As climate change has become an increasingly important issue, the demand for renewable energy has grown exponentially. At the moment, Australian is powered by 13.47% renewable energy, which is enough to power 4.5 million average homes per year. The remainder is sourced from oil, coal and gas.
AKA fossil fuels.
While we all seem to be looking to government initiatives and big business within mining, timber and trade to be trailblazers in our transition to renewable energy sources, there are a number of smaller industries leading the way in tackling climate change.
One such industry is the music festival industry, which has made a widespread commitment to environmentally friendly practices. More often than not, festivals are renowned for leaving negative and semi-permanent effects on the environment.
For instance, at this year’s Maitreya Festival, organisers were furious at punters who use the festival grounds as their own personal garbage pit.
But think about it.
How good can it be for the local environment when you cram 10,000+ festival goers into a small remote space to let loose for a few days?
Well, in 2013, Falls Festival (all 3 combined), over 210 tonnes of general waste was produced, 60 per cent of which was un-recycable. Furthermore, Falls Festival emitted 365 tonnes of greenhouse gas over the course of 4 days.
But hey I'm not ripping on Falls entirely.
Falls are actually one of the leaders in the industry for environmentally responsible and transparent practices. The only reason I know those statistics is because they publish a sustainability report to the public, who can read over the environmental impact of the festival.
The report details how Falls have introduced a Carbon Offset Price in addition to the ticket price. In 2013, 79.1% of patrons chose to add the price and this resulted in Fall offsetting 4633.39 tonnes of CO2 gas and contributing $120, 137 dollars to The Tasmanian Native Forest Protection Project.
So you know, if you’re going Falls, do the planet a favour and add on the price.
In 2015, there is a new festival that is taking environmentally responsible practices to the next level.
On December 22, Melbourne will play host to OFFtheGRID festival, a festival that runs on entirely renewable energy sources which plans to produce zero waste and also plans to use all profits to sponsor the creation of renewable energy infrastructure.
Speaking with festival director, Ross Harding, I pondered how exactly does one create a festival that not only contributes zero waste, but also acts as a renewable energy source at the same time.
‘Basically we’re building a 5m high stage from scaffolding and bringing in 28 250-watt solar panels, which equals 7 kilowatts of solar’
‘It’s afternoon sun faces from the west we will have the batteries charged when it arrivse and we will be topping the batteries up through the sun – the idea being that when were using the peak of the power will during the afternoon when we have the peak of sun’
Essentially, the music and festival will be drawing its energy directly from the day’s sun. OFFtheGRID is additionally targeting for zero waste produced from the festival.
‘It’s not an easy claim to make so we know we’re going to have some waste left over’ Harding says
Well, with that leftover waste OFFtheGRID have planned to have an artist make a sculpture out of the rubbish. Pretty neat if you ask me. At this point I got to thinking; how financially sustainable is it for festivals to be environmentally sustainable?
With an abundance of festivals going bust in recent years (BDO, Future etc.), festival organiser have to be constantly aware of their bottom line.
‘Technically, a lot of the equipment is cost effective, it’s more the time and the effort to find as the systems isn’t it really set up’ Harding explains, ‘For instance, our toilet guy isn’t really anymore expensive than normal toilet guys, but there isn’t many of his type’
‘In terms of setting up the systems, that’s where it is hard work. Like how are we going to make sure that these 2-3000 people don’t produce any waste at this event? So thinking about how we are going to turn cigarette butts into ashtrays is where a lot of our time is going
‘It’s a goal for us to be transparent; we’re not trying to greenwash. If the solar runs out, we have a bio-diesel generator there, and everyone can know that’s how we’re doing it’
With all the profits from OFFtheGRID, the festival directors are planning to invest into a renewable energy project that will contribute power back into Melbourne. In many ways, OFFtheGRID is unique as it acts as a for-profit company that seeks to invest its profits into external projects rather than the within itself.
‘It’s really hard for non-for-profits to compete against businesses and actually create change’
What we’re trying to role is a social business concept and we’re not trying to mislead and say we’re non-for-profit. 100 per cent of the profits will be invested into a renewable energy project’
‘Were not going to give that money away’ Harding asserts, ‘We see that we need to use that resource to organise more events, with the goal that if we can power the whole city, we can give the infrastructure back to the city’
‘We’re trying to create a snowball effect here, the more parties we throw, the more projects we build and the more parties we throw…I think what we all feel is that everyone wants to do something about this, but nobody knows what to do, so we’re trying to make it easy and fun’
The festival also aims to receive government support for help with their environmental endeavours.
‘We are doing this completely independent at this stage from any local or state government, but we love more support so hopefully for the next one we will get it’
Harding is adamant that as awareness about renewable energy and climate change grows, sustainable environmental behaviour will be expected of all festivals
‘People are becoming more and more switched on to the fact that festivals are producing lots of waste’ Harding says. ‘For sure, a lot of festivals are going to do it more, but it’s a mindset change. It’s easier to do it the way everyone has been doing it the last 20-30 years, it’s standard practice’
‘Everyone knows where to get a diesel generator from, it’s quick and easy to throw away your waste and not think about it. I guess what we’re trying to say the way of doing it with no impact is just better’
When I looked at the lineup for this year’s festival, I noticed that with Cut Copy and Tornado Wallace headlining, OFFtheGRID curated some sort of inner city dance party.
I questioned Harding as to whether dance acts are the more environmentally sustainable choice.
Or as I put it…
Are rock bands destroying the earth?
Harding chuckles at the thought.
‘Well it’s interesting that you say that, the way that the power structure works is that depending on the music coming out of the speakers is depending on the power we draw’ Harding explains ‘So for example a DJ that plays heaps of bass is going to draw a lot more power than an artist that is on the high side’
‘To be honest, if someone rocks up with an old school guitar amp, that’s going to drain heaps of power, but we didn’t choose these artists based on how much power they consume’
‘Edd Fisher (from Wax’o Paradiso) curated the lineup and he is trying to set the right atmosphere for the day, something not doom n gloom but something unique
‘We always ask these artists to participate in the environmental aspect in some way, for instance getting bands to play acoustic so they use less energy. Basically everyone is changing the way we doing things, from the artists to us as festival organisers’
OFFtheGRID are planning to be an annual event (at least) in Melbourne with the aim of being a continual and sustainable party series.
Above all this, Harding believes the most important aspect of OFFtheGRID is the message that it is trying to send to others.
‘Once we solidify our model and what we want to replicate, we will have an idea that we could empower people all over the world to power their own system’
‘In our view, it’s inevitable that energy systems will transform from finite to infinite resources, in that process, it decentralising the power generation, so the question is who is going to own it?’ Harding asserts, ‘The way we see it, the government and business are moving too slow but if people act quickly enough, the people can own the energy system, and the ownership can be decentralised too’
‘We’re definitely not trying to make the party a hippie fest, we’re just trying to make the good things cool’
At the core, it is clear that OFFtheGRID is much more than your average festival. Even with the music and even with the exceptional environmental endeavours, OFFtheGRID separates itself by having a real purpose for what’s happening in the rest of the world.
And that’s something we should all be getting around.
Alex Capper, once affectionally called by Ross & John of 3AW as the '7 foot fucker', loves the Essendon Football Club, stalking reddit and dabbing. He thinks he can speak French, but he can't.