n conversation with Ruggero Pietromarchi and Leone Manfredini of Terraforma on festival sustanability
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Terraforma — exploring the sustainable festival in a post-virus world

In conversation with Ruggero Pietromarchi and Leone Manfredini, the Curator and Sustainability Director behind Terraforma, on the festival’s approach to sustainability post-pandemic

Threes Production is an agency responsible for a series of site-specific concerts, with their main project being Terraforma. Terraforma is a three-day music festival that has focused on sustainability and artistic experimentation since 2014. Situated in Villa Arconati, outside of Milan, the festival began as a restoration of the venue’s gardens. Encapsulated by both, the beauty and state of abandon of the Villa’s landscape, Ruggero Pietromarchi «connected the idea of the music festival to the idea of the regeneration of the site through a cultural experience».

A sustainable approach is more than an environmental responsibility — it is about historic preservation, the involvement of local communities and sharing this lifestyle with others.

Far from the landscapes of Glastonbury or Coachella, Terraforma is the festival born out of the rehabilitation of its site. Pietromarchi re-envisioned the gardens and, like Eden or Babylon, they became a symbol of utopia and the vision of Terraforma. Through the event and the profit generated «each year we aim to create something that will remain and improve the site», Manfredini explains.

«We started by putting areas of the park in order that were not accessible, followed by the restoration of a Labyrinth, presumed to exist in the eighteenth century». Developed in collaboration with Fondazione Augusto Rancilio (the owner of Villa Arconati) and Borotalco, the re-introduction of the Labyrinth marked the beginning of their landscape restoration program. The pathway of plants, completed in 2018, features five hundred specimens of Carpinus Betulus and «adds historical and artistic value for the everyday life of the Villa». 

The sustainability approach of Terraforma is not only to restore and maintain the garden but to enrich the space with architecture for the festival and the local community. This architectural model, designed by Joseph Grima of Space Caviar, attempts to minimize the impact of building the structures required for a music festival, with a zero-waste policy and any excess material forming tables, chairs, sinks and showers. «Everything from the stage to the trash bin is made internally, with as much repurposing as possible».

With the festival growing in size each year, there is the risk that efforts to reduce the environmental impact are outweighed by the impact of the event. Sustainability director, Leone Manfredini, cites two objectives in terms of waste «firstly, to reduce as much waste as possible, and secondly, to separate waste recollection». Abolishing single-use plastic, like cups and straws, has proved to be a success with a reduction of overall waste by 35% per person, and 84% of all waste separated for recycling. Reducing energy consumption, however, is a feat. 

Power represents the main percentage of an event’s core carbon footprint. Terraforma has developed an emission reduction plan with a range of partners (specific to each area of impact) and with the support of ethical finance pioneers EticaSGR. Aiming to be self-sufficient in terms of energy requires funding, effort and time and is an ongoing process for Terraforma. The venue itself has limitations.

«Often we do not have access to electricity, which is a big obstacle that requires creativity to solve», says Pietromarchi. Attendees are encouraged to maintain a responsible profile throughout the festival, especially in the campsite. The campsite itself has a low impact lighting system powered by solar energy, while other areas of lighting follow a low impact approach in which 94% of bulbs are LED or low voltage. Nevertheless, there is some way to go in terms of energy consumption and music production. While the event is exploring renewable technologies, its current CO2 emissions could be offset elsewhere.   

The new festival initiative moving towards the neutralization of CO2 emissions — planting trees is one of the most effective solutions to climate change and needs to be mobilized.

In the wake of the current pandemic, this year’s Terraforma has been postponed until July 2021. In this time, the team took the opportunity to further their landscape restoration program with a biennial reforestation initiative. The project plans to see a hundred trees such as lime trees, ash trees, and oaks planted in the camping area of Villa Arconati. «The choice of plants and their location is inspired by Cesare Leonardi’s The Architecture of Trees, that studies their disposition in relation to shade», clarifies curator Pietromarchi. Whilst he had hoped that the task would be a «social moment for the team and local community», the completion of half of the planting is a step toward the neutralization of CO2 emissions for the festival’s future editions. 

TERRAFORMA – DRUM AND LIGHT INSTALLATIONS

Trees are the most efficient mode of carbon capture on the planet. With carbon dioxide levels higher than ever recorded, planting trees is essential to counteract rising greenhouse gas emissions, due to the burning of fossil fuels, and the effects of deforestation. In 2019, ecologist Tom Crowther and Felix Finkbeiner, of Plant-for-the-Planet, proposed that the planting of one trillion trees is a solution to climate change.

We have seen wildfires tear across the globe, yet the potential of tree-planting is being mobilized. With a team of educated individuals, Terraforma has the ecological understanding and potential to expand its initiative beyond their campsite and completion date of 2022. Pietromarchi explains that «the Villa assists in the maintenance of the trees, paying attention to their needs, watering them» which is how tree-planting schemes thrive. With the ability to provide aftercare and long-term protection from their community, Terraforma has a responsibility to push this strategy. Whilst COVID-19 has effects on the future of the festival, Terraforma’s philosophy has implications in a post-COVID world. 

Festivals have an opportunity to insight change by demonstrating sustainable living – we need to embrace sustainability and our ability to change to improve the world after COVID-19.

Music festivals, with their rules and social norms, are windows of opportunity to inspire and insight change. Terraforma is a utopian vision that re-imagines spaces in which humans and nature are connected. This re-imagining of spaces applies to our current situation, as we begin to navigate a new-world and the possibilities of cityscapes, work, travel and socializing during and after a pandemic. Parallel to this is the «new learning» the festival provides.

Leone Manfredini suggests that «the festival is a replication of a city, what you do in your day to day life has to be replaced at the festival as you have to get up in the morning, eat breakfast, wash yourself, throw away your litter. In every moment of the day we try to do show visitors how to be more sustainable». The hope is that these behaviors are internalized and attendees continue to live more sustainably. Similar to this, Dr Gambhir of Imperial College London argues that the virus has brought our ability to change behaviors to the fore. If we are able to adapt and unite at such a speed against a disease, we should be able to work together to rebuild our economy and lifestyles.

The discussion of sustainability and preparedness refers to both the pandemic and climate change. The World Health Organization states that «climate change is increasing stress that may be the defining public health threat of the twenty-first century». It is crucial to acknowledge this relationship between climate change and COVID-19. In April, experts from The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) exclaimed that our continued exploitation of nature, and wildlife, has «created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases».

Furthermore, the article confirms that «we can emerge from the current crisis stronger and more resilient than ever, choosing actions that protect nature, so that nature can help to protect us». With many of us confined to our homes, the crisis interrupted energy demand and thus CO2 emissions, but this will not continue once measures have ended unless there is a clear center on a green economy. Structural changes towards net-zero emissions and climate resilience will see a greater recovery post-virus. We must come together on a global and local level to achieve this. 

Currently curating Nextones, a festival in the mountains of Piemonte, Ruggero Pietromarchi, and Leone Manfredini have time to reflect on the future of their festival and the dynamics of distanced relationships. With this year’s theme being Before & After, Pietromarchi explains their plan to workshop ideas with «a program of landscape architects, philosophers, writers, and musicians». He finds it impossible to imagine Terraforma with the restrictions currently in place and perhaps a more local edition is the answer.

For Leone Manfredini, it is time to come together, to talk about mutual interests and unite. «Everyone for themselves isn’t the solution to coming out of this pandemic. The politics, institutions, brands, people, and different disciplines have to come together». It is unclear whether governments around the world will come to the aid of the arts, but the scientists of IPBES state that the economic recovery packages being rolled out by governments should be used to secure and enforce environmental protection. Still, law and policy is often influenced from the ground up and those with a knowledge of sustainability have a role to play in the post-virus world. Whilst the future of Terraforma is «an impossible question» for Pietromarchi to answer, «Terraforma was a way to imagine new forms of interaction».

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