Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Green Vibes Talk with Harry

Taraleigh and Harry had a conversation with Harry who is in charge of all things green and sustainable at Gathering of the Vibes this year. The festival which takes place July 23-26 in Bridgeport, CT is on the forefront of festivals that are doing their best to be more green. As you will see from this interview, "It's not easy being green," but it is possible and Vibes is doing it!

HH- I love that Gathering of the Vibes has been and is continuing to go green. Let's go step by step and discuss the challenges and triumphs that go along with all aspects of a festival that is going green! Let's start with the solar stage. I heard that it is impossible to completely power the stage with solar power. Why is that?

Harry- What we've learned over the past few years is that we can power some of our stage with solar power, but the production equipment we use takes a ton of power with sound and lighting. It is a huge electrical demand. Most of the solar rigs out there aren't up to scale at this point. There are also issues with that the rig that might work is in California, but is it that economically viable to ship that rig across the country? There is also a serious eco-footprint that goes with transporting it. We need to find something reasonably close to the site.

HH- It can't always be 100 percent perfect all the time. You have to do what makes sense environmentally as well as makes sense for your business.

Harry- Exactly. It is an evolution. We can't always get to the holy grail, but what we want to make sure of is that the things we are doing have a real measurable impact and we aren't doing things that just sound good. It is a balancing act. Weighing many factors.

HH- It is so great that you have compostable cups and utensils. Who composts all of that when the festival goers are done with them? Do you make it easy for the festival goers to know where to throw compostables?

Harry- This year we now have built in with our agreements with our food and beverage vendors that they need to use cornstarch cups, plates, and utensils. We did this on a small scale last year with the Magic Hat Beer Tent, but now it is much bigger. We have teamed up with Clean Vibes. They do the hands on site work in terms of managing the composting and that bins are where they need to be and are properly signed. They are orchestrating where it needs to be on site to get picked up. We have had some challenges getting a local farm to receive that amount of composting at one time. We are most of the way there and hopefully we will have a commitment from a big local farm soon. Many times when people accept composting they will receive small quantities of yard waste but not cups and plates from 20,000 people.

HH- Will it be easy for the festival goers to compost?

Harry- The Clean Vibes people will make it easy with big signs. They did it last year at the Magic Hat Beer Tent. This year they will be everywhere and the signage will be really clear. People who are having fun don't want to try to hard to compost.

HH- I remember the compostable cups from Magic Hat. It was easy to compost the cups. I got excited. Ok, Do you provide fill stations with clean water so people can use refillable water bottles?

Harry- That is something we are working on. One of our operations leaders has been trying to make arrangements on that front and I don't know where we stand on that right at the moment. There have been many challenges with that. We have wanted to bring in water tankers and I've run into a series of issues with the health department and other regulations. That is still in play but I don't know if we will be able to pull it off this year.

HH- I would fill my bottle in the bathrooms with running water and I didn't get sick so people could do that.

Harry- It is something that we want to implement and we believe in it.

HH- How do you get the artists to participate in greening efforts?

Harry- The artists do a number of different things with a few of our long time environmental non-profits like Rock the Earth. We had tremendous support from the artist community on this. When we have reached out to people almost without exception all the bands have stepped up. We have to do it in a way where there aren't too many requests because the bands are so busy. We've done a number of different things like having bands sign posters which we used for fundraising tools.

HH- What are the top ways that you offset the Vibes carbon footprint?

Harry- This year we are drawing the vast majority of our power from temporary power stations set up by the local power company. We are using a 100% clean energy option. We are using the grid power and way less generators. When we use this grid power we have the ability to purchase carbon offset points. We are measuring the total power we are using for the event and then paying the power company through community energy that will allow that much clean energy to be put back into the grid. We are working with community energy to measure the electrical usage on the remaining generators and have them do an offset and donate it with the The Gathering of the Vibes name.

HH- Do you make it easy for people to find ride share programs?

Harry- Yes. We do a lot through the message boards on the Vibes website. That has been the hub of that activity. In our communications we repeatedly encourage people to car pool. It is too every one's financial advantage to drive as few vehicles as possible. We want to see less vehicles and more people.

HH- Anything else you would like to share?

Harry- Yes. One of the things we have been looking at very seriously with our remaining generators is using bio-diesel. We have done a lot of research on bio-diesel in generators and we have connected with a large scale supplier that is willing to work with us. Our challenge is finding a generator rental company that is ok having bio-diesel run through their generators. Bio-diesel is one of those areas where there is a lot of mis-information from when it first started that is no more. We are interested in running bio-diesel but we have to be able to get the kinds of generators we need and that has been a challenge.

HH- Hopefully someone will say, "Yes! We will help you!"

Harry- We hope so too.

HH- This will be interesting for people to see that there are so many challenges to going green.

Harry- The surface message is so clear and simple, but it isn't always so. I make sure the green credentials are real and don't just sound real. We make a lot of effort on this front and we really want to make a difference.

HH- Thank you for doing what you do. We look forward to the follow up interview with you closer to the event so we can see how things work out.

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