Matthew Dorma and Christopher Dunlap, DIG Events, eco-initiatives managers at Calgary Folk Fest

Posted by on 24 July 2014

How long have you been eco-initiative managers?

Christopher: Two years for me, and one year.

Matthew: And then we’ve both been with the folk fest for seven years in total?

C: I think I’ve been eight years for myself.

When did Do It Green (DIG) spin off from the folk fest?

C: A year ago. A little more than a year ago.

M: All the awards we were helping the folk fest win created a lot of interest from other festivals in the city as to how they could kind of mimic that environmental program, so folk fest staff forwarded the emails to us and we’d sit down for coffee with them, and to do that while all of us had full-time jobs was crazy. So we started thinking about if it was possible to do it as a business on the side. So that was all two years ago in the fall, and March 1st last year we officially incorporated.

What is DIG, what do you do?

C: DIG specializes in sustainability management for events, for organizations, just really for them to consider their waste.

So is it mostly like what happens at the folk fest? You have the bins set up and then people manning the bins, making sure that the waste diversion is happening without contamination?

M: Yeah, so all of our DIG events, we would always have our interactive stations. So we would have volunteers working them and helping to educate the public as to what goes in the green bin and what goes in the blue bin. That’s kind of the star piece of it, just like at the folk fest, for the public to really understand it on a higher level, instead of just forcing them to put it in one bin or the other. We’re trying to do it through education.

C: Ideally it’s pre-event planning — working with the vendors, working with the event management to make sure they’ve thought ahead about which vendors they’re using and what materials the vendors have, and then of course DIG has a water business, so we also deliver water for events. So we have these water tanks that provide clean, filtered, cold water for events. You’ve seen them at folk fest, the H2O Buggies. We bought that company in May.

And so that’s just to prevent people buying bottled water?

C: It’s to facilitate the idea that bottled water shouldn’t be $4 a bottle; it should be free and it should be safe. Our water’s better than bottled water because really, bottled water is what our water is, it’s just been shipped around the planet.

So what’s the goal with an event? I know the folk fest has some serious waste diversion. Do you go in with a goal for events?

C: I think when an event starts out they’re trying to benchmark, to figure out where they’re at so that they can set a goal for the future. I don’t think you know where you’re going unless you know where you are.

You recently did the Stampede. How many events do you do in a year?

M: Through our water trailer business, we’ll be at folk, GlobalFest, X-Fest, the dragon boat festival; so a large variety of festivals all over the city. We just did the Sun & Salsa Festival on Sunday, and Inglewood Sunfest is coming up as well. So, every weekend there’s an event that we’re doing. We do a lot of work with the YYC Food Trucks, so East Village, like the Rock the Walk party last weekend.

Is this a full-time job? You have other jobs as well, don’t you?

M: Yeah, I work for the city of Calgary in the planning department full-time.

C: I work at Morneau Shepell — I’m a retirement consultant, I work with companies on their group plans.

So you guys are really busy.

C: Leor [Rotchild, the third co-founder of DIG] works full-time too. And we have two staff, a summer student and a project manager.

So it’s not necessarily you guys standing at the bins for every event.

M: In the beginning, I mean, we are a start-up, so last year when we did festivals it was us. That first year we had some good successes and that’s why we have two staff members, so we’re able to step back a bit and see it from a higher level.

Are you surprised that Calgarians have gotten behind it? I mean, even the Stampede is getting on board.

C: I think Calgarians are eager for this. I think a lot of people move here from other places and they’re used to seeing robust compost and recycling programs at events and at home, so there’s a big demand for that. And I think Albertans, despite the stereotype, they are fairly environmentally conscious. There’s a lot of smart people in this city and people do recognize why waste diversion and composting are important. The city has said it wants to get to 80/20 by 2020 — so 80 per cent diversion by 2020. I think it falls in line with that, and just the fact there are other businesses doing what we’re doing, there is a demand.

What is the waste diversion at the folk festival?

M: Last year it was 86 per cent. This year we’re really striving to hit 90 per cent, so that’s our No. 1 eco-initiative goal for this year, to hit that 90 per cent level. It’s easy to get big jumps. In 2008, I think it was 48 per cent, in 2010 in the 50s, and then it went higher and higher. But to go from 86 to 88 to 90 or 92, those ones are a little harder because you’ve already done so much.

C: The low-hanging fruit’s all been picked, now it’s all the heavy stuff we have to move.

Well yeah, what do you do? There’s already the reusable plates, the compostable cutlery and cups.

M: There’s a lot of waste that’s created before the festival starts and after the festival. So, being a lot more vigilant in capturing and diverting that is one way that we can do it.

C: Yeah, we’ve placed more volunteers pre and post to try and help. To be honest, at the end of the event, people are tired, they’ve been there for a week and a half and if there’s something, they just want to get rid of it. So if there’s people there and they can help them sort it properly, it should help us get over the 90 per cent threshold — at least that’s our goal.

What’s next for DIG?

C: I think we want to continue with the events that we’ve done, now that they have a benchmark we want to get them to a point where they’re doing better. We’re hoping to do more with Stampede next year, so a bigger footprint there. And then, naturally, we just want to get into more events and help more organizations green their Stampede breakfasts or whatever their events throughout the city. There’s lots of events that still need our help or help from organizations like ours.

M: During the summer, obviously, our main focus is festivals and concerts, but DIG doesn’t have to be a seasonal business by any means. So come fall and winter, we really are trying to strategically plan around securing some contracts with conferences, large AGMs, Christmas parties....

C: Weddings.

M: Weddings. All those events that would be indoors that would still need an environmental program.