COPENHAGEN, Denmark – After a weeklong whiff of concerts, parties and events at the beginning of July, the Roskilde Festival site was covered with piles of food leftovers, partially disassembled tents, empty beer cans and other waste. The festival, located some 30 kilometers west of Copenhagen in Denmark “is a micro-cosmos which displays elements of the sustainability challenges faced on a global level,” says Esben Pedersen, Head of the Corporate Social Responsibility department of the Copenhagen Business School (CBS). “If it has the problems, it should also be able to present the solutions.”
Esben and his colleague researchers on the “Rio to Roskilde Roundtrip” project have embarked upon a journey that took them from the high-end discussions of the United Nations Rio20+ Conference on Sustainable Development to the loud, bustling fields at Roskilde. The project is a cooperation between the Roskilde Festival and a group of researchers supervised by CBS. It aims to take a practical approach to addressing the challenges in implementing a green economy, a cornerstone concept of the Rio20+ Conference.
Using the festival as a laboratory
The team has used the popular event to interview festival-goers as well as survey and observe attitudes concerning sustainability practices within a temporary community. The Roskilde Festival represents exactly this type of setting with its more than 130,000 people living together during a limited period of time and demanding food, accommodation, medical services, leisure activities and other goods and services common to everyday life. The event seems to offer a double benefit: new solutions can be explored while more sustainable practices are dispersed among young, open-minded festival-visitors.
However, to what extent is the festival atmosphere suited for academic research? According to Esben, an interesting finding of the field research was that people seem to have two personalities: one for their ordinary life and one festival personality. This could somehow explain why people choose to throw so much waste directly at the camping site. On the other hand, festival-goers are generally more accommodating, leisurely and open to answer questions. The occasional disturbance, however, is inevitable. This became very clear when during an interview, the research team was interrupted by a group of youths aptly dressed for the ongoing best monkey costume contest.
Better tents for better festivals
To address the topics of food, temporary housing and waste management, respectively, the CBS group was split into three teams. As Head of the Food team, Esben highlights that “almost one-third of food is lost somewhere in the supply chain.” To address this, the team has been exploring the supply chain at the festival, following wholesalers as well as food stands to track the process of food management.
The waste management team looked into ways of improving recycling. A potential solution they examined was building tents consisting of only a single material. These are generally more easily recycled than tents made up of more than one material.
The third team tested innovative methods of building temporary housing using stone wool, a natural material made of molten rock. It is durable, soundproof and keeps indoor temperatures constant. The tents are produced by the Danish insulation provider Rockwool International. “I think the festival was a good option for me to test the viability of my tents and houses,” says Michaeel Emborg, Prototype Coordinator at Rockwool International. The tents are an ideal example of how sustainable practices can benefit from partnerships with the business world.
Festival solutions for slums and refugee camps
Looking beyond the Roskilde Festival to global migrant streams and proliferating city slums, these solutions could potentially satisfy the need for more sustainable and robust housing options for temporary shelters. Michaeel Emborg indeed plans to make tents and houses for refugee camps. “I am going to present the tents at a meeting held in Denmark during the first week of October with several international NGOs attending. I hope to produce around 100.000 tents next year.”
The main results of the project will be presented at a conference at CBS in December. The research team expects interest from companies in the construction, waste management and food industry as well as from other stakeholders. Also, during the fall, together with the Roskilde Festival management they will discuss concrete solutions that can be applied at next year’s event. Maybe, at next Roskilde 2014, visitors will meet a festival boasting improved sustainability solutions for food, waste and temporary housing.