This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Local entrepreneurs center stage in Lollapalooza’s green push

Lollapalooza’s producers are tapping local green businesses to emphasize their message that sustainability should be part of any music festival, especially one of the biggest in the country.

Beginning Friday, the three-day live music extravaganza will feature 130 bands on eight Grant Park stages that will entertain an expected 90,000 fans each day, according to Emily Stengel, event services manager at C3 Presents, the Austin, Texas-based firm producing the event.

There’s no doubt the crowds will want to eat and shop between sets, so event organizers once again are planning “Green Street,” an area filled with vendors selling eco-friendly wares. Some Chicago-based small business participants include Koru Street, handmade jewelry and accessories from repurposed goods; Souldier, offering custom-made guitar and camera straps and other accessories from recycled materials; and Greenheart Shop, a Wicker Park store selling sustainable and fair trade goods.

Hungry concertgoers will have a choice of the mainstream “Chow Town” food stands with everything from tacos and pizza to Spanish tapas from Mercat a la Planxa. Anyone looking for a more local twist to their munchies can seek out the Farmers Market on the festival grounds where prepared food will be offered directly from local growers or restaurants sourcing local food with healthful or organic ingredients, Ms. Stengel explained. Some of the local food offerings lined up include fruit smoothies from Seedling Fruit in South Haven, Mich., wrap sandwiches from Tiny Greens Organic Farm in Urbana and fried cheese from Brunkow Cheese of Wisconsin in Darlington.

In addition, there will be booths run by nonprofits focusing on environmental initiatives and social justice issues, and one group that finds bone-marrow matches for cancer patients.

Event organizers are raising the bar on behind-the-scenes greening efforts too. Crain’s spoke with Ms. Stengel to learn the details and how participating businesses are being enlisted to help shrink the festival’s carbon footprint.

Crain’s: You emphasize on your vendor applications that you’re looking for green businesses to include in the festival. What criteria did you use?

Ms. Stengel: They have to list their greening efforts in their business model. For example, they need to tell us the origin of the materials in their products, details about their supply chain and whether they recycle or up-cycle products. Of course we have to make sure the product fits the demographic of our audience and we look to assemble a variety of things that people will want to buy. We had a higher turnout of green-business applications than ever before.

Photo by Judith Nemes

Crain’s: Why emphasize local farmers in a special farmers market food area within a music festival?

Ms. Stengel: We’re committed to this idea. Chicago has so much to offer in terms of farmers markets, so it’s a great way to support small local businesses there. In the application, prospective vendors have to list the Chicago-area farmers markets they participate in.

We had a wonderful response last year and we’d like to see this area grow. Everyone is returning from last year, so it was obviously good for them to be here too or they wouldn’t come back.

Crain’s: A three-day festival produces a lot of garbage. What are you doing to minimize that?

Ms. Stengel: We force all the food vendors to be green by using sustainable products and following our strict guidelines for composting and recycling so less ends up in the garbage. Everything they serve has to be recyclable or compostable. Styrofoam is banned completely. We don’t allow any food vendors to offer individual condiment packages or plastic bags. They also can’t use toxic chemicals in their cleaning supplies. We encourage everyone to think locally and sustainably.

Crain’s: You set some pretty ambitious goals of keeping garbage out of Chicago-area landfills this year. Can you compare it to previous years?

Ms. Stengel: On show days last year we had a diversion rate of about 56 percent, which was great considering in 2010 the average was 24.8 percent. This year, I’d like to exceed 60 percent. We always want to improve and we can do that more effectively by refining our system.

Last year we had recycling containers in different colors because we couldn’t get enough from the same source. That probably created some confusion and recycling probably wasn’t as efficient as it could’ve been. That problem was solved for this year, but we’re working harder at better placement of the containers to catch most of the food waste.

Crain’s: How are you getting music fans to do their part in greening the festival?

Ms. Stengel: We have volunteers helping patrons drop waste in the appropriate composting, recycling and waste bins. The volunteers will only man the stations in the food court areas that include composting so the compost isn’t contaminated. This year, instead of expanding the whole idea of being green, we’re refining it by concentrating on the picnic areas.

Crain’s: How integral is the greening aspect of the festival to the overall planning of Lollapalooza and how has it changed from last year?

Ms. Stengel: We’re ramped up in so many ways this year. All our generators are run on biofuel, which is an important element of planning. This year our greening efforts are more cohesive with our sustainability guidelines. It’s one sheet that’s sent to our back stage catering and VIP managers to give to all their partners and vendors so consistent hard guidelines are followed throughout the festival. We want to improve our back-of-the-house operations. Another goal this year is to drive more attention to Green Street and other nonprofit initiatives in our Love Hope Strength area.

We’re also trying something new this year with a Michigan-based group called Compass Green. They have a box truck they converted into a green house and they travel across the country with this truck teaching urban gardening workshops to low-income students in urban areas. They’ll be providing urban gardening workshops that run about 15-30 minutes. We’ll see if we can capture an audience at a rock show for urban gardening. I can’t wait to see how that goes.

Crain’s: What’s on your green wish list for next year’s Lollapalooza in Chicago?

Ms. Stengel: I’d still love to find local green-energy resources to promote, but that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it’s just about getting the word out and having people approach us. We have done some research and the response has been minimal. I haven’t found the local renewable energy businesses that should be out there or maybe they haven’t found us. It’s certainly a goal to get more of that next year. it takes a lot of advance work.

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