For most music festivals, "sustainability" means a few extra recycling bins and perhaps the booking of an evergreen nostalgia act. It's no exaggeration, then, to say Project 30-90 is shooting for the moon with its goal of a net-zero carbon footprint.
The inaugural event, scheduled for Sept. 5 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Festival Park, is the brainchild of Don Kelly Productions, which also produces the benefit concert series A Joyful Noise. An LSU law school graduate, Kelly, 38, conceived Project 30-90 (artist lineup at www.project3090.com) as a green festival from the ground up. "Just doing another festival in New Orleans, that never was anything that appealed to me," he says. "One day I got the idea for doing it as a green festival, and that really stuck with me."
His list of environmentally conscious efforts is exhaustive: stages and lighting powered by solar panels and wind turbines; 100 percent eco-friendly materials, from food containers to portable-toilet air fresheners; incentives for carpooling and bicycle travel; even a green ticketing option where customers can opt to purchase carbon offsets through Ticketmaster.
Gambit rang Kelly to discuss the details of his grand plan.
Is there an element of the festival that doesn't have a green component?
We're trying to really cover everything from A to Z. The thinking really is, if we're going to do an event like this, I don't want to be crass, but you can't do it half ass.
Your stated goal is to "break new ground for Louisiana's event production industry." Has this morphed into a kind of green gauntlet?
It has. We're like any startup business: We have huge ideas, and then sometimes we have to come back down to earth and say, "OK, what's really feasible?" But I think at this point the programs that we do have in place are very progressive. They're things that are achievable, and post-event, they'll be measurable. We can sit down in the days after the festival and say, actually how many tons did we recycle? As far as the carbon goes, how much did we work to prevent?
Rightly or not, sustainable options are often perceived as more expensive. But you say many of these decisions are actually saving you money.
One example is the paperless tickets. I had seen that at a Tom Waits show a year ago and thought it was a great idea. He was a big proponent of the anti-scalping movement. It's the way it goes for this entire festival. You have to bring the credit card that you bought the tickets with to the festival. Instead of them swiping a ticket, they swipe your card with a scanner. It's that simple. It's a great green effort because there's no paper; there's nothing to print or be mailed. That's one where it's not an exorbitant cost to print tickets, but there's no ink to pay for, no paper to pay for. It's a small cost savings as well.
The most ambitious are the wind- and solar-powered stages. Most people would assume there's not enough juice for something of that magnitude.
That's not the case, and I think that is what most people assume. But the reality is, it's certainly possible. The company I'm working with has done some stages at major festivals: Bonnaroo, Outside Lands. They're called Sustainable Waves, and they've got experience in powering things to play to a crowd of that size.
It's a matter of battery technology?
It is. There are solar panels hooked up to this huge array of solar rechargeable batteries. The day of the event, if it gets cloudy, it's not a concern. We've got however many kilowatt hours of power stored up in these various solar trailers that we'll have there.
Do you have a plan in case something goes wrong?
I've been around long enough to know that something will go haywire, because it always does, at any type of event. So we do have some backup ideas; we will have a couple of biodiesel generators onsite just in case. I am quite sure something is going to have to be plugged in to ensure power. I'm not naive enough to think that we will run flawlessly. But the company we have with us who is working on the green ticketing option is also going to be monitoring, essentially, everything that we do. They're called GT Environmental Finance. They're going to be with us onsite, working with us in the days following the festival. We're going to have a sit-down, post-event, where their engineers can tell us, "This is the stuff you did really well, and here is where it didn't go so well. If you want to remedy that, this is what you're going to need to do." If we get a good crowd, we'll have the resources available to buy X number of dollars of (carbon) offsets to remedy what we did. We're going to do that across the board.
And you're also evaluating sponsors on a green-criteria matrix?
A great example is the arts market, which the Arts Council of New Orleans is presenting with us. We have spaces for 30 artists. Part and parcel with that, we're looking for green artists — whether you use recycled wood for sculpture or paint on triple-use canvases. Same thing with our food vendors. We're asking folks: "How are you in your day-to-day business eco-friendly?" If you're selling jambalaya, you can't bring a bunch of Styrofoam bowls. We have a set of bowls that are made from corn-based product or completely biodegradable, post-consumer waste paper. We're making sure [they] comply or comport with what our mission is.
How are you planning to "encourage" the use of streetcar, bus and bicycle?
The one I'm really excited about, for folks who ride bicycles, you're going to park your bike inside the festival grounds itself. There's not a better parking spot — you're parking inside the gate. We've got, set up on the Web site, a ride-share program. New Orleans is an enormous small town; you're probably going to know people, we hope, who are going to this thing. Organize a carpool.
Who are some of the green organizations in your Vendor Village?
We've heard from Rebuilding Together, St. Bernard Project, Green Light New Orleans, Live Green Orleans, Louisiana Green Scene Magazine. My approach is, tell me who you are and what you're doing, and more than likely I'll say, come on out and spread your message. Those are not the kind of people where I'd have to say, "Please don't bring a thousand flyers."