An interview with Shanda Sansing of C3 Presents / by Jason

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending more than an hour on the phone with Shanda Sansing, the person in charge of patron services and event greening for C3 Presents. You might not have heard of C3 Presents, but you definitely know their products. C3 is the production company behind Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits (ACL), the Big State country music festival, and one-half of the newly announced Vineland festival to be held in NJ next August.

Shanda is the driving force behind the greening of C3's events, but she's got the support of company management and Lollapalooza founder Perry Ferrell. This support has shown up in the recent greening initiatives at Lollapalooza, ACL, and to some extent at Big State. The company is actively looking to make 2008's events even greener. In our wide-ranging discussion, we talked about everything from the difficulties of using biodiesel to getting the audience to wash other people's dishes and how to best serve a plate of hot barbecue to a judge.

Perhaps the most exciting news on the greening front will come out of Vineland. Live Nation and C3 are teaming up with Festival Republic, the production company behind the UK's Glastonbury festival, perhaps the most successful festival in the world, to put on this event. Glastonbury has a long history of working towards a more just and sustainable world and has taken many steps to green its festivals over the years. Hopefully when we put the two together, we'll see something that will rival Peats Ridge in Australia in terms of its green credentials and positive social impact.

One thing that really jumped out at me from this interview was just how much work goes into greening these events. It is still far easier for someone putting on a festival do go about doing things business as usual. Greening a festival that's attended by 225,000 people is a huge task, one that requires not just money but a tremendous amount of time and energy. If you're a festival goer, make sure you take the time to thank the organizers and the volunteers who help make these shows happen as sustainably as possible.

Jason Turgeon: How did you end up involved in the greening efforts at C3?

Shanda Sansing: I manage the volunteer program and access program for people with disabilities. Part of volunteer program has always been recycling, so it was an extension of that work. It also happens that I'm very interested in greening, so this was a natural fit.

JT: You got a lot of good press for your greening campaign at Lollapalooza this year. Did you do the same thing for ACL? What are your plans for Vineland?

SS: We did the same sort of things for ACL as for Lollapalooza, there just wasn't as much of a media focus. It's too soon to know what we'll do with Vineland, but I assume that we'll have the same focus. Really and truly, the stuff we did was a matter of stepping back and taking a look at how we could better produce our events. Anybody could take these actions.

JT: What are some of the challenges you've had trying to green the festivals?

SS: One of the hardest things has been dealing with waste. You have to have control over everything that comes on to the site to ensure that you can dispose of it properly.

JT: Speaking of waste, did you use compostable cups at these events?

SS: We would really have liked to use compostable cups, even though they would cost us about four cents a cup, but a beer sponsor will normally give us non-recyclable #6 cups for free. But we heard from New Belgium beer that some of the compostable cups they were using were melting in the heat. All of our events our held in the hottest part of the summer, so we couldn't take that chance. There are also disposal issues. Even with a good staff of volunteers at all the waste stations directing people how to dispose of things properly, it can get very confusing.

But Blackstone Winery used compostable cups for their wine and had no problems. We've heard that some people store the cups with the beer kegs in refrigerated storage, although that can create a logistical issue when we have many beer stations. So we're going to take another look at these cups in the future.

Instead of using compostable cups, we had recycling incentives at Lollapalooza and ACL. We served beer out of 2 kinds of cups, #1 and #5. Number 1 is the less expensive disposable cup you're used to, and #5 is the kind of white souvenir cup that you see at football stadiums. We got people to collect stacks of cups and bring them to us for t-shirts and other prizes. The #5 cups got sleeved in a plastic sheath that had printed directions which asked people to take the cups home and wash them and reuse them. We were handing people stacks of dirty cups and we couldn't keep them in stock. People loved them. It was fun. Until it happened, I didn't know whether it would work or not.

JT: Wow, you actually got festival-goers to do someone else's dirty dishes. Aside from the cups, did you have a composting program at any of this year's events?

SS: We opted not to compost at Lollapalooza because the closest facility that could take food waste was in Wisconsin and it couldn't be integrated into regular waste management system. We have been working with a Chicago-based composting entity to build more capacity. We will be looking at that in the future. There are other issues with composting. It must be staffed, and you can't have any meat, or grease, or cheese mixed in. At the very least, we might be able to do it backstage. It is easier to do with caterers. Then we could have as few as 3 stations.

JT: There is a growing movement to get people away from bottled water and into reusable bottles like Nalgenes. Are you looking at doing anything like that?

SS: The problem with the hard plastic water bottles is that they can be used as a weapon, so there is a security concern. It was a big struggle even to get people to be allowed to bring in their own Nalgenes. So for now, we don't have a good solution to that problem.

JT: Did you use biodiesel at your festivals this summer?

SS: We use Blue Sun biofuels. We started this process a couple of years ago. There was a big learning curve. Many of the vendors' generators would have had their warranties negated by biofuels, but recent industry changes have permitted B20 mix, so we now use B20. We also use as much shore power as possible.

JT: How about solar-powered stages? I know that Sustainable Waves is also located in Austin.

SS: We have not done anything with solar stages, but we have talked to Sustainable Waves. Their stages are not large enough for even the smallest stage we use--not even the kids area at ACL or Lollapalooza. The biggest stage is 16 x 24. But hopefully someday we'll get to a point where we can use a solar stage.

JT: What about your water and wastewater use and treatment at the festivals? Do you reuse any of the greywater or do anything else special?

SS: I have a strong interest in these issues because when I was a peace corps volunteer I built rainwater catchment systems in the Dominican Republic. The village I was working in had a irrigation canal, but we had to hike a mile to get clean drinking water. We do as much as we can at the festivals. The ACL production area is hooked into city water. Austin does not allow graywater reuse, because there are worries about contaminating the groundwater table. We are obligated to collect gray and black water from our vendors, as well as grease. Grease is collected by outside vendors for reuse. We still use regular portolets. We're open to anything that can help us manage our water and wastewater use.

JT: This year you held Big State, your first camping festival and your first strictly country music festival. Did you put the same amount of work into greening this festival?

SS: We did a lot of stuff behind the scenes. It was a great festival. It was in the middle of an oval race track, and we had a car race each day. We also had things like a barbecue competition. People loved it and we had a great time, but with things like a barbecue competition and car races, it was difficult to really make any big claims about being green.

One of the hardest things was the barbecue. People come to compete and they spend hundreds of dollars to be there. The way these things work is that at the last minute, everyone puts their food on styrofoam and they rush it up to the judges because they want the food to be as hot as possible. We tried as hard as we could, but we could not find a good alternative to styrofoam that would keep the judges and contestants happy, so we had to go with styrofoam plates for the competition.

There were some other things that we wanted to do but we couldn't because the festival was in Bryan College Station, a small town about 2 hours outside of Houston. There were no facilities that could offer us composting or biodiesel, for instance. But we did as much as we could. We had basic recycling. All of the beer was served in cans, which made it easier to recycle. We did carbon offsets and had a display area with greening info for the patrons.

JT: Do you talk to other production companies about what they do to green their events?

SS: Sure, we're generally on pretty good terms. It's like the corner with four car dealerships. They're competing, but they also help each other out by being there and drawing more people to the area. We've talked a little bit with the folks who run South by Southwest, but with 150 venues, it's very hard for them to manage this kind of thing. We've talked to the folks at Bonnaroo. They helped us out with the biodiesel, told us about their experiences with some of the generators shutting down at first because the biodiesel is so much cleaner it was cleaning the deposits in the engines and clogging the filters. So now we have lots of extra filters on hand.

JT: What are some other things you do to green your events?

SS: We try to integrate it into everything we do. For instance, all of our volunteer shirts were organic cotton. We wanted to support these industries, the organic cotton, the bamboo shirts. And we have things like Green Street at Lollapalooza. Green Mountain Energy handles all of our offsets for us. We offset everything we do, including the office and all of our travel.