In a recent conversation I had at the 3-day Phish Festival 8 with Matt Beck, Touring Director for Phish’s charitable organization, The WaterWheel Foundation, he said something that struck me as incredibly honest and from the heart: "There's nothing about a rock and roll concert that is sustainable when you really get down to the nuts and bolts of it."
It's true, rock and roll concerts—especially multiple day festivals with 10's of thousands of people—are notorious for their environmental footprints.
From the huge cadre of touring buses and crew that need to be flown in from all over the place, to the supply of food, to the disposable water bottle carnage, to the tons of waste sucked out of port-o-potties, to the tens of thousands of fans driving and flying in from points unknown—it would seem that the best thing you could do for the environment would be to never have these festivals in the first place.
But that would be incredibly sad. All of us need entertainment and release from our modern hassles and fast-paced lifestyles—and, in my opinion, there are few things as effective at bringing that release than a rock concert. For that reason, rock concerts and multiple day festivals are never going to go away.
Yet the ironic (and hypocritical?) thing about the environmental impact of a touring band such as Phish is that, typically, the people who go to the shows are some of the same ones who are most in tune with doing better by the environment. In my experience they tend to be educated, 40-and-younger-somethings, who take global warming for a fact and recycle.
So, if the rock festivals aren't going to go away and the fans care about the environment, it's up to the bands and their fans to do as much as possible to minimize the impact of them—and Phish has taken a leading role in this realm. As Mr. Beck said, "We really want to encourage people to minimize their impact. Every step we take is that much closer to an ideal world."
For starters, Phish has committed to using B20 in all of their tour buses. "It actually wasn't difficult to find buses that support high blends of biodiesel," said Beck. "The difficult part was sourcing it. Phish is big enough that it's not such a problem, but a lot of the smaller bands are having a hard time sourcing biodiesel where they can actually get to places that sell it without going way out of their way."
As biofuels become more and more accepted and easier to find, the sourcing of them should become less of a problem. But in the meantime, when large organizations such as Phish demand them, it benefits us all.
Recently, Phish has been making it a point to get as much of the backstage catering for their concerts as possible from local and organic sources. According to Mr. Beck, this move stemmed from a desire the limit the "environmental nightmare of trucking vegetables."
At Festival 8 this was no exception. In addition to the local and organic backstage catering, fans had a full-on local and (mostly) organic farmer's market to shop at—and it wasn't even that outrageously priced.
The market had been set up inside the concert grounds in a high traffic area right next to the general store. This was the first time I have ever seen or heard of a farmer's market being set up inside a concert venue.
It was organized by the Palm Springs Cultural Center and from what I saw and experienced, the farmer's market was incredibly popular—you could buy everything from organic coffee and vegetables to dates and bread. And I can't even tell you how much the crazy green energy drink (made from about 50 different types of seeds, green leafy vegetables and fruits) being sold by one of the vendors saved my butt—that thing roused me quite nicely on those groggy mornings.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Over the past year, Phish has been working with Reverb—a group borne out of the Guster organization—to organize things such as a fan rideshare program and to help calculate how many greenhouse gas offset credits the band should purchase for their tours. According to Mr. Beck, Phish has purchased enough carbon credits to offset the emissions of the entire tour—"even inclusive of all of the crew members' flights."
Aside from the reusable water bottle program discussed in a previous post, another innovative waste management practice I noticed at Festival 8 was in the labeling of the trash cans. Instead of simply having recycling and trash bins, each waste station (of which there were many) had three receptacles: Mixed Recycling, Compost, and Landfill.
Using the word "landfill" is a great way to connect you with where the stuff you are throwing away is going. Subsequently it also makes you think about which bin to put that piece of trash in. Mr. Beck indicated that Phish was sorting the recycling and conducting composting on site.
And how could you forget the Green Crew; the group of fan volunteers that clean up and recycle trash from the parking lots and other areas outside of the main venue after each show? Seriously, the Green Crew is old-school Phish. They were around before the word "green" was even in vogue.
According to Mr. Beck, all of the WaterWheel Foundation merchandise ever sold "has always been organic or hemp and sustainable." But the WaterWheel Foundation merchandise by itself represents a small portion of Phish's overall merchandise sales. Accordingly, Phish saw this as a major place to make improvements. "In the last year somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of all the Phish goods that have been introduced have either been organic cotton or made from recycled materials," said Beck.
At Festival 8, an extraordinary amount of booths were set up to showcase both local and national charity and environmental organizations. They were located in high traffic areas and always seemed to have tons of people milling about and inside them.
Referring to his own organization, Mr. Beck said "We have a lot of social programs as well through the WaterWheel Foundation. The foundation hosts a local charity everywhere we go from riverkeepers to organic farms to different groups such as battered women organizations—I believe that social and environmental causes at this point have become one and the same. A healthy community can only exist on a healthy planet and a healthy planet can only be taken care of by a healthy community."
- Driving to Phish Festival 8 in a 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
- Clearly Ford Has a Winner: 2010 Fusion Hybrid Extended Test Drive
- Phish Reduces Water Bottle Consumption at Festival 8 With Innovative Program
Nick is the Editor of Gas 2.0