Northside, as sustainable as it gets!

Summer for most of us equals festival season. Since I was 18 and hence allowed to go out clubbing and concerts, I couldn’t wait for summer so I can go to the seaside for one of my favourite music festivals. This runs deep in my blood. I remember one year, I even run away from home for 24h without my parents knowing. Ahem…I hope now they’re not reading this! I gave them the typical teenager excuse, “I’m going to spend the night at my best friend’s house!”. They never found out and I travelled 600km and more than 15h back and forth to the seaside in Vama Veche, Romania, the last village before the border with Bulgaria. All of this because I wanted to see my favourite musicians playing under the stars on a beach in the middle of nowhere. First and best things I ever did to celebrate my “adulthood”. Now 13 years later, I would definitely do it again! Being able to see great artists, dance all night long with our friends, music festivals have a special energy and at least once in your lifetime, you should experience one. 

My love affair with festivals continued after that episode, I was a volunteer many times for festival up and down the country. Every time I couldn’t help but notice all the waste left behind by everyone from visitors to business and festival staff. A sea of plastic, shoes, clothes, wood from all the temporary buildings, this is how normally a festival looks like when the shows are over. As a volunteer, I stayed behind and cleaned the festival area at the end collecting tones of garbage! I strongly feel that festival organizers should invest more in making these events more environmentally friendly and fight to lower their environmental impact. Bottom line is that things could be done much better on this topic.

This year was my first at Northside Festival in Aarhus, Denmark. I knew Danish are quite good at recycling, selective waste collection and investments in alternative energy. But finding out that Northside Festival is taking positive action to lower their environmental impact was music to my years! As this is a music festival of course music is a top priority for them, but sustainability too! The organizers wrote on NS website “We want to create the most innovative and sustainable music event – for and together with our audience, artists and partners”. Being the second Danish festival to receive “A Greener Festival” Award is very impressive. Also, the “Sustainability” and the “MPI’s Outstanding Achievement” Awards handed out in March 2017 by the Danish Events and Meetings Awards for achievements in the filed of sustainability sound even more impressive. Clearly, these guys take it seriously!

According to their 2016 Festival Report published in April 2017, the targets for Northside 2017 were:

  • 100% organic food across the entire festival

  • 85% organic beverages at the festival

  • 80% sorting of all waste

  • 60% sustainable food packaging

  • Extension of last year’s refugee project in collaboration with the Municipality of Aarhus, which hopefully will provide 30 refugees with the possibility to become volunteers at NorthSide

  • A new plastic circuit project carried out by Worldperfect and supported by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, wherein beer mugs and other discarded plastic products are converted into new packaging materials that can be used at NorthSide 2018

Ok, wait for a second, this sounds too good to be true right? Just before boarding my plane for Aarhus, I read that festival tickets were sold out and that approx. 50.000 people were going to attend the festival. So how do you get 50.000 party-happy-people to think about the environment?!

1. Organic meets festival food

Ok …. if you’re hungry this is definitely the time to look away! 

The good: I’ve done a couple of trips around most food stalls and indeed everywhere you could see a big “Organic” sign. Organic beer, organic burgers, organic fish and chips, organic salads. Ok, so these guys really take this “organic” mania quite seriously. If some of the festival goers were not aware of this trend, they definitely are now!

Meet eaters a bit more spoiled for choice

To be improved: Ok organic food checked, but what about vegetarian/vegan options? As a vegetarian, it is pretty difficult for me to find varied options at festivals and most of the times I have to settle with chips or a boring salad for every meal. Although there were 2 or 3 stalls where one could find vegetarian/vegan options, most of the festival food was not vegetarian-friendly and vegans really struggled. For next year will be great to see more options here. I would go even further and suggest at least 70% of the food stalls to cater only vegetarian/vegan options. For me personally, the hole concept of organic food and sustainability go hand and hand. The organizers did a superb job pushing the “organic” concept forward and it is obvious how from year to year they became better and better at it, but to maintain a consistent message further action should be taken to raise awareness about sustainable practices to produce what we are eating, what’s the environmental impact and where is our food coming from. 

Sadly not many option for vegans and vegetarians… 🙁 

We’ve all been there, after several pints of beer we end up craving carbs, the more the merrier. I honestly can say that this vegetarian burger from Organic Boho is the best I’ve ever eaten in my life!

Organic Boho made these cauliflower sides too, delish!

“I’m so hungry I just want to eat everything!”

2. Food packaging

The good: Wow! This really blew my mind, it was incredible to see so little use of plastic containers or food packaging. Instead, I’ve seen mostly recyclable and biodegradable alternatives.

Love them <3 <3 <3

The bad: plastic cups for beer and plastic cutlery. I am pretty sure there are alternative options to all of this. I found it strange to eat from a biodegradable banana leaves bowl but using plastic cutlery. Even though this is collected and recycled afterwards, it seems a bit pointless to even have them, when there are wooden cutlery options available.

3. Waste collecting

The good: the festival grounds where clean and tidy, thanks to the team of staff working around the clock collecting all the beer cups literary from your hands as soon as you finished it. Talk about garbage-heroes! Some of the visitors did that too because the great thing was that you could get money for all those plastic cups you would be collecting. I’m telling you, these Danish are pretty clever! In 20min you could collect enough cups to buy yourself a proper lunch! Also, there are the so called Trash talkers, which basically are volunteers that help out visitors throwing their trash in the right bin. So no excuses, the organizers are pulling all the stops here!

The not so good: although it was great the staff kept the grounds plastic cups free, it became slightly annoying to have people walking through the crowd collecting cups in gigantic bags, during a concert when you normally want to be able to jump up and down and dance until your legs fall off. I was at Prodigy concert and we all know how manic the crowd gets, including myself, so it was bordering dangerous on having a tiny a girl looking for plastic cups when everyone around was busy pushing each other in the mosh pit! Maybe for certain concerts, these lovely people should be instructed to stop their activity, just to make it safe for them and the others around.

4. Travel

The good: no car parking facilities at Northside. Arriving at the festival all visitors had to walk, cycle or use public transportation. It was actually very pleasant because one of the routes involved walking through a forest, a scenic route along Brabrandstien and all the way to the festival site. You can’t say that about most of the urban festivals! Most people in Denmark use bicycles in the cities as main travel vehicle, so at the entrance, you could see a sea of bicycles. Alcohol and being able to find your bicycle after the party do not make a good home! Ana could testify that she spend a good half an hour trying to find hers! Transport links from the city to the festival grounds where very good too, a few buses dropped you off right in front of the pedestrian access routes. This means that there were very few cars parked near the festival and fewer cars were used to access the festival. CO2 emissions down!

The bad: nothing bad here 🙂

Well, what can I say, it was pretty neat to see how Northside goes about to gain their title as one of the most sustainable music festivals around, without skimping on the music front and enhancing the festival experience for the visitors. Every year they get better and better at this and I for one am very interested to see it becoming bigger and better at this.

Northside 2017 buzzwords definitely were music and sustainability! <3