The Business Of Being Green At Treefort Music Fest

Mar 23, 2017

The Treefort Music Fest has begun. The annual Boise music-and-arts event runs through Sunday. Each year it seems to get bigger, which festival organizers welcome, as long as it stays true to its roots. There are definitely business challenges to managing growth.

Drew Lorona, one of the co-founders of Treefort, points to the streets outside The Owyhee in downtown Boise as "the festival hub."

Six years on, the festival is growing, but on its own terms. The founders worry about it getting too big too fast. They want to maintain that hometown vibe.

Those worries of becoming too corporate were considered from the start. Treefort is a for-profit LLC, but Lorona says, it has the status of a B-corp or benefit corporation.

"A benefit corporation," explains Lorona, "is a legal structure for a business. It allows your company to incorporate with values written into the articles of incorporation."

In a time where there’s a national discussion about rolling back regulations on businesses, Treefort is seeking to add regulations. They want that stamp of approval. They choose to be audited every two years, top to bottom. Think of it like organic food certification, but for whole businesses.

"Something important to note," says Lorona, "is that in our B-corp certification, it’s not just about environmental standards. It also takes into account things like the diversity of your staff, the diversity of your ownership. Do you volunteer? Do you make charitable donations? Do you spend most of your money locally? How far do things travel to get to you?"

Shortening that distance was part of the choice to pick an Idaho supplier for the festival’s new steel, reusable cups for beer.

According to volunteer Felicia Barlow, Treefort has been wanting to move away from the single-use plastic cups and decided this year was the time to do it.

"Because last year," says Barlow, "we tried to collect all of the plastic cups and disperse them out to some local, partnering plant nurseries so they could get their plant starts in those to be able to re-use them."  

Barlow is part of the Green Team, an army of volunteers that manages the recyclables and sweep the festival streets every night and morning. They’re managed by David Broderick, the Director of Sustainability.

"We’re pushing toward getting rid of single-use items at the festival," Broderick says. "Festivals are notorious for the single-use items, plastic mainly. The big one this year is definitely the steel cup program."

Steve Kitto is the manufacturer of the steel cups, which Treefort is selling at cost. He says Broderick had the idea of putting a hole in the cup.

"David worked pretty hard on this and came up with an idea to put a hole in the side of the cup, up by the rim," Kitto explains. "And supply a carabineer with each one of these cups and you can clip it to your backpack and clip it at the end of the night and so you can have it the next day."

A carabineer attached to a cup is very Idaho. Broderick agrees.

"I think we have a lot of carabineers in use here, yeah. Having a festival cup means you need to have some way of carrying it hands-free, so when you’re dancing, right? Very simple solution to a problem for sure."

Back at the Owyhee, Drew Lorona says the big music festivals - Bonaroo, Coachella, South by Southwest (SXSW) – are sometimes viewed with suspicion.  That these large gatherings are being co-opted by corporations to use as marketing vehicles for their brands.

But he gives big credit to SXSW in Austin for blazing trails among the city-centered music festivals.

"Treefort definitely wouldn’t exist without SXSW," admits Lorona, "because they pioneered the whole concept of what we’re trying to do at Treefort. They did it in a community that was similar to Boise at the time, which was: it’s growing, a college town, center of government, in a conservative state that could kind of use a bit of vibrancy in the cultural and artistic fronts. We’re following SXSW from their roots. We have the benefit of coming after them and deciding how to make different choices."

That community-centered mission is baked in to their structure, Lorona says, with that B-Corp status.

"You know, it’s like having a gym buddy," observes Lorona. "We’re kind of looking at it like – it’s easier to meet your goals if someone’s standing there, counting your reps. No one at B-Corp is harassing us about completing our certification. They have set the standards. They track the numbers. And it’s up to us to meet the goal. It’s just a motivation."

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