– Words by Alex Baumhardt
You may have noticed that the big Airwaves festival booklet is nowhere to be found this year. That’s a good thing, says festival manager Grímur Atlason, who came into Airwaves four years ago with the intention of making the festival less wasteful and more sustainable. The book, which was more than 50 pages long in the past, will be available digitally on the Airwaves website and on their app.
As the festival grows, paper won’t be the only thing getting cut. Grímur would like glass bottles, garbage bins and out-dated equipment to be, in some part, replaced by aluminium cans, recycling bins and the most energy efficient gear. “We’re taking baby steps right now,” Grímur says.
By default, the festival starts on a good foot. Taking place in a city means you can walk and bike everywhere and the infrastructure already exists. No one is driving to the countryside to trample over nature in the name of two-stepping to a sun god and flailing their arms in the air. But this doesn’t negate the toll of getting to Reykjavík in the first place and romping around the city on a 120-hour bender.
“We know this festival means that there are a lot of extra flights coming into the country,” says Grímur, who oversees the arrival of 8,000 people to the festival each year, 4,500 of whom come by plane, leaving a carbon trail in the airwaves as they fly in.
Going forward, he’s thinking of buying carbon offsets for those 4,500 or more flights that bring concertgoers in, and then plugging that into the ticket price. He’s also trying to model Airwaves after Hillside Festival, an event of similar size that takes place each summer in Ontario, Canada. Environmentalism is a part of Hillside’s mission statement and they provide concertgoers with reusable cups to bring to shows, locally sourced, organic food and recycling bins everywhere. “I saw what they were doing there and thought, ‘we should definitely be doing it this way, too,’” he says.
Grímur says he wants to distinguish the festival from Iceland’s tourism industry, one industry he feels is unsustainable and shamelessly cashing in on the fest’s foreign audience. “Iceland kind of brands itself as this really ‘green’ country and we all know that’s not totally the case,” he says. He’d like Airwaves, however, to earn the distinction of a ‘green’ event.
The potential to carry this out has a lot to do with where Grímur can extend his control. In 2012, he commissioned volunteers from World Wide Friends (WWF), a non-profit organisation promoting environmentalism, to pick up at venues after shows and salvage recyclables. He is hoping to get more volunteers this year.
At venues like Harpa and Reykjavík’s Art Museum, he wants to make sure that beer is being sold in aluminium cans rather than glass bottles (aluminium cans are more easily recycled and repurposed) and he wants to make sure they are making access to recycling bins easier for all. At smaller venues and off-venue sites, he carries little weight over the materials used, what’s served or how clean they choose to make their involvement in the festival.
He hopes to incentivise all venues to join Airwave’s green effort in the future and to please start by selling beer in aluminium cans at a lower price (with recycling bins in handy spots). And if a more environmental Airwaves festival means cheaper beer, then perhaps we’re ready to dance on the grass of that other, greener side.