Inside D.C. entertainment

How green was Sweetgreen's Sweetlife festival?

May 2, 2011 - 09:15 AM
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The inside of one of the compost containers at the Sweetlife Festival. Paper napkins: YES. Metal Budweiser bottle: NO (Photo: TBD Staff)

This year's Sweetlife Festival, a day of "flavorful music, wholesome food, and thoughtful living," organized by salad chain Sweetgreen, was a lot bigger than it was in 2010. Last year's environmentally friendly music event consisted of sets from a bunch of great local acts--plus a Hot Chip DJ set!--at the Dupont Sweetgreen location. The 2011 Sweetlife, which took place at Merriweather Post Pavilion yesterday, was a 10-hour concert filled with national acts.

The green part of Sweetlife--organizers promised a carbon-neutral event--was definitely on display yesterday at Merriweather. There were free samples from a variety of organic/ environmentally responsible companies, including MOM's Organic Market, Stonyfield Farms, Honest Tea, and of course Sweetgreen. Applegate Farms provided organic cheeseburgers and hot dogs, there was a "human-powered arcade," where people pedaled on stationary bikes in order to charge mobile gaming devices, and compost containers sat next to every single trash can.

Festival organizers obviously took great pains to make Sweetlife a model green event, but festival-goers weren’t always quite as dedicated to the cause. It seems the bigger production attracted a fair number of people more interested in the Strokes than in sustainability.

To be fair, people drinking beer at day-long music festivals can’t even be trusted to put their empties in regular trash cans, let alone sort their garbage, so they didn't really do that badly, but there was a lot of paper waste in the bathrooms, cups on the ground, and metal/plastic containers in the compost bins.

But what are you gonna do? Short of assigning a green chaperone to every patron, it's hard to force people to comply with the event's mission.

One woman, Cecelia, who drove down to Merriweather from Pittsburgh with her daughter and husband, had one idea.

”I think, as people walk through the door, they need to make them sign a statement saying ‘I will do the right thing,’ she says. “I mean, I’m seeing tissue all over the sinks [in the bathrooms], I’m looking at green grass with cups all over it. We came for our daughter, and it has been fun, it’s a lovely environment, and the people here are wonderful, but they need to do more to promote the ecological ramifications.”

Lea Winkler and Madeline Kiss, who came down from New York for Sweetlife, said that some of the more chaotic elements of the day--the cold rain and the long waits to nab one of the first-come, first-served covered seats-- could've distracted people from, say, putting their metal Budweiser bottles in a recycle bin, rather than a compost container.

"I think this is a special situation, because it has sort of turned into chaos," said Kiss, noting that she and Winkler lost the pavilion seats they worked hard to nab because they had abandon them to use the bathroom. "It seems people are very environmentally conscious, but at the moment, people are just fending for themselves."

The women were surprised, as many were, to see wasted toilet paper and paper towels on the bathroom floors, but less so that people would fill the compost containers with trash.

"I think people just don't read signs," says Winkler. "They just say, 'Oh look! A trash can!'"

One woman, Sam, from Olney (who took time to sort the garbage from her Sweetgreen salad into a three-compartment "compost," "recycle," "trash" receptacle), thought the green behavior of her fellow concert-goers was as good as could be expected.

"Considering people have been drunk since 3 o'clock, I think they're doing OK," she said.

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