Sustainable shindigs in the Vail Valley | VailDaily.com

Sustainable shindigs in the Vail Valley

Cassie Pence
Daily Correspondent
Vail CO Colorado

Summit Daily/Mark Fox

It’s not easy being green, and sometimes it takes 75 volunteers carefully guarding trash cans, pointing to recycling bins and shouting “everything in your hand is compost” to get the job done.

This is what happened at the recent 17th annual Colorado BBQ Challenge in Frisco, where 90 percent of the trash generated by visitors at the event was diverted from the landfill, according to Erin Makowsky, waste reduction coordinator for the High Country Conservation Center (HC3). Instead, the would-be trash went into recycling or into Summit County’s commercial composting facility. When you think about the mess of sauced-up napkins, turkey leg carcasses and gnawed corncobs, an almost zero-waste barbecue event is quite an environmental feat.

The success, Makowsky said, is largely because Frisco’s town council required all of the vendors ahead of time to purchase compostable plates, napkins, cutlery and cups. They also required them not to distribute anything that would end up in the landfill. And if some vendors didn’t like it, well, too bad, because the event is popular, and there were vendors waiting to fill the vacancy. (There were only a couple vendors who were upset with the new protocol.)

“A lot of people come from out of town for this event, and there is a large opportunity to educate visitors,” Makowsky said. The event is a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event. “There were a lot of people from the Midwest who had never heard of compost, and we hope they take this model and use it back home in their own community.”

Whether it’s a festival, a concert or sporting match, hosting a special event requires large amounts of water, energy and materials that result in waste and greenhouse-gas emissions. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It all depends on the event planners, suppliers, facilities, caterers, sponsors and attendees and the choices they make.

Like in Frisco, Vail Valley event organizers are considering their choices and beginning to take steps toward producing more sustainable shindigs.

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“First and foremost, it’s critically important to re-think the way we do things. Take a look at the event and figure out what the biggest impact on the environment is, and work to find another way to accomplish the same thing,” said Kristen Bertuglia, town of Vail’s environmental sustainability coordinator.

For most events, the biggest impact is waste – waste of materials (items that cannot be reused, composted or recycled) and waste of energy, such as the energy associated with travel to and from the event or transporting food and beverages.

“So, starting with vendor choices on proper product purchases, recycling and composting correctly are key, as well as ensuring that staff and the cleanup crew are educated on the how-to’s and why’s of your green event goals,” Bertuglia said.

Bertuglia and town of Vail have developed event guidelines, called the Celebrate Green! program, which includes a checklist with a point system to help organizers meet those green goals. Before receiving an event permit, every organization must fill out the checklist and fulfill a minimum of 12 points on the point system – or they must explain why they’re unable to comply.

Some of the green action items that earn you points include “all host materials printed on at least 30 percent post consumer recycled paper” (1 point), “Buy local! Food served or items sold are grown or produced within 100 miles of Vail” (2 points), “Eliminate single use plastic bags. Use, sell, or promote reusable bags or biodegradable material” (1 point).

“The Vail Farmer’s Market, Gourmet on Gore, the TEVA Mountain Games have really been outstanding. They encourage their vendors to purchase eco-friendly serving items and have cut down on waste dramatically,” Bertuglia says. “The Vail Chamber and Business Association also made it a point to turn their banners into reusable shopping bags. Creativity is key when it comes to being green.”

TEVA 2009, organized by the Vail Valley Foundation (VVF), was the first event to win Celebrate Green’s sustainable special event award. The TEVA Games minimized waste from a few different angles, by offering compostable serving material, for example, and recycling. The VVF also encouraged biking to and from the event, eliminated plastic bag and Styrofoam use and ensured that dirt removed for its slope-style course was reused by Vail Resorts in construction projects.

For TEVA 2010, VVF offered a free iPhone application that included a complete schedule of events, alerts, a free Wi-Fi link, maps of Vail, results and photos, as a way to print less programs. TEVA also had a Green Light District, a “village” that showcased companies, services, products and nonprofits with an environmental focus.

“We created this critical mass of green-driven organizations,” says Mike Imhof, VP of operations and sales for the VVF.

The VVF produces many of the valley’s beloved events, like Hot Summer Nights free concert series, Birds of Prey, the Vilar Center shows and also manages the Ford Amphitheater, where recycling is pushed and compostable food and beverage containers are available. Imhof says the VVF takes Vail’s green event initiatives seriously and makes sure their event sponsors also take the guidelines seriously.

“We think about sustainability all the time, how do we continue to do better. We have by no means arrived, but it’s an ongoing effort,” Imhof says.

This year for the Vail International Dance Festival, starting July 27, the VVF has partnered with Sundance Water, a local company that specializes in residential water filtration systems, to install water stations where attendees can fill their reusable water bottles with filtered still or bubbly water. It’s an effort to reduce the amount of plastic water bottles people use.

Reduce, the first of the three Rs, with reuse and recycle closing following, should be the first step events take to become more sustainable, Matt Scherr says, executive director of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability.

“Paper reduction, for example,” Scherr says. “You can reduce the amount of waste you are creating by going paperless whenever possible.”

For the first time, the Vail Symposium did not print its standard 30-page brochure on its summer educational programs. Instead, the nonprofit is sending out monthly postcards highlighting the programs, saving not only natural resources, but money, too.

“Everyone who wanted the brochure always looked immediately to what the program is, skipping over our mission, donation requests, how the symposium is doing as an organization,” Kelli Kostroski, program manager, says. “People really wanted to know about the events. So we cut back.”

The Symposium uses its new Web site and weekly e-newsletters to communicate what normally appears in the brochure.

“It’s more real time. We can be very current with our changes and it give us some flexibility to accept those last minute programs” Kostroski says.

Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival is also cutting down on what it prints. Instead of handing out paper surveys after every concert, the classical music festival e-mails the surveys to people who bought tickets, with the exception of one paper survey to try and capture walk-ins, people who bought tickets the day of the show.

“The first online survey was for Yo-Yo Ma, and we had an upwards of 300 responses, which is a good number for us,” Meredith Richards says, marketing web manager for the festival. “People would ask us why we were doing paper surveys; we were pressed to do the online ones.”

Event planners cannot do it alone, they need the support from towns and other community organizations to help make the greening of their events easier. Town of Vail is working on updating its Resource Guide, looking for bulk purchase deals on some of the eco-friendly materials that normally might be a little more expensive.

“We are also working to start a zero-waste campaign at our events through the Zero Hero company and local volunteers,” town of Vail’s Bertuglia says. “But the number one issue we have is that we do not have local commercial composting available.”

The Alliance’s Scherr agrees, the big opportunity is creating zero waste events, he says, “and that is going to take composting at the local landfill.” Without Summit’s facility, the annual barbecue event could not have diverted 90 percent of its trash.

The Alliance, along with town of Vail and Eagle County, are working to open a composting facility, and in the meantime, town of Vail is looking into a small scale vessel-composting system.

“We’re hiring a part-time Waste Diversion Coordinator, but we’re looking for additional funding to pay for full time. The path is already laid out to start a composting operation at the landfill, but there are obstacles to overcome. Given more staff resources, we believe we could get compost operational by the end of next summer.”

Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail.