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Sustainability Tips: David Broderick, Director of Sustainability Treefort Festival

See how Boise's Treefort is going green.
Treefort Festival Bikes

Building a sustainable events brand is going to be vital not just to the environment, but also to attracting a young consumer base that doesn’t want the planet destroyed. We are seeing more and more festivals making a concerted effort to reduce waste, recycle and activate their attendees to be better to their environment around them. Treefort Festival takes over Boise, Idaho every March with nearly a week of music, comedy and art at venues across the city. They also host a few different “forts,” that are stages outdoors. They have taken to heart a commitment to sustainability, reducing their carbon footprint, integrating battery charged generators (instead of the diesel ones) and pushing the venues they work with to reduce waste.

As part of our Sustainability Tips section, we decided to chat with Treefort Director of Sustainability, David Broderick. He has been a part of the sustainability team at Treefort for seven years now, seeing it grow into a large and committed team that wants to make a difference. Read on to see what the festival is doing in 2020 and beyond.

Treefort Festival will take place March 25-29 in Boise, Idaho. Get your tickets and more information on the lineup here.

1. How do you manage your carbon footprint as a festival?

As a festival it’s difficult and as an urban festival it adds a layer that doesn’t exist with other festivals — we have a carbon footprint of venues we use for a short period of time. I look at our carbon footprint (and to some degree our sustainability) in three layers or levels. In the first level we have what we call our main stage area (but also includes Kidfort and Alefort) which is an area we build and mostly control., At this level we can influence and choose better options for power, water and other sustainability choices. We have made a lot of progress at this level over the years. Reduced waste and single use plastics, and are now slowly integrating diesel generator alternatives — in our case battery banks. As these become more sufficient to handle our power needs, we increase the use. We have the ability to collect much of the data that relates to the carbon footprint at main stage.

The next level is our local venues and event spaces, which is where we have partial influence but can also collect data, albeit it’s much more difficult. We have progressively increased our engagement in these areas by educating and consulting with venues to improve operations and sustainability. And the last couple of years with our sponsorship with Idaho Power, we have been able to include these spaces in our carbon footprint. 

Treefort Festival 2017 Solar Power

The third level is where we classify vendors, suppliers, artists and festival patrons. Those who provide services (and travel), artists and festivalgoers who travel control their own footprint. As you can image, influencing or even tracking data from this group is a very expensive task. We do what we can from an education standpoint to improve the choices each of these individuals and companies make.

We currently include the first two levels in our carbon footprint and receive green energy credits for that footprint from Idaho Power.

2. What do you do or are doing to be greener when planning Treefort?

If you are talking about the actual planning process, our entire team relies and uses technology to communicate in many ways, which eliminates the need to meet more often than we do. We still need to meet, but we tend to do it in a large group so that if anyone needs to talk to more than one person, we are all in the same room and we have breakout sessions.

We setup co-working sessions weekly where core team members work together and can meet if needed.

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We also pay attention to what sustainability efforts worked and didn’t work at the last festival, and have discussions about what we can start/stop/continue for the next festival. We’re always learning and always looking for ways to make things more environmentally friendly.

3. What can you do to make your events more sustainable?

Most sustainability comes at a cost. It also requires a behavior change, which takes time to transition to new ways of operating. It took us 4 years to completely rid single use plastics from our main stage and Alefort areas after introducing steel cups for beer and not allowing water in plastic bottles to be sold by vendors. So, I continue to look for significant impact areas where we can start building and then when we can take care of smaller issues immediately.

Treefort Festival Cups

We introduced rental cups in 2019 allowing us to accomplish the removal of single use plastic cups at our main stage Alefort areas. This year we will be using that program again and piloting a reusable plate program for our Foodfort food. My team will have a wash station setup and will be washing reusable bamboo plates for use/reuse during the festival. This step is a small step into something larger. If this year goes well, we will look to expand the program and see if we can remove the use of all single use items.

I think one of the most important things I do in my role is to test and learn. We document what we do, learn from it and see how to progress it the next year. There are so many pieces to a festival that there is always something, one more thing that you can look at, research and find a better way. So I continue with this strategy.

4. Outside of work, how are you looking to make your life more sustainable?

I practice the same process in my personal life. No one is perfect and in my personal opinion, Zero Waste is an unattainable goal. So as we do in other areas of our life (exercise, diets, etc.), I start small and usually with one thing and create a habit. This is easiest with things we do regularly or buy often, because the habit can be created sooner.

I love to reuse things, up-cycle (nearly anything). I try to be less of a consumer. But in all situations, I know myself and that I need to work on incremental progress and not try to change everything at once.

Finally, I am a beekeeper. I have been for 6 years and not only does this allow me to contribute in a different way to our environment, it is one of the most incredibly rewarding things I have ever done and I am constantly learning from the bees.

5. What are the products or brands you look to as being sustainable and useful for your work?

There are many things we use at Treefort which are free to us and reused from its original purpose. For example, we use a lot of 2, 3 and 5 gallon buckets for a variety of things. For patrons to empty liquids in before throwing away or recycling drink containers, it makes our trash easier to haul and we can dispose of the liquid in our gray water tanks.

We also heavily reuse anything we have to buy such as the gloves for our team to use to handle the trash. We wash and reuse them year after year for as long as they hold up.

We use a can liner that is 70% post consumer material from Greencore/Petosky plastics. And in Boise we cannot throw recycling into our dumpsters in the bag. So after we empty the bag of recycling into the dumpster, we reuse the bag in one of our trashcans.

Treefort Festival

There are few products we use but when we do need them, we buy items that can provide us with the longest use and/or if it is a consumable like a cleaner, we look for items that are safer for the environment.

When we tackle product items that impact other areas of the festival such as merchandise or hospitality, I work with those teams to find a balance of cost, need and sustainability. A couple of years ago I sat with our hospitality group who puts together swag bags for artists and we generated a list of ideas and items that would be more sustainable than the traditional items they used. This is the first step in a better direction.

So I don’t know if this answered your question, but I guess my approach is to look at longevity and reusability (of items that already exist) first.

6. How can fans be greener when attending music events?

For me and my festival attendance, I don’t wait for the festival to implement something. I bring my sustainability to the festival. Use alternative transportation, bring your own cup, water bottle, plate and spork and try to use them even if the festival isn’t promoting them (this hasn’t always worked for me). Minimize your souvenir purchases and look for sustainable items (and ask for them). Treefort took a bunch of old banners and had a local Artisan group make bags with them. Upcycled and locally made. We’ve done the same with beer coozies and plan to do more. So look for and purchase these items over others.

Treefort Festival Coozie

Also, help pick up. I’ve been to the festivals/events where the norm is to drop your trash on the ground and let a crew pick it up…that’s not Treefort. And I am not suggesting if that’s the case you roll up your sleeves as a patron and start cleaning up. But at Treefort if you see the random waste item, pick it up and take it to the trash/recycle. Help and educate others if the occasion presents itself. Treefort patrons thank my team all the time for helping them be greener.

7. What do you want from artists to become more sustainable?

Well artists are the same as the rest of us, right? They travel to a festival like any other patron with one difference being they go on stage for a few hours. So I guess my list for artists would be the same as the list for fans. I think one thing they could do different since they are traveling a lot is to keep track of those things that are not as sustainable or that add to your carbon footprint. As with anything in our lives, as soon as we start tracking it, we start seeing issues clearly if there are any. I don’t know but I would think that many artists track miles they travel but if they don’t, tracking miles, fuel, purchases such as bottled water would all lead to a greater understanding of their current footprint. Then you can start making improvements by setting reduction goals.

8. How have you seen the climate around Boise change since Treefort was started?

I think one of the biggest impacts has been that I now see (and get asked about) steel cups replacing plastic cups. And this is a good step, but also one that needs to be recognized as an expensive cost to our environment if not implemented with the correct values. Treefort emphasizes bringing your own cup to the festival so we can refill it. It’s still a challenge to get the cups to not be a collector’s item and a marketing tool.

Treefort and I have both had a surge of interest in how to make other events in Boise more sustainable. This is how influence works and I see the incredible values we hold dear to us at Treefort are permeating through our attendees and out into our community.

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