TORONTO – Over the past few years, music festivals across Canada have welcomed green initiatives to their programs, but perhaps none so much as a community-based festival in Southern Ontario.
Guelph, Ontario’s Hillside Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary this weekend. The three-day, five-stage not-for-profit festival has long been a champion of environmentally-friendly initiatives.
But 30 years on, it has proved that green festivals do not have to stop at recyclable beer cups.
Every summer, Hillside Festival attracts thousands of people to Guelph Lake Island, in the Guelph Lake Conservation Area.
The festival features diverse musical performances, spoken word, drum and dance, healing workshops and an artisan market.
This year, performers included: Hayden, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Dawn McCarthy, Jim Guthrie, House of Velvet, F**ked Up, Odd Years, Diamond Rings, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Lowest of the Low and Whitehorse.
This year’s edition of Hillside was the recipient of the Best Greening of a Festival award from Festivals and Events Ontario, for saving over 593 tonnes of C02 over the past 21 years.
Many of the festival’s green initiatives date back to the 80s, but every year organizers look for new ways to reduce the festival’s environmental footprint.
Perhaps no item on the island is as iconic as the Hillside beer mug. All of the beer tents have sold reusable plastic beer mugs for years. In 2011, after concern of chemicals leaching from the plastic mugs, corn-based, biodegradable mugs were phased in.
The problem? The mugs tended to melt in the dishwasher (and hold less beer, argue some devoted beer-tent attendees – but that’s for another story).
Hillside unveiled a stainless steel mug in 2013, made by local company Cupanion, but all versions of Hillside’s reusable mug are accepted at the tents.
Guelph Lake Conservation Area is located about 10km outside of the downtown core. Since the festival first moved to the island in 1987, diverting cars from the festival grounds has long been a consideration by festival staff.
Whereas parking your car at the festival will cost you, a free shuttle bus transports festival-goers from downtown Guelph to the island throughout the weekend. Red Car Service buses transport performers and media from the Delta hotel on the city’s south end.
Today, not only are the buses going strong, so are the bikes. In 1995, a free bicycle lockup and repair shop was introduced. This year, hundreds of people cycled to the festival – despite the rain, over 450 bikes were locked up on Sunday alone.
Since 2007, the festival has been actively discouraging plastic water bottles on the island, by trucking in a water tanker that provides free drinking water to attendees, volunteers and performers.
The 1,200 or so festival volunteers play a huge role in keeping Hillside green, by sorting and washing reusable plates, mugs and cutlery, transporting recycling by handcart, or shuttling musicians’ gear in cargo tricycles.
The Green Team – a group of volunteers – takes donations during the festival for projects that will go towards projects in the conservation area. In 2005, the team raised funds for the living green roof that sits atop the festival’s main stage. Organizers said the roof replaces the green space lost with the building of the permanent stage.
Festival-goers are encouraged to do their part as well. In 2011, trash-turnaround stations were introduced, encouraging thoughtful sorting of all garbage (the city of Guelph runs a three-stream waste collection program, sorting waste into organics for compost, recycling and garbage for landfill).
Pay close attention and you may also see folks picking up discarded cigarette butts, and placing them in little plastic containers rather than leaving the litter on the grass.
Solar initiatives include the aptly-named Sun Stage, powered entirely by solar since 1992, and new this year, a solar-powered oven, located near the Aboriginal Circle. Using funds collected by the Green Team, the festival, along with the Grand River Conservation Authority, installed solar-powered showers that will remain on the island.