In its history of over a decade, the Splore Festival, taking place at Tapapakanga Regional Park beyond the outskirts of Auckland, has always held sustainability as a central tenet and a principle that makes it special. From 19 to 21 February this year, the beautiful area will come alive with music, food, good times and care for the environment.
The thousands of Splorers who attend every year can certainly attest to that. It forms a friendly, inclusive, lively community to say the least - with features every age group can enjoy, all the while doing it responsibly and in a way that is sustainable for the environment.
"We're guided by the Splore kaupapa - the original vision that was set into place by Splore Festival founder and former director Amanda Wright," said Fred Kublikowski, event producer for Splore.
"Over the years it was developed that the pristine environment of Tapapakanga Regional Park would serve as a platform to educate and inspire our festival community, and would contribute to the wellbeing of the planet by creating transformative experiences."
This is the philosophy at the heart of Splore. Every year, the festival keeps pulling in audiences from far and wide, imbuing the team with a feeling of a real responsibility to promote sustainability in every form.
"You look at everything that happens on every level of the festival and you have to ask yourself: is that environmentally sustainable? Is it emotionally sustainable? Sustainability has so many areas and you find if there's better ways of doing it," said Mr Kublikowski.
Tapapakanga is an Auckland regional park, but also treasured by Māori who have tribal links to Tāmaki Makaurau.
"We've been working very closely with the two iwi that hold mana whenua in the park, and that's Ngāti Pāoa and Ngāti Whanaunga. They've been involved for a number of years - since we've had Splore in the park," said Sophie Barclay, Splore's sustainability manager.
The iwi conduct a site blessing for the Splore crew, install artworks around the park, and greet many of the people who are coming to the festival, establishing themselves as the first point of contact. This allows visitors to understand that they are entering into someone else's whenua, to learn some of the culture and history behind it, and learn how to say words such as 'Tapapakanga' correctly.
"We're also trying to work with them to see how we can further that relationship. This year we're going to be offering them some paid positions on-site, and we're hoping to expand that through maybe some internships next year," said Ms Barclay.
"It's always a matter of consultation with the local iwi," Kublibowski added. "We meet several times throughout the year, we talk about ideas that we're up to, and they offer their ideas. We always take into account any areas of cultural significance. The park is steeped in a lot of history for the iwi. There are actually areas that are wāhi tapu - and we make sure that our audience know about this and that everything we do in and around those areas is respectful."
In terms of sustainable energy, Splore is making every effort it can to increasingly draw from green sources, Kublikowski said.
"For events like Splore, which is a greenfield event, we have to bring in all electricity. Traditionally these are powered by diesel generators. In New Zealand, we're a limited industry and so diesel generators are our only choice. We're investigated different ways of doing it. Over the last couple of years we've partnered with Gull Energy - which is a New Zealand energy provider - and they offer us a bio-diesel mix. At the moment we're using bio-diesel to power our festivals.
"Ideally, we would like to switch to something like solar power. There are some solar power hybrid diesel solutions available overseas, so we're lobbying our suppliers to make these solutions available to us. This year and in past years we've done what we can - and there is a solar power sound system available. It's owned by Al Sorley, who runs a great little festival down in Matamata called Sundaise, and we're using that sound system again this year to power one of our stages, the Sun Shack."
Festivalgoers who are travelling to Splore inevitably generate some carbon emissions, but you can be sure the organisers have thought about this.
"A number of initiatives have been introduced over the years. One of our main ones is a carpooling incentive where we charge for parking on the site, however if you arrive with three or more people in your vehicle you get most of your parking charge refunded at the gate," said Kublikowski.
"That's been really successful," Barclay added. "In 2012, before it was introduced, we had an average of 1.7 people per car. It was introduced in 2014, and in 2015 we had 3.2."
"We were actually averaging above the carpooling threshold," continued Kublikowski. "So that's fantastic - it's a huge win. We're really thrilled with that and we think everyone's really refocused their understanding of what going to a festival is. You don't need to bring a lot of stuff - you just put your mates and a tent in a car and everything's there for you."
He argues attending Splore is, in some senses, a sustainable act in itself.
"Thinking about people travelling to Splore from another angle, if you think of two people travelling to Splore in a car, which is 70 kilometres in each direction [from central Auckland], but then parking it up for three days because they're actually at the festival, ironically had those people not come to Splore and just had a regular weekend in town and gone to the beach, gone for a drive and done some shopping, it's possible that they may have actually generated more greenhouse gases by not going to the coming to the festival.
"By all means we're ready to take responsibility for the greenhouse gases generated by the audience travelling to Splore, but we also believe that just by coming to Splore, you're probably having a positive impact on your greenhouse gas emissions.
Splore also run a subsidised bus service to the festival. They are comfortable, with plenty of luggage space and enable a great reduction in emissions per person.
Barclay says that this year, Splore is also intending to effectively offset its limited amount of emissions.
"We're going to be collecting voluntary donations on-site - people can choose to donate to offset their carbon emissions, and we're aiming to raise $6000, which would be the cost of offsetting Splore as a festival. That would include things like transport on-site, the power to run all the stages and the music, some of our performers flying in from overseas, all those kinds of things," she said.
Splore will be setting up a web site so that voluntary donations can be made both before, during and after the festival, in the hope that the festival will be able to render itself carbon neutral, or even carbon positive this year.
"It's kind of realising that everything you do has externalities, which aren't really properly measured," said Barclay. "That's why we have climate change in the first place, because we haven't had to take into account our cost to the environment. It's recognising that everything we do has a cost to the environment, so we've all got to play our role to help reduce the climate crisis that we're currently facing."
Staying on-site for three days, festivalgoers are going to generate a certain amount of rubbish. Splore provides facilities to deal with this, and is achieving some great credentials of sustainability internationally.
"I would say we have zero litter on site," said Kublikowski. "Part of that was the introduction of reusable cups for all of our drinks, so we don't have cups littering the site as many festivals do. We have an incredible community of Splorers who really understand what a pristine environment we have. They really get it, and very few people drop their litter. When it comes to disposing of their litter correctly, we provide bins which are divided into recycling material, compostable material, and waste material. Everything that's served to our audience from our vendors and our bars comes in either recyclable or compostable packaging, therefore generating no actual waste for the landfill."
He says the biggest source of potential landfill waste exists in things that festivalgoers bring in to the camp site.
"In the entertainment area - where pretty much all the waste is generated from people buying things from our vendors and bars - the diversion rate was in the high 90% - it was essentially a zero waste event. However, when we counted in the materials from the camp sites and the waste that was generated there, our diversion rate plummeted to the high 70%. That's still something to be quite proud of, but we've recognised that camping waste is a key factor."
Kublikowski expresses the festival organisers are very grateful for those in the audience who don't do such things as leave a tent or sofa behind, which happens at a lot of other festivals. However, he says there are still things which tend to be left behind and are difficult for the festival to sort through and dispose of, so they do their best to send out the message that there are certain things that attendees simply do not need to bring along.
The festival team are very proud of Splore's overall diversion rate, though, which averages out at about 72% overall. By comparison, a recent report from the Association of Independent Festivals showed that average diversion rates at UK festivals are 32% - not a spot on Splore's consistently great achievements in this regard. And the organisers are always trying to improve on this even more.
"The waste that campers bring in, and so what we've decided to introduce this year are wandering camp kaitiaki [a person engaged in managing the environment, based on the Māori world view of kaitiakitanga or guardianship] who will be going through areas of the camp, hanging out, getting to know people and helping them with their waste queries," said Barclay.
"They will be helping them clean up and giving out compostable bags, teaching them to separate out their food waste that can be composted, and really trying to control the waste at source.
"We're also working with Love New Zealand and the Packaging Forum to collect soft plastics and plastic laminates. That was quite a large component of the landfill waste in the past - things like chip bags and biscuit packets, which can't really be recycled. We're hoping that will help increase our waste diversion rate."
"And there'll be beautiful camp hubs throughout the site which we're calling the Leave No Trace hubs," Kublikowski added, "where people will be able to bring their rubbish throughout the weekend, and there'll be lots of information, knowledge and people there to impart some learnings.
"Ultimately, what we want to be doing by putting on an event like Splore is not just meeting our own goals, but also hoping the audience takes away what they learn to their everyday lives. If we can encourage a strict regime of waste separation, diversion and minimisation, and people can learn a little bit about that at Splore, then maybe when they're at home and thinking about what to put in the bin or what to buy, they're making smarter decisions."
The Splore team says one of the main things Splorers can do to make the festival more sustainable is to keep their own camp sites tidy, which will benefit themselves directly, but also, importantly, to take the rubbish out of the camp sites to the three Leave No Trace hubs. Either that, or they can organise their rubbish at their tent with the help of the roaming kaitiaki, and leave it "kerbside" where it can be picked up when the rubbish trucks come through a couple of times a day.
Festivalgoers should also look at bringing good quality, reusable bottles. Water filling facilities are available for these at Splore. People should refuse unneeded plastics and wrapping, and bring or borrow decent camping gear that they will want to take away and use again. The key is to think about what you are going to bring to Splore.
"It's basically all about getting sorted at Splore - it's one big sorting party," said Kublikowski.
"Yeah, one big sorting party with great people and dress ups," laughed Barclay.
"It's a three day event where people come and have a bloody great time. We work very hard to make sure sustainability is at the heart of that," said Kublikowski. "But remember, you're there to have a good time, and if you're putting a smile on your face as well as Mother Earth's, then you know you're doing it right."
Splore Festival - 19-21 February 2016 - Tapapakanga Regional Park, Auckland. You can find more information and tickets here.