“If we are truly to create lasting solutions to the environmental problems facing the planet, we have to do MORE than plant trees for global warming. . . . Ideally, we also have to find ways to preserve local communities and cultures, while immediately rebuilding deforested soils, wildlife corridors and protecting watersheds and old growth forests. This work is especially important in countries like Costa Rica, where there still exist intact stretches of primary jungle along the coast which, in turn, influence the oceans and marine life: together so vital to the overall stability of our global climate.” – Community Carbon Trees, partner of Envision Festival
Since its birth in 2011, Envision Festival has been a leader in the greening of transformational events. Every year, the Eco Team works to develop more ways to bring sustainable living even further into the forefront of the largest transformational festival in Central America. LostinSound got the inside scoop from Eric Giambrone, founder of Ecotopian Enterprises and sustainability coordinator at Envision Festival.
After working for the festival since 2012, how have you seen the sustainability initiatives of Envision evolve? Where do you encounter challenges in these programs, and what resources does Envision have to continue pushing this work forward?
Since it’s founding in 2011, the Envision production team has truly held the preservation and improvement of the Earth and the health of all it’s inhabitants and habitats as the overarching unifying goal of the Festival and the vision we are trying to spread to the world. You could also look at this value system and call it sustainability, permaculture, environmental symbiosis, regeneration, environment resilience, and probably a number of other names or phrases. I have seen that internal decisions have always been made with the utmost consideration for the environment, but that conditions have always been changing, and therefore environmental challenges have been constantly evolving with that continuous flow. I started working with Envision in 2012 as the Sustainability Coordinator and Waste & Resource Manager, and have seen the progression since then. The Festival has incrementally gotten larger and larger each successive year, with the largest attendance jumps from 2011 to 2012 and then from 2014 to 2015, and there has thus been no attainable equilibrium or homeostasis in regard to operational sustainability. Envision has also been held on three sites in five years, thus contributing to continuously ebbing challenges. The entire production is very excited that we have found our (semi) long term home at Rancho La Merced, and the property management is very much in concurrence with Envision’s beliefs about the importance of sustainability, permaculture, wildlife preservation and community. We are accordingly now able to keep our tools, materials, and all structural components and infrastructure onsite throughout the year, thus eliminating emissions and materials that would be generated and yet required for transporting these heavy items to an offsite storage location. Operational infrastructure is staying in place, and only artistic infrastructure like stages and installations will be taken down and redone each year.
While we have always actively pursued ways to minimize our impact in regard to transport, waste, water, energy, and materials, with more people coming to the Festival each year, there are more airplane emissions, more ground transport emissions, and more waste each and every year. I don’t think there are any weaknesses to our environmental focus, only challenges that need to be planned for and sometimes improvised with in the moment. The good news, and our main strength, is that we have the knowledge, motivation, determination, follow-through, and physical and financial resources to deal with any and all of our environmental challenges and overcome them. I’ll tell you one thing: biodiesel generators and compost toilets are two huge improvements, and we were finally able to achieve them just this year. True operational sustainability takes time and practice for a fairly large international event with limited financial resources, but I truly feel that we have been getting better all the time, and have always performed exceptionally despite all challenges.
What programs do you hope to see ignited in the future?
In the future, I hope to see a more permanent community of Envisionaries based at least part of the year in Costa Rica, working on permaculture projects both on the Festival site and at other beautiful abundant locations, so that we could more easily and with less pollution come together each year, or maybe more, to celebrate. I would like to see a small community of permanent residents on the Envision parcel at Rancho La Merced focusing on growing food and installing permanent infrastructure on the land. In addition to future programs, I would love to see a perfection of all of our existing programs. It would be really great if each and every person that flies to Envision would offset their travel by making an appropriate donation to our offsetting partner, Association Community Carbon Trees Costa Rica (ACCT). I want all individuals on the site for Envision to know how the compost toilets work, what our waste/resource sorting procedures and Leave No Trace ethos are, and to fully implement them for their own footprint, and to conserve water as much as possible given the physical infrastructure. I think it would be great if all Envisionaries, new and veterans alike, treat the grounds as their own, and will be responsible patrons of the land, the air, and the water. Enough talk people… action, please!!!
What systems do you feel are the most successful at this point in time? Which ones would you like to see grow, or feel have a weakness?
I feel that our waste and resource recycling system is, and always has been, extremely efficient. We pay a group of local people connected with the Envision Family to recycle all of our different recycling streams (metals, plastics, glass, and cardboard) in San Jose and certain other locations in the country, where they in turn make more money via redemption. We compost all of our food waste on site, and as of this year we now process all of our human waste onsite as well, via our compost toilet systems. The introduction of exclusively biodiesel fuel as opposed to conventional diesel for all of our generators this year was a huge improvement from the past, and allowed us to spew out far fewer harmful atmospheric emissions from onsite operations. Since moving to Rancho La Merced, we have been connected to the public electricity grid, which is over 90% renewable. Energetically, we are in quite good shape at this point.
Our major challenge from the beginning has been in offsetting our large amount of transport emissions from participant travel. Because Envisionaries are coming from all over the world, our airplane emissions have always been and continue to be our most significant environmental impact. We offset a large amount of emissions through our offsetting partner, Association Community Carbon Trees (http://www.communitycarbontrees-costarica.com/), through direct Envision donations and individual’s donations. However, I would love to see each and every Envisionary take responsibility for their own travel impact, and to choose to donate to ACCT for the cost of a full tree planted and maintained to maturity. If everyone did this, we would be offsetting 100% of our transport emissions. I would also like to see every participant take responsibility for Leaving No Trace on our beautiful land. Just because it’s hot and humid and people don’t have vehicles, it is NOT a reason to leave any trash on our land at all. I hope that in the future, everyone accepts this responsibility when they decide to join the Envision community. On our part, we will be ramping up our education efforts ten fold next year.
Do you think it’s realistic to host this many people in a sustainable way?
I do, but I really think all participants need to take Leave No Trace camping principles MUCH more seriously. After the festival this year, we were left with a trashed Village, large stacks of trash and reusable equipment and materials throughout the campgrounds, discarded used plastic tarps all over the place, and an overall dirty scene that is not indicative of the consciousness that Envision represents. This reality is the opposite of what we would like to see, and the opposite of the educational message we have tried to spread. Like I mentioned earlier, we also plan on stepping up super hard on our education efforts. 6,000 people that leave a bunch of trash on the site, don’t use the compost toilets properly, and waste a bunch of water by not minimizing their use as much as possible? Not sustainable. 6,000 people that take responsibility for their impact by not bringing any “trash” to the festival to begin with, packing their trash out, or dropping it with us at our Eco Hub, combined with water conservation and proper compost toilet use? Yes, that is sustainable for one week out of the year. All Envisionaries should be posing this one question every time they make a decision that may affect others or the environment: If everyone did what I just did, what would happen?
How can participants of Envision help to further the progress of these programs?
You can help spare Envision’s Eco Team a lot of unnecessary work, as well as the Earth careless harm, if everyone follows these procedures going forward when they come to Envision Festival:
– Do not bring any disposable plates, cups or utensils. Dish rental system improvements will be coming, as will details about it later. One thing is for certain, we don’t want any disposable items at Envision!
– Use your own reusable drinking water bottle. Preferably a steel one, as we really don’t want glass at the Festival at all, and we certainly don’t want plastic either. You can buy a Klean Kanteen at Merch if you forget a bottle. We do not want a bunch of small plastic water bottles at Envision, but it is indeed a great idea for every single person to bring one 1 or 2 gallon plastic drinking water bottle from a local grocery store or supermarket, that they can refill throughout the weekend from free filtered drinking water refill stations. That way if the water shuts off for a little bit, you have a reserve supply.
– Sort your waste. Literally, every single piece of “trash” that comes into your hands at any point, is then your responsibility… your responsibility
to dispose of it properly. Please help us divert as much waste as possible from the landfill, by not bringing any landfill items to the Festival at all! Most everything that you are generating at Envision should be recyclable or compostable. If its not, we would hope that you try to figure out why, and change that. It won’t even be that difficult. Know what the most common landfill item is at Envision? Cigarette butts. How about for next year, all smokers roll cigarettes instead, even if only just for the weekend, and throw their filters or lack thereof in the compost bins?
– Leave No Trace. This means that you should never throw any piece of Matter Out of Place (MOOP) onto the ground, and that when you eventually disassemble and depart your claimed camping area, your claimed ground is absolutely, completely, undoubtedly, 100% free of MOOP. If it’s not, then please take a few minutes and just do it… we would appreciate it more than you know, and if everyone did this then cleanup would be easy. Unlike most other festivals in our extended community of gatherings, we actually allow campers to leave their camping trash with us. We understand that most Envisionaries don’t have cars with them, and that taking trash with them is likely extremely difficult. Trust me, we get it, and we accept the responsibility of taking it from you and disposing of it properly. Please, don’t be rude and leave your trash in a pile in a field, or nestled up next to a tree. Bring it to us at one of the Village bin stations, or to whatever the next manifestation of our “Eco Hub” is. It’s not a far walk no matter what. Help us enforce our Leave No Trace policy by reminding others of their responsibility, when it is evident they are not participating.
– If you are an eco-minded Envisionary that is wondering how to help in the environmental planning and operations of Envision Festival, you should think about applying to volunteer for the Eco Team. We could probably really use your help and attitude. Talk is cheap, but environmental action gets you into Envision for free. Do the math.
Can you speak a bit about this year’s water issue? How did it affect the surrounding community? And how is it being dealt with for Envisions to come?
When 1,000 more people than expected showed up to Envision this year, we worked with the community of Uvita to ration the amount of water available at all times to make sure neither Envision nor Uvita completely ran out of water. When it was discovered that our planning did not quite cover all bases given the added attendance, we then began trucking in water from the surrounding watersheds to really make sure that we had enough to get through the weekend. While hardly ideal, this was a necessary measure in the moment.
In the future we are going to rely diversify our water sourcing, bringing in water from surrounding watersheds, as opposed to solely the Uvita system. The main reason we charged for showers this year was to incentivize water conservation, especially for such a non-necessary function, not to generate an additional revenue stream. In the future our goal is to install rainwater catchment tanks on the site, the harvest of which will be used to feed the showers. Water conservation is a serious consideration no matter how many people we have, and in the future you’re going to see more and more water conservation efforts and education across all platforms at Envision. Water is an important global resource issue that
we’re experiencing on a micro level, and we want to use the model as another great opportunity to exemplify the ways in which we need to live on a daily basis.