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Thursday, Jul 12, 2012, 4:59 pm

Pitchfork 2012: A Sustainable Music Festival?

By Miles Kampf-Lassin

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This weekend, the Pitchfork Music Festival (PMF) will descend on Chicago’s Union Park for the eighth straight year, bringing with it a plethora of cutoff-clad music junkies, undyingly devoted Indie fans and smatterings of awkwardly located parental chaperones.   

The three-day long concert, originally incarnated as the Intonation Festival, has grown into one of the most high-profile musical events in the country, attracting performers and attendees from across the country, and in some cases the globe. This year’s lineup includes artists such as NYC based swag-extraordinaire rapper A$AP Rocky, the Carrie Brownstein fronted, spectacular super-group Wild Flag, the ever-evolving Dirty Projectors and Canadian post-rock kings Godspeed You! Black Emperor, among many, many others. 

Outside of the musical main-event, this year’s PMF will feature a slew of other happenings within the West Loop park’s confines. The Book Fort advertises itself as a “literary equivalent of what’s happening on the Fest’s three music stages,” and will include works by indie presses such as McSweeney’s and Drag City Books, as well as readings by writers like Joan of Arc’s Tim Kinsella and the great writer, editor and sometimes ITT contributor Anne Elizabeth Moore. Coterie Chicago will present arts and crafts from artists across Chicagoland. Flatstock markets as “an art show, poster sale, and community event” while the CHIRP Record Fair, hosted by the innovative Chicago Independent Radio Project, will offer up rare and independent records to vinyl-hungry fans.

But beyond these bells and whistles, Pitchfork also touts a dedication to environmental sustainability. This may seem like an oxymoron. Whenever you gather tens of thousands of people into a park on a hot summer weekend and serve food and drinks in non-biodegradable containers, you can expect the garbage to pile up quickly. But Pitchfork contends that they are taking steps to ensure that their “environmental ‘footprint’ is as small as possible.”

So how is this being done? Have the organizers taken some lessons from no-impact man? Well, their goals are not nearly as lofty, and it’s hard to imagine how Pitchfork's regular attendees would adapt to a lack of toilet paper. Instead, Pitchfork organizers are taking a more modest approach. In terms of recycling, they have a goal of a +40% diversion rate—the percentage of waste materials diverted from traditional disposal such as landfilling or incineration to be recycled, composted or re-used—and claim to have averaged a 38% rate since 2006. While this is a far cry from fully sustainable waste management, it is significantly higher than what Chicago’s other major national music festival has accomplished: In 2010, the Lollapalooza festival diverted just 25% of its 177 tons of waste. Other festivals have had much greater success, such as the Planet Bluegrass Festival in Telluride, Colorado where last year organizers touted an impressive 62% diversion rate.

But one of the main challenges facing PMF organizers on the sustainability front is the sheer amount of people attending—historically near 19,000 each day. That is a lot of waste producers in a less than 13-acre area. So outside of hired professional cleanup crews, this year PMF will be deploying teams of in-house recycling volunteers to work with vendors and is already encouraging attendees to join in the recycling efforts as well.

Outside of these intitiatives, this year’s festival will be fully powered by biodiesel fuel and all vendors will be supplied with compost containers—feats not many other major music festicals can claim. Additionally, there will be two separate bike parking lots, totaling over 26,000 square feet of space as well as “free water, air and chain lube for tires, and on site mechanical assistance for festival attendees.”

And these efforts are not solely being made possible by PMF. As is commonly the case for these types of major concerts, a corporate sponsor is underwriting the green initiatives at this year’s festival. No, it’s not Tom’s of Maine or Dr. Bronner’s. It’s actually a dog and cat food company: Purina ONE beyOnd. So why are they involved in supporting an Indie music festival? Christina Schneider, assistant brand manager at the company, told In These Times in an email that they are “a relatively new brand that was established in January 2011. That said, the Pitchfork Music Festival is the first major organization/event we’ve aligned with as it relates to our sustainability efforts. We’ve built this brand on a foundation of being positively good for your pet and the world you share with them. We sincerely believe that a product is more than just what goes into the bag, which is why we consider some of the most important ingredients to be the values that push us to make a positive impact on the world.” And that they “consider music and creativity as Ingredients for Good.”

While all concertgoers will likely agree with that last sentiment, unfortunately the primary beneficiaries of Purina’s products won’t get to take advantage: No pets will be allowed at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival.

Miles Kampf-Lassin, a graduate of New York University's Gallatin School in Deliberative Democracy and Globalization, is a Web Editor at In These Times. He is a Chicago based writer. @MilesKLassin

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