Hillside Festival nets top GRCA award

After 31 years of pushing environmental initiatives a little further, Hillside Festival is as green as the trees at Guelph Lake Island.

While a few thousand people flock to the island during the festival, the imprint they leave is small. For this reason, Hillside received a 2014 honour roll award from the Grand River Conservation Authority.

“This recognition fills us with gratitude toward all of the community people who helped us get where we are,” said Hillside’s executive director Marie Zimmerman after receiving the award.

Hillside’s website says, “Thank you to all of you – our patrons, volunteers, board, service providers, and staff – for igniting so many flames and helping them burn quietly with your gentle concentration.”

Instead of a financial pie chart, Hillside has a pie chart about greenhouse gas emissions that it has saved and the many ways this has been achieved.

Hillside has reusable mugs, dishes and cutlery. These are washed by volunteers using solar hot water.

The food and beer is local. Patrons sort their own waste, fill up their reusable bottles with free water, ride their bikes or catch a free bus to the festival.

Volunteers bury organic materials on site to be composted. Even the beer mugs seem to strive for self-improvement: a few years ago they were plastic, then biodegradable plastic and now stainless steel.

Exceeding goals every year Zimmerman says she is often invited to speak about festival greening. These are notes from her cheat sheet:

“In 1984, when the festival began, the objective was to create as little waste as possible on site.

“This objective has gradually been refined to lessening our footprint as much as possible in terms of waste and energy used in all areas of the festival and by all people.”

Target audience? Everyone, from patrons who throw out waste, to volunteers who move equipment and people around the site.

Nine major initiatives characterize the greening of Hillside over the past three decades. They are in the areas of hospitality, transportation, solar power, festival programing and activities, offering free water, paperless promotion, waste management, technical production and the permanent main stage with a green roof. A volunteer green team raised funds for the green roof and continues to raise money that is dedicated to greening the festival.

It is hard to believe the festival can delve even further into these greening initiatives, but the board plans to.

Hillside Festival brings 5,000 people to the island at Guelph Lake Park each July. This well-run festival has brought many benefits to Guelph Lake and it is a partnership that works. Hillside volunteers put the environment first.

“Our objectives have been exceeded every year. We have saved 593 tonnes in C02 emissions over about 21 recorded years, which is an average of 28 tonnes per festival,” Zimmerman says.

Board president Luke Weiler said the festival is investigating powering a stage using bicycles, in addition to the solar power that has been used for a few years.

Because of Hillside Festival, Guelph Lake has a green roof stage, solar hot water for campers and about 5,000 more trees.

In addition, there were five 2014 Watershed Award recipients. These included the Guelph Hiking Trail Club which has been encouraging people to get outside and hike since 1972; University of Waterloo professor Emeritus Emil Frind for his activities in water stewardship; Arthur residents Buck Ross and Joyce Spies, who have been excellent stewards of their land; Bird Studies Canada, which has undertaken many monitoring programs within this watershed and engaged hundreds of volunteers; and retired teacher Fraser Gibson of Kitchener, who has devoted lots of time and commitment to sharing his love of nature and education.