This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Chicago music fest grooves to a green beat

Greening your business or urban lifestyle and rocking out to live bands at an outdoor festival don’t have to be mutually exclusive in Chicago.

The fourth annual Green Music Fest in Wicker Park and Bucktown this weekend is combining a two-day summertime street concert with demonstrations of ways individuals and companies can make their everyday lives and business operations more green.

The event’s producers are aiming to make the festival eco-friendly and challenging other Chicago fest organizers to do the same, says Robert Gomez, one of Green Music Fest’s organizers who was among the group that conceived the event four years ago. Mr. Gomez owns two Chicago live music venues, Subterranean and the Beat Kitchen, and is involved in organizing other summer concerts too.

Aside from the lineup of local and national bands on two stages (Dinosaur Jr. and Hey Rosetta! among others), there will be a Green Village, where local green businesses and nonprofits will demonstrate ways individuals can change their lifestyles and other business owners can alter their practices to be more mindful of the planet. Some of the activities will focus on renewable energy, recycling, worm composting, urban gardening and bicycling.

Local small-business vendors will be on hand as well to sell their wares to concertgoers. Some include: Greenheart Shop, Chicago Specialty Gardens, Coco Loco Jewelry, GiGi Handmade, Community Energy and Global Elements. Food vendors at the festival will use compostable plates and utensils, and they aren’t allowed to sell items in plastic bottles or plastic foam containers.

To minimize the environmental impact of the event, Chicago-based Bright Beat, a project management and sustainability consulting firm, is overseeing the waste diversion program with eco-stations to recycle and compost everything that’s consumed at the fest. Other sustainable features at the concert include biodiesel generators and LED lighting for efficient energy use, and a free bike parking area.

The two-day festival kicks off at noon Saturday on Damen Avenue between North and Schiller avenues. Crain’s met with Mr. Gomez earlier this week to learn more about the festival planners’ greening goals.

Robert Gomez

Crain’s: Have you seen much growth over the last four years among green businesses that want to be part of this event?

Mr. Gomez: There’s enormous interest but it’s difficult for some to be part of the festival because of the economy. I thought I’d have 100 percent exclusive green vendors by the fourth year, but we’ve only got about a third of the space dedicated to them. It’s hard for small green vendors to commit their time and money to an event like this. Still, we’ll have a lot of great stuff for people to buy and learn about. We’ll also have the usual sunglasses and other festival things for sale.

About a dozen green companies will be on hand selling mostly lifestyle stuff (jewelry, fair trade gift items, composting kits). We’re excited to have a hybrid car on display from Fiat, and Fat Tire New Belgium Brewing Co. will have a booth informing people about how their entire brewing process is done sustainably. And GreenChoice Bank is one of our sponsors.

Crain’s: What’s the goal behind combining the two concepts of an outdoor concert and raising awareness about sustainability?

Mr. Gomez: My hope is that this festival and Wicker Park/Bucktown will be the leader in the city of encouraging green efforts among the small businesses here and people who attend. To put on a music festival, you can call it anything you want and people will come if you do a good job. When I proposed the idea of a green music fest four years ago, it obligated us to operate in a green way as much as possible. It’s more costly to put on an event this way than to ignore it.

For food vendors that participate, we have a high standard for their waste stream. This isn’t an organic food festival, but no plastic bottles are allowed and they can only use compostables and recycled paper products.

Crain’s: Do you think most concertgoers will care that the festival is green?

Mr. Gomez: A lot of people will come just to listen to music and drink the beer. But when they throw away that cup, someone will be there to make sure it goes into the proper container and tell them it’s being composted. They won’t be able to escape the green elements. We’re hoping to get 25,000 people depending on the weather.

Crain’s: Will it be a tough sell to encourage other local businesses to adopt more eco-friendly practices?

Mr. Gomez: In my own business at Subterranean, we converted to 80 percent recycling from 80 percent waste just two years ago. I made a commitment to make four containers for recycling and only one for waste. Ironically I’m saving money as a result too. If I can do that in a three-story business, other business owners around me can do it too. Maybe we can motivate others to see the economic advantages.

Crain’s: How are you trying to influence other Chicago festival producers to copy your greening tactics this weekend? What about local businesses?

Mr. Gomez: We’re figuring out a way to make this impossible for other festivals to refuse by doing it right. In time, this will be more economically feasible and attractive. With help from Bright Beat and others, we can educate other event producers that they can do this too. I anticipate that eventually every event in the city of Chicago will be obligated to step up their greening efforts to mirror ours.

We’re also hoping to influence businesses in Wicker Park and Bucktown by raising their consciousness to do things in a green way. When there’s an event like this in your backyard, it’s hard to ignore the green aspects.

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