The eco-conscious policies of this Bulgarian festival are a beacon for other festivals to follow
Marcus Barnes
12:18 21st June 2017

In an increasingly fragile world, taking a conscious attitude towards planet Earth and its delicate ecosystem is becoming more and more important to many of the world’s inhabitants. Sadly, the old ways of many ancient civilisations have long been forgotten and eroded from cultures across the planet as industry, commerce, capitalism and technology have usurped our connection with Mother Earth largely in the name of making money. But with worrying statistics and information about the effects of increased climate change, people and businesses are waking up and adopting an eco-conscious ethos, aiming to cut carbon emissions, build more environmental awareness into their ideologies and establish projects that benefit the climate. Gigwise sent Marcus Barnes to British-run Bulgarian-based festival Meadows In The Mountains recently, where he uncovered a myriad eco-conscious policies, speaking to one of the event’s co-founders, Benjamin Sasse, about their desire to make the festival as eco-friendly as humanly possible…

“You only have to take a look at the news to see that the world’s in a bad place, especially in terms of the environment and the way in which the human race uses its resources which, everyone seems to forget, are finite,” Benji tells me. He’s in the midst of dismantling the site at Meadows In The Mountains, a wonderful little festival held in the Rhodope Mountains, a four-hour drive from Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, in the south-east of the country. The event’s capacity rose to 2,000 this year, 50 times the size of the party that started it all back in 2009. With so many people partying on the lush green mountain top it is, of course, of utmost importance to make sure that respect for the surroundings is maintained at all times. Benji has instilled a strong environmentally-aware ethos at Meadows, and these ideals stretch beyond the event itself to encompass the whole planet.

“I feel very strongly about environmental awareness and I think Meadows is a really good platform for us to not only entertain people and make them conscious but also to educate them on how they can contribute to making things better. I also feel that it’s our generation that has the chance to save the planet, if we don’t start to make changes soon… it’s already make or break for us, it will be too late for our children to make that change. It’s up to us, that’s why it’s a no-brainer that we get behind it.”

If you’re working to inspire an eco-conscious attitude in people then where better to do it than a beautiful tree-covered mountain top with fresh air, surrounded by greenery and wildlife? Walking around the Meadows site is like stepping into a fantastical real-life adventure; from the main stage, flanked by a crow’s nest where revellers can have a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area, to the amazing dragon sculpture, moulded into the side of the mountain and the ornate treehouse hidden away in the woodland. Everywhere you look there are structures that have been built from scratch using mostly re-purposed materials. “All the structures we’ve built here are made from locally sourced timber,” Benji tells me. When you take this into consideration, the site becomes even more magical as if the mountainous land itself has sprouted these awe-inspiring works of art and human ingenuity.

“We’re working towards banning plastic across the site,” he continues. “Admittedly we haven’t got there yet – we still use plastic bin bags to dispose of waste and we’re struggling to stop people bringing single-use plastics on to the festival site - but it’s an ongoing mission. Historically we’ve used plastic sheets to cover all the structures; the stages and bars, but we’re investing in zinc metal roofing for them all now, which is longer lasting, reusable and way easier to recycle should we ever decide to stop using it. We hand out branded metal cups for everyone to use at the bars for their drinks, these can be reused again and again.”

The cups stand as a symbol of the festival; sturdy, reliable, always full of joy and environmentally astute. You see them everywhere, sometimes sitting on a bench or a bar, mistakenly abandoned, or in the hands of an eager festivalgoer covered in glitter and awestruck by the magnificence of the day’s sunrise. Or attached to someone’s belt clip, or backpack, clanging around and reminding you of the deeply considerate eco-conscious policies of Meadows.

One of the most impressive, and popular, stages is the Sunrise Stage – built at the top of a key precipice – the DJs who perform here get a superb view of the sunrise, which creeps up over the misty mountain range directly in front of them. For anyone who visits Meadows, the sunrise is one of the key moments of the day, and a large percentage of those in attendance will make sure they either stay up to catch it, or have a rest in the middle of the night and wake up in time to see it. Its majesty has to be seen to be believed, there are quite literally no words or photos that do it justice.

As we watched the final sunrise of the festival, I couldn’t help but think about the world we live in and how precious it is. Over the last few centuries, since the Industrial Revolution, the human race has really taken the planet for granted, excavating and burning fossil fuels without a care for the damage it was doing, chopping down trees to make space for industrial agriculture to expand and generally losing all connection with the Earth itself. Carbon emissions are a large part of the reason why Mother Earth is starting to become frail and they are at the centre of the festival’s eco-friendly policies.

“Carbon off-setting is a big one because obviously just getting people here isn’t so good for the planet with lots of people taking flights, or driving here,” Benji explains. “There’s also the fact that we run everything off diesel generators, we work on dealing with that by off-setting the carbon we produce. This year we did a crowdfunder to raise money to plant trees, but next year I think we’re going to do it ourselves out of our own budget. I think it costs roughly £2 per head to offset the carbon when people fly over here.”

He continues, “We work with a company called Eden Projects, who specialise in reforestation and work with locals in impoverished areas to plant trees and revitalise the local economy. The trees are normally planted in regions like Nepal, Haiti and Ethiopia, where they grow a lot quicker.”

For such a small festival with a limited budget, their aims are admirably high and why not? If a tiny festival in the mountains of Bulgaria can dedicate its funds to saving the planet, then surely a huge multi-million pound event with tons of corporate sponsors can also put its weight behind tipping the scales in Earth’s favour. Having this clear intent is a catalyst behind multiple eco-friendly endeavours, but one slight stumbling block is the economic viability of it all. Sadly we are still living in an age where sustainable power is quite expensive, often more so than fossil fuels. This makes it difficult for the Meadows team to truly embrace the ideals they seek to fulfil, though there is always a huge degree of optimism with every challenge that lies before them.

With a determined tone to his voice, Benji explains the situation, “We’re aiming to run the festival off 100% green power but it’s a million pound investment and we don’t have that kind of money. However, we realise it’s a long game and we really want to run everything off solar, hydro or whatever we can get our hands on.”

He concludes, “A lot of these methods are out of reach at the moment but every year it gets cheaper and cheaper with new innovations appearing all the time. We’re hoping to come across someone with the funds who’s willing to help us to achieve this dream. Meadows really is one of a kind so I’m hoping that someone will want to sponsor us and help to achieve our green ideals, but we’ve yet to find that person…”

Feeling the positivity that radiates from Meadows, its crowd, its location and the locals who support the event every year, plus the dedicated team behind it, you can’t help but feel that they will reach 100% green power one day. One baby step at a time will ensure that it happens naturally and organically. Thinking back over the three unforgettable days that unfolded at Meadows I’m hopeful that we can all work together to keep our planet from crumbling beneath us, but it will take some serious changes and a concerted effort to keep spreading the word and raising awareness in all sectors of society…

Photo: Marcus Barnes