo to "invite all the great environmentalists" to fight against such environmental injustices as mountain top mining and coal-based energy; to be accomplished through varying acts of "civil disobedience".
The environmentalism apparent at Bonnaroo 2009 was felt and seen throughout the community. The real test remains however, in seeing how far these actions and messages can travel from the small town of Manchester, TN.