I have been drawn to explore Flow Festival several times in the previous years. To me the festival is the most captivating when the night falls. That is when Flow starts to sparkle and finally bursts into a spellbinding spectacle of light and sound. But how does the festival approach all the energy that is needed to make this happen? In my mind, the notion of environmental awareness has always been connected to Flow so I decided to take a closer look at how Flow embraces sustainability on the whole before the festival time was at hand.
Flow Festival is a vibrant three-day event set amongst the industrial beauty of an old power plant not far from downtown Helsinki, the capital of Finland. The festival offers a diverse mix of music, visual arts, food and drinks, yoga, design, cinema screenings and eclectic urban spaces to hang out with friends in between gigs. When the night falls, the area turns into a mesmerising play of lights which makes it hard to leave for the night or at all when the festival finally ends for the year.
When it comes to sustainability and a festival experience, I will gladly leave as small a carbon footprint as I can. If the festival makes it easier for me, all the better. So how exactly is Flow contributing to sustainability?
As I look at the whole festival picture, two things pop out. First of those is carbon neutrality which is at the top the list for Flow. Festival’s carbon footprint has been calculated every year since 2009 and the created emissions are compensated via Gold Standard certified projects of renewable energy such as Zhangbei Dayangzhuang wind energy project in China.
The other thing that caught my attention is that Flow is an EcoCompass event. EcoCompass is an environmental management system whose purpose is to help events and businesses to make environmental management easier. According to Flow Festival’s production manager, Emilia Mikkola, the festival was a pilot event when EcoCompass system for events was being built in 2012. Flow was the first event in Finland to receive EcoCompass certificate for event. The festival has used the system since then and participated in developing it for other Helsinki metropolitan area events and towards a national system.
If the overall emissions are compensated through renewable energy projects and the environmental matters are managed through the EcoCompass system, what does a sustainable festival look like from specific vantage points such as travel, energy, recycling and food?
In the past, I have arrived at Flow by foot, tram or subway. The festival encourages the audience to use public transport, to come by bike or to walk when arriving at the site. If you are visiting Helsinki, it is easy to hop on a bus, tram or subway near the central railway station where also long distance trains and airport trains and buses arrive.
When I lived close by, it was easy to walk to Suvilahti where Flow takes place. Later on, when I moved farther from the area I took a tram or subway to Sörnäinen which is only a short walk away from Flow Festival entrance and the fastest way to get to the area from downtown Helsinki. The festival is easily accessed also by buses, and if you choose to bike, there is a free bicycle parking area provided by Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) near the main entrance.
Even though tens of thousands of festival-goers are moving to and from the area during a 3-day span, it is not only their carbon footprint that the festival is concerned about. By working together with other Nordic event organisers and local subcontractors, Flow seeks to ensure that also the travels of performers and subcontractors between distances are reasonable and environmental.
When I go to a festival, my attention is instantly snagged by the built surroundings: stages, food vendor areas, lighting, hanging out areas for festival-goers and the all infrastructure of an outdoor event. All that requires energy to make it run smoothly. How do you power a sizeable outdoor festival? And how do you do it sustainably?
Temporary power at festivals is usually produced by generators. And generators run on fuel. Emilia Mikkola points out that the generators at Flow use renewable biodiesel. Renewable diesel is made of renewable and sustainable raw material such as inedible food waste. According to Flow Festival, renewable diesel can reduce the festival’s carbon emissions up to 90% compared to standard diesel. Electricity that is procured elsewhere is carbon neutral EKOenergy certified Finnish wind power.
Flow is a good-looking festival. I would say breathtaking even. The surroundings beg you to go exploring. So many things to see and experience over a day or three. Much of Flow’s charm comes from the captivatingly designed and decorated areas inside the festival gates.
Flow is reinvented and built again every year, which makes me ask the question: what happens to the materials of the previous year? Where do they come from and where do they go? On top of the building materials, there is waste produced by us people alone. Everyone who has been at a festival knows that tens of thousands of people make a lot of waste.
In the case of Flow, there is no need to worry: Flow recycles everything 100 %. According to Emilia Mikkola, all the materials used at the festival are recyclable. None of the materials the festival acquires are disposable and all waste will be either recycled or reused. Nothing will end up in a landfill.
EAT AND DRINK
At Flow Festival, you can experience culinary fireworks unlike in many other festivals. This year there will be about 40 restaurants and cafés in the festival area. When I went to Flow for the first time during my first Helsinki year, most of the food vendors were foreign to me. It was a great opportunity to explore new tastes and get familiar with Helsinki food scene.
Food is definitely one of the most important things at a festival since you have got to eat (and drink) in order to keep going but food production on the whole is also stressful to the environment. To lessen the stress, Flow encourages food vendors to offer sustainable meals, and favours organic, locally produced food, fresh Finnish ingredients and vegetarian dishes. Flow is supported by Sustainable Meal program that helps the festival in guiding the food vendors towards environmental-friendly food production.
Along with concentrating on making the festival sustainable, Flow, by its own example, encourages audience to take responsibility and work towards making sustainable choices.
The festival works together with the John Nurminen Foundation to protect the Baltic Sea. The biggest danger to the Baltic Sea is eutrophication which is caused by water pollution by phosphorus emissions in wastewaters. One of the consequences of eutrophication that is visible to people living on the shores of the Baltic Sea is the growth of blue-green algae.
To test their own climate lover status, the audience can take the Climate Match Quiz by HSY (Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority) and discuss climate matters with HSY promoters at the festival. I took the test and got a 90% match so there is still some work to do if I want to be a perfect match with the climate.
After looking into the environmental statements of the festival, I know a lot more about Flow and sustainability: Sustainability is built into Flow Festival. It is in the reusing of materials, in the effort put into creating sustainable meals, in choosing renewables for electricity, in working towards making all travelling around the festival environmentally friendly, in recycling everything, and in educating the masses. You don’t necessarily see all of it but it’s there. That’s definitely something to think about when sitting on a recycled bench surrounded by fairy light lit buildings and waiting for your fave band as the night falls over Flow.
This year, Flow Festival line-up includes artists such as Lana Del Rey, The xx, Aphex Twin, Goldfrapp, London Grammar, Beth Ditto, Ryan Adams, Frank Ocean and more. Flow takes place at Helsinki, Finland, 11-13 August 2017.
Text by Tiina Junno