Thursday, July 8, 2010

Barrie's Caribfest to be the greenest of all

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner, published in a slightly abridged version under the title "Caribfest showing great environmental flair")

Culture is a very important part of our economy, because we can grow culturally without depleting our natural resources. Singing, dancing, sharing ideas and stories should be things we can do without having to worry that we are harming the Earth in the process. Yet if cultural events aren’t planned with ecology in mind, they can trample the natural world we want to celebrate. I’ve been to concerts and festivals and been dismayed at the litter left behind, or the energy unnecessarily wasted.

Barrie’s Caribfest is eager to avoid this pitfall, and instead be the “greenest” Caribbean festival in the world. In the process, they will probably be the greenest festival of any type in the region, besides Ecofest itself.

Many weeks ago, Caribfest organizer Ricardo Rowe contacted me, in my role as a director of Barrie’s chief environmental NGO Living Green, to seek our assistance in “greening” Caribfest. At first I was a bit skeptical, since it isn’t a request we’d ever received before, but signaled that we were open to providing whatever help we could. In my mind were already a number of concerns I expected the organizers would overlook. I asked him to send us a written proposal.

When he did, I was pleasantly surprised. Caribfest anticipated and addressed several major concerns I had in mind. Rather than use noisy, stinky diesel generators, stages will hook up to the electric grid and festival sponsor Bullfrog Power will contribute the electricity. To avoid litter and landfill, not only will they have staffed waste sorting stations, but will mandate that all food vendors use uniform biodegradable dishes and containers. And they will offset their unavoidable carbon emissions by planting trees.

This was a fantastic start! It immediately upped the ante, so our board brainstormed more advanced measures to help further green Caribfest. We proposed bike corrals, so cyclists could come to the fest without worrying about parking or bike theft. We suggested event guests and attendees be provided information on getting to Barrie and downtown using transit or shared rides. We recommended that any trees used to offset carbon be planted either in Barrie or in the Caribbean, rather than some unspecified location. And all of those suggestions were enthusiastically adopted! Caribfest even plans to plant food-producing trees in poor Caribbean regions which will not only absorb carbon, but will provide other ecological, health, economic and social benefits.

The greatest challenge, especially for an outdoor summer event, is avoiding the modern plague of throwaway bottled water. Yet the Caribfest organizers are forgoing some lucrative sponsorship opportunities and doing what they can to encourage people to use refillable bottles and our own Barrie tap water, which meets the highest quality standards in the world. They are also asking food vendors to consider locally-sourcing their ingredients in future.

I am happy to say that Living Green is extremely impressed with the commitment of the Caribfest committee to reducing their ecological footprint. If you want to support this kind of approach, your first chance is this Saturday, July 10. Boarding the Serendipity Princess at 8:30 pm is the 6th annual Caribbean Dinner & Dance Cruise. An exclusive evening of food, music, costume and dance awaits. Tickets are limited, so visit or the Roti Jerk at 69 Dunlop West to get yours soon!
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

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