Rock the Green Music Festival

Rock the Green - Near Zero Waste Music Festival - September 2011 & 2012 


Rock the Green sets a new green standard for large-scale festivals


Rock the Green, an outdoor music festival featuring nationally renowned bands and near-zero waste efforts, recently raised the bar as the greenest large-scale music festival in the nation. This standard was set when 93 percent of the total waste generated on-site was diverted from landfills, and sustainable production cornerstones inspired the festival’s 8,216 attendees to opt in to its near-zero waste efforts. Third Eye Blind headlined the music festival, preceded by Metric, Switchfoot, Imagine Dragons, Atlas Genius, and Morning Parade, on September 15 in Milwaukee, Wis.

“It’s inspiring to see so many people come together and get behind a great cause – especially one that will have more of an impact on future generations than it will on our own,” said Ben McKee, bassist of Imagine Dragons. “It’s a symbol of what we can do if we put in a little bit of effort and are willing to reeducate ourselves and make small changes that add up to a big difference.”

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a music festival with a similar number of attendees would generate more than four tons of waste. This figure is derived from the amount of waste generated per attendee, which is estimated as a median of 0.75 pounds per person. By comparison, 2012 Rock the Green concertgoers sent a mere 640 pounds of trash to the landfill – the equivalent of just 1.25 ounces of trash per person, which is significantly less than the weight of a smartphone. In each of its first two years, Rock the Green garnered near-zero waste results that exceeded 90 percent. Previous public information shared by other festivals placed the top festival recycling data near 80 percent.

While many music festivals throughout the U.S. implement eco-friendly practices on-site, organizers of Rock the Green, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, utilize sustainable production practices to green the event from the ground up. Rock the Green flips the music festival paradigm on its head, building an eco-friendly example for the community and a means to encourage sustainability by putting fans directly into the process without any sacrifice to the anticipated concert experience.

“By merging entertainment and sustainable engagement, Rock the Green makes a positive impact on communities while establishing our city as an environmental leader,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “Our hope is that Rock the Green’s message isn’t for just one day of the year. The goal is for attendees to leave the festival with a greater appreciation for sustainability and an enhanced desire to make their hometown more sustainable.”

At Rock the Green’s inaugural event in 2011, 92 percent of the waste produced by 7,274 attendees was reduced, reused or recycled. This year, even with an increased attendance of 8,216 people, the festival was able to top that number with 93 percent of waste diverted from landfills.

A color-coded bin labeling system from Veolia Environmental Services helped collect 1,260 pounds of recyclable material, compared with 1,100 pounds in 2011. Fans and volunteers collaborated to sort waste into the correct bins resulting in an additional 3,980 pounds that went to compost at Veolia’s Emerald Park – up from 1,720 pounds in 2011.

“We are proud to have helped Rock the Green once again raise the bar for environmentally-friendly festival standards, while building upon Milwaukee’s reputation as a pioneer in sustainability,” said Jim Long, president and CEO, Veolia Environmental Services. “Rock the Green and Veolia share the same goal to help communities maximize recycling, minimize waste and reduce consumption.”

Together, fans and InSinkErator processed 3,000 pounds of food scraps at food grinding stations with stainless steel sink units and commercial disposers. The food matter was transported to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), where it was converted to an organic fertilizer and returned to Milwaukee County Parks.

Aggreko bio-diesel generators used 600 gallons of bio-diesel fuel donated by U.S. Venture to power the festival’s main stage, production and vendor areas.

Bicycle pedal power generated by several local cycling teams powered the sound and lights at the Koss Pedal Power Stage. The racers produced a maximum power output ranging from 140 to 240 watts per cyclist.

All guests received a complimentary, BPA-free, recyclable water bottle, which could be refilled at fresh water stations staffed by Badger Meter volunteers at no charge. Concertgoers consumed more than 1,000 gallons of water and helped save the equivalent of 6,850 plastic water bottles throughout the day.

Rock the Green’s carbon footprint was further minimized in its second year with double the number of carpoolers from 2011. The festival offered an online ride-share program and parking discounts for vehicles carrying four or more passengers. Fans were also encouraged to bike to the event with a free bicycle valet and complimentary tune-ups provided by Milwaukee Bicycle Collective. Cycling to Rock the Green this year increased fourfold from 2011.

The festival’s educational and directional signage, which was printed by Big Systems on eco-friendly HDPE banner material donated by HP, will be reused at the 2013 event. HDPE is recyclable and half the weight of typical banner material to further reduce installation, transport and disposal costs.

Other notable sustainability technologies and practices included:

The use of paperless, electronic tickets saved hundreds of reams of paper and thousands of dollars in manufacturing resources. To encourage attendees to utilize paperless tickets, Rock the Green offered express entry to fans who presented their QR code ticket on their smartphone. Over 47% of attendees went paperless in 2012.

Food vendors served healthy and sustainable food options on compostable plates, cups and napkins.

Energy-efficient LED lighting illuminated the main stage and tented areas after sundown.

“We could not be more proud that Rock the Green’s on-site sustainability efforts in 2012 surpassed the already-impressive metrics from last year’s event. With the goal of continuous improvement, we look forward to bettering ourselves once again in 2013,” said Lindsay Stevens Gardner, founder and executive director, Rock the Green. “We hope that our model for sustainable festival production can be replicated at other large-scale events to inspire communities nationwide to live and celebrate more sustainably.”