I was lucky enough to spend an hour with Kelly Viau, Bryan Birch, John Long, and Lucas Erickson for an interview earlier today. Kelly works for two separate companies that share several employees. Not only does she handle sponsorships for Cloud 9 Adventures, the production company behind JamCruise and Caribbean Holidaze, but she also works for Langerado, the rapidly growing music festival coming up next month at Big Cypress Seminole Reservation outside of Fort Lauderdale.
John, Bryan, and Lucas are the three founders of ZeroHero Events, an event greening service based in Fort Collins, CO, that is helping to green both Jam Cruise and Langerado. When they're not greening other people's festivals, they're dreaming up ways to make their own festival greener. Now in its 9th year, the Rocky Mountain Sustainable Living Fair is expected to draw 10,000 people and 150 vendors this summer, and the ZeroHero crew is working hard to draw a few big-name bands to the event this September. Bryan handles the education component of ZeroHero's events, John is the renewable energy guru and founder of Blue Sun Biodiesel, and Lucas works to make sure mountains of waste aren't left behind.
An hour wasn't nearly enough time for me to ask all the pressing questions I had about how the team has tackled the big job of greening these festivals, but we gave it our best shot. Our conversation ranged from the best species of mustard to use for sustainable biodiesel production to the pressing need for condoms on a tiny tropical island off the coast of Honduras. Enjoy!
Jason Turgeon: Tell me about the relationship between ZeroHero and Kelly's work.
Bryan Birch: We came on almost a year ago to help reach new heights by improving to improve the practices of the cruise ship, which was a really interesting venture. We further developed a recycling program and focused on using more sustainable products. The Jam Cruise “Leaving a Positive Legacy Program” was a huge success this year. We offloaded three pallets of school supplies for school kids in Roatan and condoms for an AIDS clinic there working with Trojan as a sponsor. Kelly helped out with pulling sponsors like Trojan in. We're trying to develop a positive legacy with JamCruise. That's also an important part of the process for us in all our work. In festivals, there's an incredible wealth of talent and resources both from artists and passengers. There's a very conscious crowd in the scene, and everyone is always willing to help out.
Kelly Viau: The greening program on JamCruise has been part of the event since the first year, and is led by the vision of Ann Kenworthy. [note: the most recent event was JamCruise 6]. For a number of years we worked with Rock the Earth. This past year we made the move to bring in ZeroHero to bring some of these programs to the next level. It's something that's sort of developed over the last six years.
Lucas Erickson: It's an evolution, it's a process, where every year we try to continue to improve what's taken place next year.
JT: How does your choice of a particular ship or cruise line impact your ability to green the JamCruise event each year?
BB: This year with MSC, they valued us a customer so much that they opened up support for us for the 5 day cruise. They gave us a great deal of access, and we had a lot of support from the cruise staff.
JT: Do you think what you're doing is carrying over to other cruises after your event is done?
KV: I think it absolutely impacts the way they approach other cruises. This will be our fourth year with MSC. We're starting to see littlle changes throughout their other cruises. They're not huge steps for people like us that think about this every day, but they're big steps for an organization that doesn't. A little bit really goes a long way. We're now starting to see at least an open conversation on using biodiesel on cruise ships.
JT: Moving on to Langerado, now that you're in Big Cypress, what do you have planned from a green perspective?
BB: We have a set of messages to help improve the event. With each message there will be a program associated with it. The ZeroHero philosophy is to help create an event that becomes green by having aware attendees. Different programs that we're working with specifically are the Leave no Trace program working with Clean Vibes, and Sustainable Product Sourcing, or SPS. Every year it gets easier. One of the biggest challenges to event greening is to get everyone on the same page.
Renewable energy is a huge program aspect this year. Every light tower, every stage, and all the generators will be powered by biodiesel. It's available to artists as well. We're also involved in fueling at Lollapalooza.
JT: Do you see artists asking for access to biodiesel?
John Long: Definitely. For some artists its pretty important, but access has always been an issue. Each year access grows for artists to be able to fill up on biodiesel. It's a real challenge to find, but pump growth and retail locations are expanding. It's becoming a lot more viable for artists and attendees to expect biodiesel at the festivals.
JT: Will you use biodiesel blends or B100?
JL: Basically we've gotten b20 approved for everything--forklifts, light towers, generators. Some of the artists are very interested in running b100 or something in between for their tour buses.
LE: We'll also be offsetting all the carbon emissions from production as well as all the trucks and buses that artists are bringing. We're partnering with an organization called Trees, Water, & People to help with offsetting. And Langerado already has an ongoing partnership with Native Energy for ticket buyers to offset part of their emissions for travel to the festival.
JT: how does Trees, Water, & People work?
LE: They support self-sustaining tree nurseries in Central America. They employ local people to keep those going, and do a good job of making sure that all the trees that they plant are going to grow up to be a mature tree. They also have a another program that's really good called the stoves program. They go into these very low income communities in Honduras and Nicaragua. They've developed these stoves that take the place of the sort of open campfires that people were cooking over in their houses. A leading cause of death in women and children in these countries is respiratory health. They also offset carbon because they use so little wood to keep these going with little pieces of biomass like twigs and pine cones instead of going out and cutting down trees.
BB: One thing that Trees, Water, & People does is hook up their tree nurseries with their stove program. They have hardwoods and fruit trees which they count towards carbon offsetting, and they also have fast growing fuel wood softwoods that they do not. They won the Ashton Award for Climate Change. One thing that's important to us when we choose an offset program is that there is a lot of transparency. This improves social health as well as the environment.
LE: A very important part of that is the economic sustainability that they offer. We're very proud to be working with them.
JT: Do you tie each of these programs into the education component?
BB: That's right. We combine each one with the idea that simple is good. We'll do a series of simple messages that relate to the attendees that will tie into one of the programs at the event. It's a way that we can tie this into things that attendees can do.
LE: It all ties together into the ecovillage that we're setting up. We're bringing a lot of non-profits and for-profits that all have an ecological goal, plus some cool artwork and really interesting workshops.
KV: We call it Greenerado. There's going to be a stage in there, too. Were going to have the Spam Allstars, the School of Rock Allstars, Trevor Hall, Steel Train, Pete Francis of Dispatch, the Wood Brothers, and the Heavy Pets.
LE: The Wood Brothers are going to be there? That's awesome!
BB: We'll be spending a lot of time in that ecovillage. (laughing)
KV: Greenerado is in the heart of the festival, and metaphorically we do consider that to be the heart. What happens there rays out into the rest of the event.
BB: We'll do some positive legacy programs as well. We're still working out some details on what those will be. We'd like to leave a positive legacy with Big Cypress after Langerado is over. Through greening specifically, we'll try to foster that.
JT: Let me ask you to respond to some of the recent criticisms surrounding biodiesel and the use of monocultures and lots of chemical fertilizers to grow crops. Some people question whether or not that's the best way to reduce our use of fossil fuels.
BB: We feel that biofuels are imporant. They're an important transition to a sustainable economy. It's on a spectrum. There are some practices that are already there, and there are some that are along the way. That's where I feel that biofuels, including ethanol, are. There are a lot of biodiesel alternatives that are coming along right now.
JL: Blue sun biodiesel has been working on this for several years to find crops and methods that are fighting monoculture and high use of chemicals in agriculture as well as irrigation, since we're out in CO, essentially in a desert environment. We've been working for six years with canellina and canola, both plants in the mustard family, that are drought tolerant so that we can move away from soy and even worse, palm, where they are basically destroying the rain forest to grow these crops. It's going to take time, it's a transition now, and it's not perfect. We're using a lot of soy in the industry now, but it's better than using corn for ethanol.
The canola is a rotation crop for winter wheat. We're targeting winter wheat farmers in the western states to grow these mustard varieties that will improve the yield and reduce their water use. Some of the varieties will grow without any additional irrigation and with much less chemical input than are needed with corn and soy. Also, they're all non-GMO varieties that we're using.
LE: The future of algae is another feedstock that's very exciting.
JL: Algae is maybe 2-5 years out, but Blue Sun is very involved with several companies that are doing research on it. Jatropha is another very exciting crop, it's a dry land shrub that's native to Central America. You can grow it in Mexico and the oil can be converted to biodiesel and used here. It can't freeze, so we can't grow it in our backyard, but growing it in Mexico, it's closer to us from a transportation standpoint than the midwest. That crop gets 8-10 times more oil/acre than soybeans do. Some of the big oil companies are using it already.
JT: Like who?
JL: BP is growing plantations in Africa and India. There's not a whole lot of production in Central America yet. It takes 2 years for the plantation to mature. That 2 years is the only time that they need any irrigation. After that, the plant needs no water or chemical input, it grows like a weed. Basically it's a living fence, a six-foot high fence.
JT: Considering your new home is in Big Cypress, and the Big Cypress and Everglades areas are really suffering from a history of poor water management, are you going to focus at all on water at Langerado?
LE: As part of the Leaving a Positive Legacy Program, we will be trying to improve the everglades in some way. We're still working out how.
KV: We will do something positive with the greywater from the event. The uncontaminated water will be used for spraying on the roads to cut down on dust.
JT: I guess it's about time to wrap up. Before we finish, do you mind telling me who you're most excited about seeing at Langerado this year?
JL: I'm old school--I'm psyched for the Beastie Boys!
LE: I'm really excited about the Wood Brothers.
JT: I heard you mention them earlier. Who are they?
LE: It's Chris Wood from Martin, Medeski, and Wood, and his brother Oliver. I'm especially excited now that I know they'll be on the green stage. They're amazing, but not very many people know about them, because they're fairly new to the music scene.
KV: I'm most excited about the bands that I've never heard of, the unknowns and the up and comings. That's what I always like best, finding some new bands that I hadn't heard before and getting to know them.
JL: That's very diplomatic of you, Kelly.
LE: Kelly for President! (laughing)
And there you have it. I wish we'd had more time to spend on this interview, as this was a really knowledgeable bunch of people with some great ideas on greening events. Until next time, here's a little video of the soon-to-be-famous Wood Brothers doing their thing.
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