INTERVIEW // Shena Turlington :: Sustainable Practices at Lightning in a Bottle

It’s a sunny day on the festival grounds.  Birds are chirping, the wind is gently blowing from the lake.  But more importantly, a few days of festival action hasn’t ruined the natural feeling of Silverado Canyon: no smog from the waste truck, no accidental landfills strewn across the festival grounds.

The dancing might be dirty, but the festival grounds are clean.

Lightning in a Bottle is one of America’s greenest festivals, and depending on who you ask, it is the very greenest of the bunch.  We caught up with LIB sustainability director Sheina Turlington to get the details on why this might be so and to learn more about how to keep your festival clean.

Start by introducing yourself: who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Shena Turlington, and I’m the sustainability director of Lightning in a Bottle.

What exactly do they have you doing as sustainability director?

Well, sustainability covers six major areas, so it really spans multiple areas of the festival.  I work with energy, I work with the environment, the waste that’s created, I work with transportation, materials, education and community.  So I kind of have my hands in lots of different departments and making sure we have as little environmental impact as possible and as much positive impact on the people as possible.

So it’s more than just setting out three different kinds of trash cans for people.

It’s much more.  That, during the festival, definitely takes up the most time and has the most manpower happening, but it does go way beyond that.

What do you think is one of the more forgotten areas of sustainability?

Some things that are less visible is the energy, really.  We put a lot of effort into reducing as much energy use as possible, so we invest a lot of money into alternative lighting such as LED’s and things like that.  We have a solar panel feeding into the grid, and we use biofuels for everything, everything from our cabodas running around to the lighting that’s on generators to the stage lighting.  Anything that we cannot reduce we offset through certified carbon offsets that support a redwood forest up in Mendocino, California – keeping it local!

We offset all of our staff transportation and everything it takes to produce this festival.

I totally bought the carbon offset when I got my ticket.  Give me a pound!

Awesoooooome!  [Pounds it].

Tell me about how you quantitatively assess how “green” a festival is.  LIB prides itself as being one of the greenest festivals; what is some of the data that supports that?

When I first got into this business I had a masters in sustainability.  And there was really nothing out there that was measuring it, and I had a very quantitative and qualitative mind.  So I came up with a system of benchmarking where things are at, and I have a green report that talks about our numbers every year.  So I report exactly how much energy we use, how much was diverted through our efforts, how much carbon offset we bought, how many offsets are purchased through transportation, what percentage of our materials were eco/alternative/recycled or probably renewable materials, and our waste materials.

Yeah, I report everything, and then I talk about every year what our goal is and what we did to achieve that goal and then where it worked and didn’t work.  I really want everyone in the industry to learn from our mistakes.  I just want everyone to start implementing these kind of things.

Allow me to go out on a limb here, I think sustainability practices really start with awareness.  I know I joked earlier about just having different kinds of trash cans, but you really start to see the value of it because when you look at these three trash cans you see “Wow, so if all of this is our total trash, a lot of it is recyclable” or “Wow, you really do get a lot of compostable materials out of it.”  If nothing else, it teaches you what your trash is in the first place.

Definitely, a huge part of it is the education.  Y’know, sometimes I wonder “Is this worth all the cost and how much we’re really reducing?”  And we think about a festival in itself, of course it’s going to have an impact when it’s a one-time event and not something from the land that we own.  But when we get people here and they learn how to do something differently, it has a longer term impact.  I’m always thinking about cost-benefit analysis.  My goal is to get people here for four days and be in an environment in nature, in community, in collaboration, with this attitude of “Let’s help each other out, let’s really learn from these workshops and be positive.”  And be in an environment where they’re doing things differently and they’re sorting their waste.  And you look into it and you see yeah, not much has to be buried in the ground.  If we really try, we don’t have to dig that many holes in the ground and just bury our shit in the ground, we can really reuse and repurpose them.

If we start sourcing our materials correctly, then that’s reduced even more.  So my goal is that people leave with all that education and the habits they acquire and continue a little bit in those habits around the world.

It really does sound like LIB is really, if not at the very forefront, at least in the lead of green festivals and doing positive things in terms of sustainability.  On that note, I do want to mention that yesterday there were some free samples of coconut water left out, very delicious.  I threw it away in the recycling…

[Pulls out a carton of the same brand of coconut water]

…yes, that’s the one!  I threw it away in recycling, and one of the staff members came by with a trash claw picker-upper thing and pulled it out of recycling and put it into landfill.  I thought that I had read the signs wrong or something, but the guy said “No, you had it right.  The thing is though that the metal lid, that little triangle piece that sits on the top, that isn’t recyclable.  So the whole thing has to go into landfill.” 

Yeah, this is the education that is really important.  These tetrapacks are evil!  Anything that is a blend of two materials, it’s not just the foil at the top but it’s the plastic that is attached to paper and foil lining.  Any time you can’t detach them, we have to bury it because we don’t have the technology to separate the materials.  There is one that says recyclable on it “where facilities exist.”  There’s one facility in Canada that’s testing it out…

That’s it?! 


That is evil, straight up!

It is, pretty much.  I think the product companies aren’t necessarily aware of the evils of the packaging because of the tetrapack’s marketing.

Oh, I see, so it’s not necessarily the coconut water company’s fault?

I think the coconut water company could do a little more research.  I don’t know who’s fault it is, it’s definitely partly tetrapack’s fault.  But I think that’s the education that needs to get out there – and I’m hoping this educates people – that any time you buy something, think about the packaging.  If it’s glass, maybe you can reuse the glass and at least it’s recyclable.  If it’s these tetrapacks, it gets buried in the ground for 500+ years because nothing really decomposes without air and sun.

What, in your opinion, was the most interesting place at the festival for people to learn about sustainable practices, whether it was a workshop or otherwise?

I’ve definitely had people come up to me and tell me they never left the workshop area all weekend because they were just learning how to do everything themselves: how to plant their own garden, how to make their own food, how to make their own beer, y’know this whole homesteading movement.

Also, these volunteers!  It’s constantly like… any time any one joins our team they just get so excited about all the stuff that they learn about the sorting or anything in the different areas.  I get really excited about that because then they go and spread it to the attendees and tell other people.

It really is exciting, I think it’s kind of envigorating to learn some of this stuff – it feels good, y’know?  It doesn’t feel like a burden to me… to have three different trash cans, for example.

Awesome, good to hear.

Well thank you very much, we appreciate all that you do!

Thank you!


One comment on “INTERVIEW // Shena Turlington :: Sustainable Practices at Lightning in a Bottle

  1. Pingback: REVIEW // Lightning in a Bottle :: Day 2 :: Saturday, May 26 2012 | Unified Funk Option

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