Building the World’s Most Sustainable Festival
I was given the opportunity to attend Envision Festival last week in Costa Rica, and what an adventure it was! I also think these folks are building the world’s most sustainable festival, and here’s why:
Envision was my first true big festival: music all day until 7am, thousands of people, and true immersion in jungle festival life. Surviving my first festival was an adventure for sure, but one of the things that made this festival so easy to love (and really, the perfect first festival for me to attend) was the awesome lineup of delicious food, the access to the beach, and, most importantly, the deep focus on sustainability. Being at the festival, while challenging at times, was made easier knowing that it truly vibed with my ethics.
At every turn I was truly impressed with how focused the Envision team is on true sustainability. Could this be the world’s most sustainable festival? Read on to see why this festival should be the precedent for festivals the world over.
5 Ways Envision is Building the World’s Most Sustainable Festival
1. Serving up Drinking Water to Thousands
One of my biggest frustrations with music festivals (and concerts too) is the water situation. Nothing irks me more that having to buy a dumb bottle of water instead of just serving tap water. So much avoidable plastic waste, and of course bottled water is not that clean. I’m a give-me-tap-or-nothing kind girl. Luckily, Envision has thought this through and has made fresh, cool drinking water available all day, everyday at water refill stations throughout the festival.
They seem to have an elaborate system of underground piping that brings fresh water to water fountains, dishwashing stations, and to the fresh water showers (worth every penny, mind you).
Attendees are reminded to bring their own water bottles before the event (and they sell new ones if you lose your bottle, including beautiful branded Klean Kanteens). All water stations remind attendees to be mindful of water usage in this unique ecosystem, but to also be sure they are staying hydrated in the heat (especially in combination with the other substances folks might be imbibing at the festival).
2. Eating Green at Envision Festival
I wrote an article about the food offerings at Envision before I went, but nothing could have prepared me for how truly AMAZINGLY well done the entire food situation is at Envision. Almost all vendors were vegan or vegetarian, and all of them boasted local this and organic that. The companies were local restaurants and cafes from the nearby cities, and provided a range of offerings, from raw nori rolls, green smoothies, handmade sauerkraut, falafel, pizza, vegan burgers, and local meals like gallo pinto.
But even better than all that healthy food? All the food is served on reusable plates and utensils. Each vendor lets you ‘rent’ dishes (cups, mugs, plates + utensils) using a voucher system. Pay once (1500 Colones, about $3) and swap your dishes each time you finish a meal or drink. There was also an option to wash your own and just keep for the duration. This ensures that there are no dirty dishes left behind at tables or in hammocks or on the beach. This seemed to work exceedingly well, especially considering there were thousands of people using this system for four days. If you didn’t want to pay, many of the vendors could offer food on banana leaves.
I would suggest adding drinking straws to the rental utensil mix: pipas frias (cold coconuts) are served all day at the festival, and almost always it’s served with plastic, single use straws. Straws are one of the easiest things to lose on the beach, in the jungle, and to be sure, there were lots left on the ground. I’m not sure if they were biocompostable straws; if so, this whole point is moot. But either banning straws or including reusable glass, metal or bamboo straws as part of the utensil package would be the one thing I could thing of to improve the food/drink program.
3. How do you Deal with Festival Waste
And what happens to all the leftover food and other waste? All food waste is composted, with coconuts separated out (since they decompose so much slower than other foods), and all other items are recycled. There are ample compost bins throughout the festival grounds, and a few recycling/rubbish bins. But with reused dishes and such great food on offer, the amount of waste is quite small. I had a few energy bar wrappers that I had to toss out, but otherwise everything came from the festival itself. Envision is home to an Eco-Hub, where all compost and recycling was sorted with the help of awesome volunteers, and carted off to be processed.
As for the other type of waste, I was really surprised that Envision used only standard (chemical-laden) port-o-potties for the festival. I realize this is most likely the most cost-effective and sanitary solution, but I would have loved to see some ‘humanure’ stations to manage the human waste more organically. I was camping near a grove of banana trees, so I was able to, ahem, water the trees for those early morning and late night potty breaks.
4. Gorgeous Green Building in the Jungle
So yes, Envision did an amazing job of dealing with water, food, and waste, but one of the things that impressed me the most was the extensive green building efforts. Using primarily bamboo for the buildings, each temple, yoga pavilion, and bar was uniquely constructed in a natural and simple way. Huge bamboo was lashed with rope, and decorated with other natural additions, and some tents/tarps to keep out the fierce mid-day sunshine.
Even the stages were works of natural art: made from wood and other tree products, the Lapa stage was a teepee-esque structure that hosted a great rotation of DJs under the bamboo structure. The Village stage was covered in natural foliage from top to bottom; I had a funny conversation with one of the builders who said it’s the only stage he’s needed water twice a day. But next year the stage will be fully grown-in: they will keep the stage structure and let nature take over for next year.
5. Other Sustainabilty Initiatives at Envision
The Envision team has a few more great initiatives that further demonstrate their commitment to a totally sustainable festival. Every generator used to power the music stages (a big job, with music until about 7am everyday!) used biodiesel, which helps avoid fossil fuels.
The Festival team also has partnered with Community Carbon Trees to offer offsets to attendees. CCT is a very cool local group that takes degraded cattle pasture and turns it into awesome permaculture farms. Not only do they improve the land and create an abundance of food for the country, the farmers triple their per-acre income when moving from cattle ranching to permaculture farm-forest. Read more here about how the Envision founders are doing so much for to grow permaculture in Costa Rica.
So is this the world’s most sustainable festival? While I’m not much of a festival person (this was, in fact, my very first festival of this sort), it’s easy to see that the good folks at Envision have really built true sustainability into the very core of their model. This fact alone – even more than the music, the location, and the food – makes it likely that I will be an ‘envisionary’ for years to come.