When one environmentally sensitive artist was considering playing at Constellation Performing Arts Center a couple of years ago, he wanted to be clear about environmental practices at the venue first.
“To even put in an offer, we had to respond to his environmental rider,” said Lynne Frieda, executive director of CMAC. The musician wanted to stipulate that recycling and composting of audience waste take place, and that tour buses or other vehicles wouldn’t be left idling. That was the start of sustainability program at CMAC.
“We kind of decided, why don’t we do this for all shows?” Freida said. In a single season CMAC went from throwing out all of its trash to diverting 78 percent of it away from a landfill. Some was recycled, some composted.
Each season, the venue hosts nearly 20 pop, rock or classical concerts. Meanwhile, thousands of audience members are eating food, drinking beverages and creating mounds of food waste, foam plates and disposable bottles or cups.
“At end of a Luke Bryan concert, when you look at that hill, we have generated a lot of waste,” Freida said. Not that the popular country musician is at fault.
Before the 2017 season began, CMAC engaged with two companies to help ramp up environmental efforts. One was Just Water, a non-profit company that bottles surplus drinking water and sells it in more eco-friendly package than a plastic bottle made from petroleum products. The other was Impact Earth, a Rochester startup company that helps other companies initiate, carry out and evaluate sustainability efforts.
Normally Impact Earth works with companies that have already been doing some sort of recycling, said Cassidy Putney, co-founder and director of sustainability and communications at Impact Earth. CMAC, however, was starting at zero of the zero-waste movement.
For instance, Freida said, CMAC had already been providing compostable cups for serving wine but there was no place for concert-goers to compost the cups after use. “To compost something, you actually have to put it in compost,” Freida said.
Impact Earth spray-painted blue barrels to help audience members identify them as waste, recycling or composting receptacles. They also provided and trained volunteers to guide people in correct disposal.
“Occasionally you’d have to sort if someone did it incorrectly. It was hands-on and very involved on our end,” Putney said.
“I do think a big part of sustainability and recycling is the education piece,” Freida said. “I hope patrons take something they’ve seen and take it back to their lives.”
Impact Earth also helped CMAC get a handle on its waste stream even before it becomes waste.
“Zero waste becomes significantly more successful and achievable if you control input of materials into the system,” Putney said. CMAC started avoiding Styrofoam and other non-recyclables.
“Most of our beer is served in cans, so those are recyclable,” Freida said. Many of the paper take-away food containers went with food waste to a composting company in Seneca Castle where worms turn the waste into compost.
“The only thing that couldn’t be composted was wax paper,” Putney said.
CMAC also switched from petroleum-based plastic water bottles to the brand Just Water, which comes in a mostly paper bottle.
“When it comes to sustainability … they’ve done their homework,” said Just Water’s Ira Laufer, who explained that Just Water likes to partner with events and companies that have a similar emphasis on environmental mission. It’s also sold in grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Safeway and, in Rochester, Hart’s Local Grocers.
The Just Water bottle is 82 percent from renewable resources, with a body that feels like a milk carton, and a top — cap, neck and shoulders — made out of sugarcane-based plastic. A thin layer of metal and plastic keeps the water from soaking through the paper body, and that film prevents the bottle from being 100 percent renewable. The company’s working on upping the percentage, though, Laufer said. “We’re not just addressing a packaging trend. We’re looking at things in a holistic way,” Laufer said.
Just Water is based in New York City, a brain child of actor and musician Jaden Smith, but it gets its water from the Upstate city of Glens Falls. Like many old city systems, Glens Falls’ water system siphons way more water from its reservoirs than it delivers to customers because it loses quite a bit along the way to leaks in its 100-year-old-plus water pipes.
Just Water’s agreement with the city of Glens Falls has its purchases of water being used to rehabilitate the water system and local economy.
As a result of all that, “we’re not as cheap as a plastic bottle of water. There’s added value in paying more for a better bottle,” Laufer said.
Freida said CMAC is also trying to work out a way patrons can bring or buy their own refillable water bottles that they can fill from fountains at the venue.
This coming season the sustainability program will be tweaked. Food truck vendors will be asked to follow the same program at the venue itself. CMAC may also eliminate straws — a non-recyclable single-use item — and is looking at candy straws that are eaten after the drink is gone, according to Freida. Impact Earth will train CMAC workers and volunteers to take over what they’ve been doing.
“CMAC taking ownership is a really great step to showing they are definitely dedicated to sustainability,” Putney said.