Deep Tropics Proves How Festivals Can Be More Sustainable
Event organizers across the US are introducing initiatives to produce more sustainable music festivals. Researchers at Yale and George Mason University say 72% of Americans feel global warming is personally important—it affects their everyday decisions, including considering their sustainability options wherever they go.
The issue is at the forefront for millennials and zenials, who make up most of the audience at music events annually. In turn, many artists and venue operators are finding ways to reduce avoidable negative environmental impacts often linked with festivals and events.
We spoke to Joel Atchison, the co-founder of Nashville’s Deep Tropics Festival, and Jonah Geschwind, the founder of Green Disco a company that works to make events carbon neutral. The two companies recently partnered to implement green initiatives at Atchison's eco-friendly music festival.
Deep Tropics, which aims to be the greenest music festival in the US, celebrated its third iteration in 2021. The festival was not always as sustainable as it is now, explained Atchison. “I went to Imagine Festival in 2019 and I got super inspired by the work the community is doing and I had an awakening...It made me want to connect everything together—the music, sustainability, everything.”
After attending Imagine, Atchison launched Deep Culture, a non-profit which drives sustainability at Deep Tropics. That ultimately led to the partnership with environmental advocate Jonah Geschwind of Green Disco, which launched in April 2020.
Like many within the music industry and festival circuit, Geschwind lost his job with Insomniac after the pandemic hit. He then established Green Disco with the idea that when events would eventually come back, they must come back more sustainable than ever before.
“Green Disco helps organizers, artists, and venues with the tools and resources to help them transition into being more environmentally friendly and environmentally sustainable,” said Geschwind. “We don’t have an agenda to try to make them conform to some way, our goal is to help [event organizers] achieve what they want to and support them in many areas.”
Deep Tropics partnership with Green Disco this year led to several successful outcomes.
Throughout the festival weekend, 1,497 lbs of material waste were collected. With Green Disco’s guidance, 261 lbs. of aluminum, 69 lbs. of plastics, and 361 lbs. of glass were all brought to the West Nashville Convenience Center to be properly recycled. 431 lbs. of compostable waste went to Compost Nashville, and 60 lbs. of miscellaneous waste went to TerraCycle—an organization that recycles items deemed too difficult to dispose of, like gum, cigarette butts, and microplastics.
In total, Deep Tropics diverted 80% of the festival's waste from landfills. They also properly disposed of all the waste that was accumulated during the festival weekend. Only 20% went to landfill 314 lbs of non-recyclable waste. According to Green Disco, almost all of this waste stemmed from the production crew during the load-in and load-out.
This year, the festival also partnered with Trees For The Future and the Kenyan government to plant 59,100 fruit-bearing trees in Kenya funded by the on-site purchase of hemp “Eco-bands.”
The wrist bands, created by Green Disco, were a way to monitor eco transactions made by festival-goers transparently and more tangibly, said Geschwind.
“The most important and vital step in becoming "eco-friendly" or sustainable is to collect data, to understand. Now that we have a solid understanding of the waste stream and the material flow throughout the weekend we can make substantial changes for the coming years,” said Geschwind.
Accredited by renowned green organization A Greener Festival, Geschwind conducts audits at festivals like Deep Tropics to ensure events follow through on green event goals.
Atchison shared that oversight provided by outside organizations like Green Disco and Greener Festivals empowered his team to gather the information necessary to ask better questions and make sustainable changes. When organizers create an infrastructure for festival-goers to act sustainably, it’s easier for an event to operate more sustainably, he said.
The festival also hosted a leave no trace party. In two hours volunteers cleaned the entire site. Water refill stations on the festival grounds provided clean water tapped in from local water sources. And Deep Culture offered swag bags that included no single-use plastic items.
Deep Tropics also utilized mobile solar trailers and solar-powered bars this year, thanks to Justin Huff of the FootPrint Project—a local mobile solar event company that tours in the Southern US, powering events with clean energy by repurposing commercial solar equipment.
By enlisting a local team to help power the festivities, the festival was also able to tackle the emission problem all event organizers face.
CO2 emissions, the production of carbon energy, are unavoidable at large gatherings like music festivals.
60-80% of an event's carbon footprint comes from travel, according to a European study on sustainability at live events in the EU last year.
Travel is an aspect of sustainability that is hard to avoid, especially important for individuals coming from out of town to attend a music festival. Enlisting local contractors, and partnering with local vendors and organizations offsets some of the carbon accumulated by unavoidable travel.
Atchison is one of many festival founders looking to continue implementing sustainable initiatives and goals. He noted that while it’s not easy to do, it is worth it.
“To truly throw a zero-waste event like ours, one where there’s zero trash cans on site... It takes a lot of planning, you’ve got to be able to make some difficult decisions. It’s really about controlling the inputs to start with,” said Atchison. “Communicating with vendors, contractors, and knowing what they’re bringing to the table and then actually inspecting everything on site or enlisting help to do so.”
Green Disco will be releasing an environmental impact report with their findings on Deep Tropics' latest festival, in October—with hopes that the data will pinpoint areas in which the green festival excelled and areas in need of improvement.
“From the beginning the mantra has been collective success or no success. Even though it sounds a bit dire, we are all in this together,” said Geschwind.
Green Disco is currently in talks with around 22 festivals to collaborate in creating new opportunities to produce greener, cleaner events.