The Sustainable Festival / Roskilde Festival is taking care – and collecting pee! / Interview

Roskilde bei

Planing and running a leading European festival like Roskilde Festival, Denmarks biggest impact on live pop music, means not only to schedule a music programme that is worth watching, moreover it’s a huge challenge to keep it environmental friendly. Some festivals actually do it by the way, some focus on that issue: Roskilde Festival has been going on for years to become a better, if not the best big european festival in terms of being “sustainable” to our environment. But what does that mean practically? During this years festival we talked to Mikkel Sander, Roskilde Festivals manager for sustainability.

Interview by Martin Hannig What is your job at Roskilde Festival?

Mikkel: I have the responsibility for the sustainability work here. What does that big word “sustainability” mean to you?

Mikkel: For me personally and for the festival it means all kind of resources we put into the festival site, that means all the building materials, all the gasoline, all the food, on the one side everything that comes in. On the other side it’s everything that goes out, all the garbage, all the sewage, all the CO2 emissions that are the results of making a festival like this. Sustainability means that we try to minimize the negative impact that we have on our environment making a festival this size. Which is quite a lot! Do you have to change your plans sometimes, do you have to compromise?

Mikkel: Yes, all the time! Because Roskilde Festival is such a huge event and we have only one try. If something goes wrong it’s really hard to do something about that until next year. Let me give you an example from this year. We have a lot of American and African students who are here to learn how to make a big festival like this and how volunteers work in Denmark, so they have voluntary jobs during the festival. We just found out that they all can’t do it, because there are laws that prohibid people from outside Schengen area to work. So if they take work, they will be expelled from Schengen for 5 years, and maybe get a huge fine or maybe in jail…. Now that means that right now we are missing 13 volunteers at our garbage team. That’s just one example of plans changing all the time. Maybe we can learn from that and get the rules changed next year. People usually come here to have big fun. Is it hard for you to face the sustainable efforts, and in the same time keep the fun alive and not to force people to do something they don’t want to?

Mikkel: Everyone has his own version of fun. Some participants like to live in their trash for 8 days, and they have the possibility of doing that. Other people like to build big towers of used tempos or collect metal tabs from beer cans because they can be used for handicapped helping aids in Thailand. That’s audience participation, which we do in the camping area. Everybody has it’s own version of fun! What does that mean to the economics of Roskilde Festival? You have much higher costs for that kind of sustainable process, I guess…

Mikkel: Not always. For example: if we can save electricity usage on the festival, we can save money. If we can sort our garbage better, we can save our money. A few years ago we paid to get rid of the oil from deep fryers, now we get money for it, when we deliver deep fryer oil. But of course sometimes it costs a little extra, but Roskilde Festival is a non profit organization, so it’s part of our DNA to act responsible, and we also accept that sometimes there can be a little bit higher costs. But in many times it doesn’t lead to higher cost. This year we have organic ice cream instead of conventional ice cream, and it’s the same price for the audience to buy it. In the field of competition between festivals: do you think this is a point to promote to the public?

Mikkel: Yes it is for us. It’s important because we are a non profit organization. When we give away all the money we earn for charity, then it’s also an important issue for us to act responsible when it comes to environment. These 2 things are kind of 2 sides of the same coin. You have to act both socially and environmentally responsible. For us it’s a brand issue if you can say that. For other festivals it might not be – festivals are different in that way! But of course we see some festivals both in Denmark and Europe as well that are doing quite the same things that we are doing. We hope that we – as such a big festival – can inspire some other to do the same. This is a global issue that we all have to take our responsible part of. So other festival organizations could take you as a role model…

Mikkel: Hopefully! We also are inspired by other festivals. I was in Paris at “We Love Green” festival a few month ago and was very inspired by some other things they are doing. And they are coming here to visit us. Is it a kind of professional cooperation in that field?

Mikkel: It’s not very organized, but there are some networks. There are some conferences that are about sustainable festivals and food. So we visit all that festivals and all those conferences. Because Roskilde Festival is so big we have to look internationally to get inspiration. Do you personally think the audience is appreciating your efforts?

Mikkel: I think we have 135000 participants and they all think different. Some of them are definitely appreciating it, other’s don’t care or aren’t aware of it. When we ask them if they think that it’s very important that we work environmentally responsible, 84% answer that it is! That’s a very high number. I heard about a project this year here at Roskilde Festival. You take the pee of people to produce something out of it? Could you explain?

Mikkel: We call it “beercycling”. It’s a circular economic project. People drink much beer here as in all other festivals. Out comes pee. The urine is collected in big tanks at four special places on the festival area. Then it lays for almost 2 years until it is a very profund fertilizer. Instead of spraying crops with chemical fertilizer you can use the urine of humans to spray on crops. And you can use these crops to make beer of that is served at Roskilde Festival. So we have a complete circle from beer to urine to crop to beer. And it’s a nice aspect of fun in it….

Mikkel: Yes! For us it’s an experiment. Right now it’s not actually legal to fertilize fields with human waste in Denmark. You can do it in Sweden or other European countries, but not in Denmark. So this is a test and we try to push for a change in the legislation.