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Interview #14: Ieper Hardcore Fest: Lessons on how to make a festival more sustainable

Posted on: 08.07.2019

Ieper Hardcore Fest is the longest running three-day hardcore festival of Europe and the World, with its 27thedition this year. It is an independent festival organized entirely by volunteers. Ieperfest hosts 2000 – 7000 people per day. The festival is also known for its green policy. It has won numerous green awards and even received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 as a Green Event. EREK talked to Martijn van de Walle, one of the volunteers in charge of the green policy of the festival. He has been coming to the festival since 1995 and has been a volunteer since 2002. 

Why is sustainability such an important part of Ieper Hardcore Fest?

Sustainability has been an important part of the Hardcore Fest since the beginning. The catering of the entire festival is vegan and has always been vegan. This started from an animal rights angle, but over time has shifted to include a broader sustainability perspective.

What measures did you take to decrease the footprint of the festival? 

Aside from vegan catering, there are many initiatives. First of all, we have made it very easy for people to sort their waste. We have ensured that from any point on the festival terrain you can see at least two trash areas. There are different bins for paper, tin, food scraps, cigarettes, gum and rest waste. Glass is not allowed on the festival terrain, so we have a separate collection point for glass just outside of the entrance. Backstage, we also collect batteries that have been used on the podium. The goal is to check every trash bag to see if it has been sorted properly. This is not always possible, but we do our best. One year the weather during the festival was so bad, that we were not able to sort during the festival. We decided to ask the waste management company to pick up the bags a day later. The day after that festival, we had an afterparty with a barbeque where we, together with a bunch of volunteers, sorted the trash until it was done.

The bands and volunteers get tap water in reusable bottles, instead of bottled water. We also have reusable plates, cutlery, cups and even a reusable container for fries. All the food stands on the festival are required to use these. You pay an extra token for all the food and drinks you purchase. Upon returning your dirty plate or cup, you get a token in return. A side effect of these containers is less food waste, because the containers have to be empty in order to hand them in. We have noticed that because of this people are more likely to share food or empty their plates.

We have eco toilets that don’t require water, but that are compostable. After you are done, you can throw some woodchips in the toilet against the smell. The stalls are made of recycled canvases.

We collect the waste water from the showers and catering on the festival terrain. Normally, we have a portable water treatment plant. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible this year. This year we collect the water and bring it to a water treatment plant where it will be cleaned. 

Transport and energy are still the most difficult areas to really make sustainable. We are not allowed to place a temporary windmill or solar panels, and biofuel is not sustainable in the amount that we would need. We have switched all the lights to LED-lights and have installed motion sensors on the lights on the campsite. This way, we won’t forget to turn them off. We also ask people to come with public transport or to carpool. But the festival terrain is located relatively remotely, so the public transport options are not the greatest. 

What measure has had the greatest impact?

The vegan catering. The dairy and meat industry have a large negative impact on the environment. So, by having a few thousand people eating vegan for a weekend, we can have a big positive impact. Aside from the catering, it is our communication through which we get people thinking about their own impact. 

What sort of feedback do you receive from visitors and bands?

We get a lot of positive feedback both from visitors and bands. We even have had bands talk about our green policy onstage in between songs. We still sometimes get a request from bands to include meat in our backstage catering. We politely explain to them that serving meat would deviate from one of our core values as a festival. We will never do so. If they really want meat, there are plenty of restaurants in the area.

We have a lot of yearly returning visitors who are very positive about the festival. People who used to come here as teenagers, are now coming with their husbands or wives and kids. There are also people who travel to the festival from the other side of the world, for instance from New Zealand and Columbia. 

How difficult is it to make a festival sustainable? 

The best way to become more sustainable is by making small changes. We started with ensuring that there were enough trashcans and that people would actually use them. Then, we introduced waste sorting. It is really about making it easy for people. We have recently introduced gum trees: wooden boards in the shape of trees to stick your gum on. It is very simple, but people use it. 

It helps that there are a lot of people in the punk and hardcore scene who are very environmentally conscious. It also helps that we, as the organisers, are also from this scene. We speak the same language and are in direct contact with a lot of visitors. This has resulted in a situation in which the visitors speak up when they see other people not separate their trash properly. We have an eco-team, but everybody feels responsible for the sustainability of the festival, which is a great thing. Everybody, visitors and organisers alike, is proud of the prices we have won with our green policy. But that is only possible because we have put an emphasis on communication, on explaining what we are doing and why. The fact remains that the most sustainable thing to do would be to not organise the festival. As the ecological footprint during that weekend remains very large. But if the festival helps people to think about sustainability and to make small changes in their everyday life, then we can have a really large positive impact. I became vegan through this festival and I know a lot of other people for which this is also the case. 

What lessons have you learned in your efforts to make the festival more sustainable?

We are not afraid to try different things. If something doesn’t work, we learn, and we adapt. That has been the strength of the festival. We keep telling the same story of our values and we try to live by them.

We are not afraid to set expectations for our visitors. It might result in some people staying home, but we also gain new visitors this way. Setting expectations is not unreasonable. At home, everybody sorts their waste. Why would that be any different at a festival? The same goes for catering. Perhaps there are people who decide not to come to the festival because we only offer vegan food, but there are others who come specifically for this reason. It is usually very difficult to get vegan food at festivals. This is also because some festivals make it mandatory for the food stands to have one vegetarian option, but that usually does not result in good food. A food stand that focusses on barbequed food, won’t be enthusiastic about a vegetarian option. It is better to have one stand with vegetarian and vegan food, that produces really good food that people want to eat.

What advice would you give to other festivals or events that want to become more sustainable?

Don’t be afraid to try, take small steps and ensure that your story is credible. As long as you can ensure that the logistics are easy and simple, people will go along with it. If festivals would collaborate, we can create habits, we can normalise the sorting of waste and the use of reusable cups, plates, etc. Music festivals can be a pioneer in this field. Because if we can do it, so can sporting events and other events.