Waking Life sprouted from a common dream of a group of friends to build a community, in a sunny spot on the globe, to plant ideas and harvest tangible, alternative ways of living, learning, loving. It is slowly blooming into a space for artistic experimentation, spirited self-expression and collective imagineering of the type of society we could cultivate if there was freedom to diverge from default reality.
To help us achieve this vision, we designed a Sustainability Programme in collaboration with EcoPiratas and Impact0. At its heart, the programme features nine so-called SMART objectives, which for easier monitoring we broke down into thirty-six key performance indicators. In 2019, we considerably stepped up our efforts to implement the programme, resulting in our first ever Sustainability Report.
1. OUR ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT
The first step towards taking informed decisions and effective actions to minimise our ecological footprint is to measure it. This is what we have focused our attention on during the third edition of Waking Life. We considered three key variables: CO2 emissions, waste generation and water consumption. These variables alone do not tell the whole story of our impact on the environment. They do, however, provide us with a sufficiently detailed picture of where we stand in relation to our goals and how we compare to other festivals.
Two important definitions before digging into the data. AGF stands for A Greener Festival, a not-for-profit committed to helping festivals become more sustainable. We use the average figure for festivals where AGF provided consultancy services (henceforth ‘average AGF’) as a yardstick of our own performance. Pppd stands for per-person-per-day, a useful figure to determine how much on average each one of us contributed to what is being measured. The figure is obtained by dividing the total volume of, say, waste produced during the festival with the number of people responsible for producing it.
One last thing to keep in mind: Waking Life is smaller compared to the average AGF festival. In 2019, 6,213 people attended the festival including crew, artists and guests, in contrast to 24,868 attendants for the average AGF festival. No problem right? In fact, it could be. The data is presented in pppd: the more participants there are, the easier it is to achieve economies of scale. For example: the generator we used at Floresta in 2019 made two thousand of you dance. In a future edition, that same generator will make three thousand of you dance. same power, more people, less pollution pppd (per-person-per-dance).
1.1 Carbon footprint
They say to always deliver the bad news first. Here we go: Waking Life 2019 produced twice as many CO2 emissions as the average AGF, 18 kg pppd as opposed to 9 kg pppd. To give you an even better idea, the average carbon footprint in Europe is 17.53 kg pppd, slightly below ours, but the global target to combat climate change is a maximum of 5.47 kg pppd. We are clearly not there yet.
How can our carbon footprint be so high? There is a pretty clear reason for this: most of us had to travel much further to reach the festival than participants of the average AGF, 713 km as opposed to 232 km. To make things worse, the larger the distance, the larger the share of participants choosing to fly. And yes, flights do pollute more than any other means of transport, except perhaps for cars carrying only one passenger. Transport caused the lion’s share of our CO2 emissions, 502,397 kg out of 672,656 kg in total, that is 75%. The rest of the emissions are caused in almost equal measure by construction (83,445 kg, 12%) and energy (63,546 kg, 10%). Food’s contribution to our carbon footprint is negligible (23,226 kg, 3%).
Going forward, the big challenge is that the issue responsible for most of our CO2 emissions is arguably the trickiest one to manage, considering that our sunny spot on the globe is a bit remote. You can really make a difference here: slow down, avoid flying if you can, offset emissions if you do. And team up with as many others as possible when travelling over land. A handful of you diehard riders came by bike: we promised you a complementary bike wash – and in case you didn’t claim it, it is still valid for 2022. Speaking of carbon offsetting, we will step up our game in that regard as well. We are currently searching for local carbon offsetting projects that are in line with our goals to invest into. The plan is to involve our community (i.e. you) in those decisions.
Other initiatives we are committed to when it comes to minimising our carbon footprint include further reducing, if not eliminating altogether, the use of plastic as construction material, transitioning to using biodiesels for our generators (33% of our electricity consumption, the other 67% is grid power) and, eventually, replace them with renewable energy sources. In 2019, we installed solar panels at the campsite to power the only mobile charging dock. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), the transformer burned down on day one. But, realistically, we will not be able to make any significant difference in that regard without a cooperating partner, or an additional grant supporting clean energy use.
1.2 Waste footprint
As most of you might have noticed, we have been working at reducing the amount of garbage sent to landfills and recycling the bulk of our waste since the very first edition of Waking Life. The data collected shows that our efforts are paying off. Waking Life 2019 produced only 1.29 kg of waste pppd compared to 1.92 kg for the average AGF, and about three quarters of the waste generated was sorted and recycled (35,000 kg out of 47,000 kg, that’s 73%). However, listen up smokers, cigarette butts are still public enemy number one. We struggled to clean them up (even more than in previous editions). So maybe, not throwing them on the floor is the simplest solution. Pocket ashtray, then bin. Not rocket science. Eh? Punks.
1.3 Water footprint
This encouraging result motivates us to double down on our efforts. One area where we have a broad margin for improvement is the recycling of organic waste. In future editions, we will explore ways to expand compost facilities on site and donate more of our food leftovers locally. On a more trivial note, we are also planning to increase the number of bins and improve their size and signage, in particular around stages (so no more excuses for littering). Ecopiratas, our trusted partner when it comes to keeping the festival grounds clean and tidy, has been doing a great job so far. We will not only continue, but deepen our collaboration with them. But once again the more mindful participants are, and the more we democratise care regarding the upkeep of our common surroundings, the lower the responsibility per individual.
The collected data on water consumption is also encouraging. From build-up to build-down, Waking Life 2019 consumed 28.94 lt. If only festival days are considered, Waking Life 2019 consumed 15.13 lt. pppd as opposed to 17.47 lt. pppd for the average AGF. In fact, we will work towards more, not less, water consumption from the grid in future editions: 24,744 (plastic) water bottles were sold during the last one, contributing a great deal to our plastic consumption.
Our intention going forward is to strongly promote the use of personal, reusable water bottles. Over the coming years, we are looking into eliminating all plastic bottles by installing filters and water coolers at each bar, connected to the grid. We will keep reminding you that adopting responsible consumption behaviours is a duty, not an option, considering the ongoing global water crisis.
About 907,500 litres of water were consumed from build-up to break-down of Waking Life 2019 and about half of that water was consumed during festival days. Of that number, 257,000 litres of water were used for showers. At 5 minutes a shower, that equals 7,342 showers, which is only 1,2 showers per person, you dirty hippies are keeping water usage for showering low : ) 82,000 liters of water were used for the kitchen.
How can we save water? For starters, 103,000 litres of water were consumed by flushing toilets we aim to get rid of by next edition. We introduced them during 2018 and 2019 in the production area as an extra precaution to prevent a bacterial infection as the one some of you might remember from the first Waking Life : ) We will gradually transition back to 100% dry toilets.
Waking Life’s idyllic site and in particular its beautiful lake is a constant source of inspiration for us to be caring custodians of the environment. Unfortunately, our relationship to the lake is a bit like Chris Brown’s to Rihanna – a toxic one, and changing that is going to require some effort. We are searching for ways to effectively promote the “shower before you swim” mantra during the festival and clean the bottom of the lake once it is over. Ideas are more than welcome, so don’t be shy.
3. ECOSOCIAL ACTIVISM
We see sustainable, regenerative, circular, non-extractive living as a lifelong journey of growth, learning, and transition away from carbon-emitting, polluting or exploitative practices. This is why, since the very first edition of Waking Life, we created a space for conscious experimentation, to inspire everyone in our community (crew, suppliers, participants) to shift towards more responsible and eco-minded habits in their daily lives.
Apuro was created so that festival participants can have a convergence point to connect bodies, to provoke the mind, to transcend boundaries, to explore the weird, to burst open bottled up dreams – collectively. The word, ‘Apuro’ stems from Apurar; to clarify, purify, refine or make clear. This is our primary goal, to try and make some sense out of all the strangeness of existence, to find paths through the deep dark wood.
Naturally, environmental justice, ecology, nature-mindedness, indigenous wisdom, climate organising, ecopsychology, green politics are issue areas that have been part of the Apuro programme and during the 2019 edition the focus was the ways in which technology, politics, economics and the arts are deeply intertwined with environmental disciplines. The seeds that we plant within each other during the festival week then need to be tended and cared for in the outside world if they are to blossom and flourish.
4. CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
… So where does all this leave us? If you’ve read this far, congrats, thanks, muito obrigado, the environment salutes you! We know reports are not the most engaging means of eco-behaviour-change, but they are a great tool to keep interested people informed, and to allow us to track our progress or our messes, and to know how we’re doing within the festival ecosystem. We’re planning many more engaging and creative ways to bring these issues into the centre-stage of people’s minds, at various stages of their festival journey; before arriving, at the arrival gate, at the toilets, in the food court, on the dancefloors, in the campsite, and every other possible space – caring for the surroundings we all inhabit along with other lifeforms is the vibe we’re going for and it really takes efforts from everyone to stay on track and in service to this green green vibe.