The Conscious Festival has been around since 2015 when we debuted the event in Singapore. Since then we’re grown and evolved in so many ways, especially in our journey to become as sustainable as we possibly can. With each incarnation of the Conscious Festival, at the top of our long list of initiatives is focusing on what new #LittleGreenSteps we can implement to get us closer to our goal. While our goal is to advocate and educate on how to reduce our carbon footprint on a daily basis, as an event, it is not always easy to apply the same principles. But, we’re getting there…!
Listen, we’re not perfect. Instead, we are big supporters of the idea that sustainability is a journey, and we want to share that journey with everyone, and that includes being transparent about what worked and what didn’t at the 5th edition of the Conscious Festival in Singapore in November 2019 at South Beach. We welcome any feedback, suggestions and ideas you may have so we can be even greener. Leave us your thoughts here.
It was the first time we threw a 100% vegan event in Singapore
We have been a vegetarian festival since 2017. However, this year, we decided to take it to another level and go all-out vegan, from the food we provide and the products available at the VILLAGE. We have received tremendous feedback from our attendees, partners and even vendors, all benefiting from this choice.
This was not without challenges as being vegan isn’t just about the food you eat. It means going through the full spectrum of not even accepting honey or upcycled leather. Why vegan? Because the agriculture industry currently accounts for 16% of CO2 emissions in the air.
We were (almost) zero waste
Waste reduction has been a topic that is close to our hearts. So this year, we were determined to minimise our waste as much as possible. Why? Because we can, and when faced with facts like our landfill in Singapore will be filled by 2035 or that we go through over two million straws a day in Singapore, enough to cover our coastline twice over – why wouldn’t we? By striving to become zero waste within our festival, we have created an impact and in the hope of setting an example and inspiring other events to do so as well.
Thanks to the audit by Real Impact, they have certified that we are 98.2% zero waste. The food treatment method was conversion to biomaterials via black soldier fly. The waste diversion method was reusing and recycling. Here are a few facts from the report:
371.2kgs was the total potential waste.
364.7kgs was the total waste diverted from a landfill or incineration
1372 was the number of single-use plastic cups and bottles avoided through partnering with Revolv and Shinpuru
105kgs edible fruit waste was rescued by partnering with Ugly Food & Health Partners
358kgs was the total food prepared and served
21kgs was the total food waste created
100% food waste was diverted from landfill and incineration
In addition to that, here are some of the steps we took to get here:
1. We banned single-use plastics and packaging among our vendors
2. We made sure that we had on-site recycling
3. We partnered with Ayer Ayer, providing water fountains at the festival which spared the festival from 850 plastic bottles with over 800 refills over two days.
4. Almost all of the signages onsite were made of recycled materials, FSC certified paper or were recycled after the event.
5. All the furniture came from our partner Sharent which only uses second-hand furniture that we rented out. From the pallets used on the TALKS stage to the carpets on the floor of the music stage at the VILLAGE to all of the tables and chairs
Because of our efforts, we also saved over 3,000 sets of crockery by having reusable options thanks to Shinpuru and saved over 1,000 cups and 100 coffee mugs by having reusable options thanks to Revolv and Muuse. We also planted 1,000 trees stemming from a combination of our talks, raffles, vendors and our team (which actually makes us carbon positive).
And finally, we are supremely proud that we diverted 100% of our food waste. This is thanks to our partnership with Insectta; the first urban insect farm in Singapore. It collected food waste from our attendees and got its insects to do the work. In total, 21kgs of food waste was saved thanks to them. On the whole, Insectta takes food waste and returns it into the economy as valuable biomaterials. It does this by rearing the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) and by using cutting edge technology and research, it produces materials for a multitude of industries. Chitosan, organic semiconductor and animal feed are some of what they either offer or are working on.
We offset our carbon footprint
Thanks to Carbon Care Asia, the Conscious Festival in Singapore was certified carbon neutral. This includes all the flights for speakers and our team, the impact of the food, electricity usage, and set up. A total of 10.34 metric tons of CO2 was emitted, and 11 metric tons of CO2 were offset. See a summary of our emissions below:
You can read the full carbon emissions report, including a full break down of flights and transport, and see the certificates here.
The offsetting was done in accordance with CarbonCare® Label Protocol and verified by Carbon Care Asia Limited. Through this process, Carbon Care Asia measure the greenhouse gas emissions and offset them by qualified carbon credits. The project we are supporting the Guazhou 100MW Solar Power Project in Gansu Province, China. The purpose of this project is to generate electricity using clean and renewable solar energy and the electricity generated will be delivered to China’s Northwest Power Grid. The estimated average annual grid-in electricity is 151,855 MWh and 126,206 tonnes of CO2 equivalent are estimated to be reduced each year.
This year we also planted A LOT of trees, which actually makes us carbon positive. Climate positive means we went beyond achieving net-zero carbon emissions to actually create an environmental benefit by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. See more on the initiative below.
We also gave back, and we did it for the trees and the air we breathe
Earlier this year, Green Is The New Black founders went on a life-altering trip to the Arctic. One simple thing was drilled into them while there – one of the greatest ways to tackle climate change is to plant trees to remove the CO2 from the atmosphere. For this reason, we decided to plant an entire forest in the Philippines. For everyone who purchased a ticket to the TALKS, we planted a tree. We also ran a raffle with incredible prizes to incentivise people to join, and vendors were also encouraged to donate part of their revenue towards this initiative, for which we also planted trees. In total, we were able to plant 1,000 trees.
To help makes our dreams come true, we teamed up with EcoMatcher. Based in Hong Kong, EcoMatcher is on a mission to plant one billion trees by 2023 and we decided to help them in that initiative. To get the project off the ground, it works with around 25 foundations who are tree-planting pros and, most importantly, are super transparent about their initiatives (we love transparency). Moving forward, this partnership will be a big part of our upcoming movements, stay tuned for more on this. In the meantime, go ahead and adopt a tree here which you can also track on an app.
We slept green
Our team is scattered, currently living in three cities around Asia and we all came together for the festival. We are very grateful to HMLET for looking after our team. HMLET is a co-living space that allows you to get settled anywhere by joining a local community and share facilities, which reduces impact. We housed our speakers at PARKROYAL on Pickering, the greenest hotel in Singapore, who opened their doors and welcomed them with big friendly arms. From energy-saving property-wide to vegan food options, to filtered water and a lot of greenery – this is a hotel in a garden and oasis in the thick of Singapore’s skyscrapers.
We took a 360-degree look at conscious living
Each year, we aim to provide as much information as possible to ignite passion amongst our attendees – and this year was no exception. Our four TALKS covered a 360° approach to conscious living from the way we eat, how we purchase clothes, the way big corporations are changing their way of running businesses, electrifying our cities and reforesting the planet.
But there were things that were not so ideal
Being transparent does not only mean looking at the positives, but also looking at how to improve, so here are the things that we tried, but (regrettably) did not work out.
1. Single-use items in the GRUB zone
To align with our zero-waste goal, we tried to avoid any waste, especially the unnecessary packing from food and the handling of food. However, according to the Singapore Food Agency, some of the vendors were required to serve their items with single-use plastic gloves for hygiene.
2. Pesky plastic
With a festival this big, there is always a few careless slip-ups. While we were very clear with our external vendors, and repeatedly communicated it with them, there was still a few sneaky pieces of plastic that found their way into the event. There were also a few guests who brought single-use plastic into the TALKS room, too. With multiple entry points to the festival, it is a challenge for the team to spot all single-use items, but we are working on being more diligent with our team and volunteers to monitor this.
3. Water usage
Previously our events have been held indoors, and sinks were not required. However, this year, our event was outdoors and in order to comply with the Singapore Food Agency’s regulations for hygiene, every food booth needed an external sink. Not only did this cripple our budget since the installation is expensive, but we also had an increase in water usage for the event which we haven’t had before. It was estimated we went through 2,000-3,000 litres of water. While this may sound like a lot, a single cotton t-shirt uses 2,700 litres of water, so let’s not forget the impact of our daily choices too.
Based on the above, here’s what we’re committed to working on:
> Lower waste in all areas
> No sneaky single-use plastic
> Better options for printing signs and exhibitions
> Planting even more trees!
We’re on a journey, but are always pushing the boundaries
While we didn’t hit all of our goals this time around, we learnt a lot and have already started brainstorming ways we can reduce our impact even more and get closer to being zero waste for our next event. Here, we call for your ideas and inspiration on how to bring you a bigger, greener, and better Conscious Festival.
BONUS: A few questions from our community, with answers from us
We’re committed to being transparent, open and honest with our community. So in that spirit, we thought we’d share some of the questions we got asked from the community post-event, and our responses.
Q: Why do you have big partners supporting your events?
Our philosophy to make sustainability mainstream, accessible and sexy! We want to move the needle with big corporations because they are the ones contributing the most to issues like climate change and if we change one thing from within them, it can create a huge impact and ripple effect. We believe sustainability is a journey; nothing is black or white. Nobody’s perfect, and no organisation is perfect. But we can work together to steer companies like our partners in the right direction, and celebrate the good that they are doing.
We are so grateful to our partners for their ongoing support for the event; it would not be possible without them. Our event is free for people to enter, but the overheads are in the multiple tens of thousands, and by working with aligned partners, we are able to continue to ensure there is no barrier between people learning about sustainability through our event.
Q: Why are the talks ticketed?
There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, for free events, it is tough to manage the expected crowd, as people register and then do not show up. In fact, statistics show there is a 30-50% attrition rate when events are free. Secondly, when an event is free, people are not as committed to showing up fully and tend to respect the content less. Thirdly, if it is free people will walk in and out as they please, which is disruptive for other guests, the speakers and guests will not fully benefit from the program that has been designed.
This year, our ticket price was the lowest it has ever been at $22 per track. We also provided a free ticket for students (only asking them to contribute $5 to plant a tree), and also to anyone who said they couldn’t afford the ticket. This year, a substantial portion of the ticket price went to planting trees as part of our forestation initiative in the Philippines. Having said all of that, we are working on getting an additional partner to assist in covering the costs for the talks so that we can make them free for all to attend.
Finally, there are substantial costs to running the talks including the audio/visual stage set up and speaker flights very quickly soar to the thousands of dollars, and that is just the bare essentials.
Q: Do you pay your speakers?
At this stage, we are not currently paying our speakers, and this is a topic that is forever being explored internally. This year, over 75 speakers, entrepreneurs and thought leaders were invited to join the TALKS at The Conscious Festival. Of the 75, only four asked if we provide honorariums after which two declined, one couldn’t make it and one spoke anyway. We look to encourage an open dialogue with our speakers, and many of them align with our vision, that of furthering the movement and providing access to much-needed information to empower ourselves with a community. Thus, they are happy to donate their time and energy. With such a small percentage who ask for honorariums and such huge overheads, the budget has (for now) gone towards bigger ticket items, especially those associated with setting up, fulfilling government licenses, and more.
Furthermore, Green Is The New Black founders are active members of the global conscious community and have spoken at more than 100 events. Only five of those were compensated. Through our own experiences, we found that it is not commonplace to pay for speakers at events or to only pay keynote/famous speakers (everyone is equal, and everyone is valuable). In order to not create an unfair situation, we opted not to compensate for the small percentage of celebrity speakers, too. While we do fly some speakers in and have the support of our hotel partner to house them, this is not payment, and we would not consider it payment either. Several of our speakers have come back to us saying that they see tremendous value in speaking at the event, and oftentimes helps increase exposure surrounding their plight. Having said all of that, we are discussing creative ways of remuneration in the future.
The next Conscious Festival takes place in Hong Kong in 2020. And in case you missed it, we’re heading to Europe in late 2020 as well.