Watt is so green about the St. Blaise Watt Airjump Festival?

Festivals are fun. But on most occasions unfortunately they’re not so fun for the environment. You have to put a lot in – water, land and a copious amount of electricity. Then the outputs – all those plastic goods you use to eat and drink with, noise pollution, traffic congestion, and carbon dioxide from lugging people and equipment to the more often than not, isolated destinations. There are many festivals starting to make a lot of effort in cutting down these impacts – and one example is close to home for me – the Watt Air Jump festival in St. Blaise, Switzerland.

The Watt Air Jump is a 5 year-old grass-roots festival run by a bunch of rough and rugged local St-Blaise Swiss dudes who decided to take their childhood splish-splashing to another level. It’s a festival for all types of humans – those who have little humans, those teenage humans, all other kinds of humans as well as catering to those adrenaline-junkie humans who get their kicks from being propelled into the air off slides which look like they are made for the amusement of elephants. Not only that, at the festival you can be a sumo, listen to music, play on the slack-line, stand-up paddle and throw yourself either off the elephant slide or the smaller slide for sane humans. I met with Alexandre, the force behind the environmental measures that they’re taking.

What efforts are they making to protect the environment? They’re good enough to have been nominated as being one of the most eco-friendly festivals in Switzerland by the Swiss Olympic Committee (for sport and music). So, what do they do?

  • Recycling – have been stepping it up over the past few years starting with glass and PET to now cardboard, food scraps and aluminium. The food scraps are collected by a business which converts the methane from the scraps into electricity.
  • Use of goblets to drink – this is a common method within most festivals in Switzerland, this has reduced waste by up to half in festivals. For those who aren’t familiar – you have to pay an extra sum (around 2CHF) and then you get it back when you hand your goblet back in.
  • Community involvement – 26 refugees are employed to set up and take down the festival. A typical situation for refugees in Switzerland (and for a large majority of other countries also) is that they aren’t legally allowed to work until they have a visa, and getting that visa can take years. Alexandre said it works really well, it’s a chance for them to get out meet people, to do something constructive for their day as well as earning a modest salary.
  • Ecoboxs are available free of charge for smokers to put their butts in. The festival purchases them from The Summit Foundation and then gives them out for free. The Summit Foundation also makes cartoon posters with interesting facts about the environment and posts them around festivals to try and encourage well-behaved human behaviour that orientated to being environmental friendly. The Summit Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation based in Vevey in Switzerland. They aim to reduce the environmental impact of concentrated human activity by proposing solutions and promoting awareness (http://www.summit-foundation.org/).
  • The location of the festival makes it very carbon friendly – it is situated between two train stations and can be reached by bus or by boat.

What else has Alexandre got his eyes fixed on?  Seeing as carbon emissions is one of the biggest polluters he would like to measure the emissions of the festival – from how people travel to the festival and by which means, to the emission from trucking the material needed. This would be a first step in understanding what they could do better. Two options were to get people camping – rather than travelling each day, and to get local and organic food sold onsite.

The biggest obstacle in going to extra mile in taking measures for the environment is, of course, resources. First and foremost, man power. Working at the bar and flexing the pick-up muscle is a lot more appealing for volunteers over getting their hands dirty to sort the aluminium from glass from ordinary trash – who wants to hang out with the stinky trash-sorter? Run by 300 volunteers, only 15 work with Alexandre to keep the environment happy. Tasks range from emptying the bins around the festival when they are full, cleaning up early in the morning the next day – the site and places around the festival. Hats off to you guys and gals.

The big dog Timothy came along – the main man behind the festival – who was quite happy to throw in his 5 cents about how great Alexandre is, notably how he took a stand to get consent for tap water. He didn’t think the fact that the volunteers drink bottled water overly appropriate when the water is Switzerland is perfectly safe and delicious (I can vouch for that). Alexandre threw a tantrum, pulled some strings and got two fountains out of it.

When asked where the motivation to keep things green comes from, Alexandre responds by saying that since the festival is run by a bunch of local boys, “this our beach where we grew up, it’s in our heart so of course we want to take care of it” (although it did sound a lot more heart-throbbing in French).  And the salary? “We’re really like a big family, I get really touched by people who build relationships {at the festival}… for me that’s my salary”.

It was great to get this occasion to chat with Alexandre, the vibe was great, like a bunch of ants mounting a home, people were keeping busy. Alexandre is setting the bar for environmental-management of a festival and I hope that this will inspire others to think twice about what goes on behind the scenes.

Teaser: https://youtu.be/o-yTNllNGTU

Hélène Robert

Author Hélène Robert

I'm a recent graduate from a masters in Environmental Management and Policy at the iiiee, Lund University, and having lived in Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Ukraine (current) and with New Zealand being my home, you could say I'm a keen traveller. I'm interested in sustainable tourism - that's the passion behind my writing.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Petra Draskovic says:

    Wow, makes me want to go and jump high. It is warming my heart that the festivals are starting to take seriously the environmental efforts 🙂 Does anyone have some more?

    • Hélène Robert says:

      I know that festi’Neuch in Neuchâtel (French-speaking Switzerland) is putting in quite a bit of effort to reduce their environmental impacts.

      Take a look at their site (http://festineuch.ch/a-propos/) & skip to “Le Festival s’engage pour demain” (In French).

      For example when it comes to energy: “…Depuis 2013, Festi’neuch analyse sa consommation d’énergie afin de mettre en place des mesures d’économie. Toute l’électricité consommée pendant le festival est certifiée Areuse, garantie d’une production d’électricité renouvelable et régionale produite”.

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