Festival aims to show fun, not force spreads sustainable messages

Festival season is in full swing in Aarhus, with SustaIN Festival starting tomorrow. And while the line up still includes some rock n roll – the main focus of the festival is not music but on raising awareness for sustainable (and fun) ways to live that also help better sustain the planet.

By Mariana Campos

SustaIN Festival starts tomorrow, 15 May, and for three days, more than 60 events promoting the positive side of being ecologically responsible will take place at Godsbanen. Created by the Aarhus-based NGO of the same name, SustaIN, the festival – in its third year – is offering an even more diverse pack of activities than year’s event. The line up includes lectures conducted by experts from different parts of the world, workshops for kids, several concerts and a ‘swapping’ style flea market.

SustaIN Festival general secretary Anna Hitchison. Photo: Supplied

SustaIN Festival general secretary Anna Hinrichisen. Photo: Supplied

SustaIN’s general secretary Anna Hinrichsen, 25, explains the aim of the festival is raising awareness for a transition towards a sustainable society. As such, the programme, developed by different coordinators with suggestions made by the 40 volunteers working for the NGO, is made to inspire visitors to follow simple but efficient initiatives.

As the audience of this sort of event is usually made up of people already worried about the environment, its challenge is connecting the ones who don’t have an eco-friendly lifestyle in mind yet – especially when they have to pay for it. To achieve this goal, SustaIN tries to stress the cultural aspect of the festival, meaning that participants will be there to have fun, not to be told what to do in an authoritarian approach. This is the reason why rock concerts and a flea market are part of the programme.

“When we see the Sustainable Life Festival in Melbourne, Australia, attracting 150 000 participants each year, it becomes easier to believe in the potential of this concept,” Hinrichsen says.

For the Portuguese student Carolina Henriques, 24, who is a volunteer at SustaIN, a good way to bring people to the green debate is by using friendship networks. “If we consider, for instance, that every Facebook user has about 500 friends and we help at least five of these friends to become more conscious, at the end we will have reached a great amount of citizens,” she says.

For her, the good thing about SustaIN Festival is its practical-oriented strategy. “Our philosophy is: We won’t say that you have to use less paper; we will show you how to use less paper.” To help people change their attitudes in their everyday life, Henriques and another member of the organization are currently working on a hands-on guideline for sustainability. Throughout the year the NGO also establishes partnerships with businesses in order to assist them to become more sustainable.

Motivated by SustaIN Festival, groups in Copenhagen, Aalborg and Nykøbing (Sjælland), are now all organizing similar events in partnership with the Aarhus NGO. In fact, the festival has grown since its first edition there years ago, with around 5000 people participating in 2013. What’s new this year is that there are no free events. Although this shift sounds as a negative decision, charging the participants was the solution to make it happen, since the experience of project managers working full time for free in 2013 didn’t go well. “Some people had to take loans to pay the bills and this is not sustainable,” Hinrichsen recalls.

A long walk to sustainability

The 'swapping market' at last year's SustaIN Festival. Photo: Stefan Vladimirov

The ‘swapping market’ at last year’s SustaIN Festival. Photo: Stefan Vladimirov

Internationally, Denmark is well-known for its green policies. Nevertheless, is the country as sustainable as it claims to be? As Jutland Station has recently investigated, alarming statistics regarding the limited recycling network in Denmark are evidence of how far it is from being an ecological paradise. For Hinrichsen, this reputation is, to a great extend, a result of greenwashing since sustainability is a term which, unfortunately she says, many Danes don’t have in their minds yet.

For the SustaIN team, it’s important to make the transition meaningful for people so that they see a point of changing their habits. “This is the most difficult part because it’s all about raising awareness, but we are trying to do it through the festival,” Hinrichsen says. In her opinion, watching documentaries such as Brazilian film “Waste Land” might make people think about better solutions for their waste at home, for example.

SustaIN tries to send the eco-friendly message in a smooth way, because, according to Hinrichsen, radical activism tends to push people away. “If you shout to people, they won’t listen to you. Of course organizations with a more extreme approach, like Greenpeace, are also important, but at SustaIN we use a different strategy to avoid excluding an essential part of the population”.

Are initiatives such as SustaIN Festival causing a real shift in the Danes’ mindset? Or does a truly environmental approach to development depend on a more structural change which lies with governmental decisions? Perhaps the answer is a combination of both as an educated society demands responsible actions from its representatives. So what about taking the first step and learning something while having fun at SustaIN Festival, ask Hinrichsen?

Visit SustaIN Festival’s website for more information about the event and a full programme – some of the discussion panels will be discussed in Danish, but English speakers will be able to enjoy the majority of events.

Jutland Station highlighted some of the events that we think you shouldn’t miss out:

Fashion Show:  Upcoming designers will compete for the Sustainable Fashion Prize with collections made with recycled and sustainable materials. Thursday, May 15, 20:30 at Rå Hal

The Future of Algae – Interactive installation of bags where you can blow oxygen to help the algaes that are inside grow. Friday/ Saturday, May 16 and 17, 10:00-18:00 at Kedlan

Key note speaker: Sustainability in South America – Christian Tiscornia is the president of the Argentinian organization Amartya and will give a speech on what sustainability means in developing countries with a holistic approach. Friday, May 15, 15:00 at Katapult

Swapping market – In this alternative trade, you can bring all the stuff you don’t use or need anymore and exchange them for objects offered by other people. Saturday, May 17, 10:00-18:00 at Rå Hal

Key note speaker: Climate Change – Climate scientist Anders Levermann, one of the authors of the 5th assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will talk about how climate change can lead us into a more resilient economy. Saturday, May 17, 15:00 at Katapult

Documentaries screening – There is a good selection of films this year. We suggest the Brazilian Oscar nominated “Waste Land” (Friday, May 16, 16:10 at Katapult Prøvesal); “Chasing Ice”, a production by National Geographic photographer James Balog (Saturday, May 17, 13:15 at Remisen); and “Fuck for Forest”, a documentary about a German NGO in its fight to save the world’s rainforests (Saturday, May 17, 15:00 at Remisen).

Mariana Campos is a Brazilian journalist and passionate about environmental issues. Currently a Master student at Erasmus Mundus programme, she has previously worked as a press officer for the Governor of Rio de Janeiro; as a reporter for the Jungle Drums magazine in London, UK; and directed a documentary about a north-eastern Brazilian village which later won the Best Environmental Reportage prize at Amazonia Film Festival. Twitter: @mari_campos83