TERRAFORMA: A FESTIVAL THAT “CARES” FOR ENVIRONMENT AND PEOPLE
Niccolò Bonazzon, Nicola Giuliani and Anita Wilczega
Terraforma was founded in 2014. It was initially produced by Threes, a cultural organisation founded by Ruggero Pietromarchi, Dario Nepoti and Alberto Brenta, who were later joined by Nicola Giuliani and Leone Manfredini.
From its very first edition Terraforma had sustainability, in the broadest and most comprehensive sense of the term, in its DNA, in fact sustainability was encompassed in the entire activity of the festival. Starting with the venue that hosts the event, Villa Arconati Park, a space that couldn’t be used and enjoyed by the public.
Terraforma rearranged the plants in the park, cleaned it up and made it safe. In short, it took care of the place. And this is the deepest meaning of the word “sustainability”: care. Caring for a space, for the environment and about the relationships established with the people who interact with the festival every year.
The park covers an immense area but the path Terraforma has followed is very clear: in addition to fixing up the space and rendering it usable, it has imagined it as a true “architectural park”. With the collaboration of the Augusto Rancilo Foundation it has involved about 10 young architecture firms in the construction of a series of structures aimed at making the park ‘habitable’ in a sustainable way. Sustainability for Terraforma also means social sustainability.
In fact, all the structures are fabricated in-house by young architecture students but also by migrants and asylum seekers working out of a carpentry workshop created by the festival on its grounds.
It also restored the villa’s 18th century maze, which was turned into a space for music performances.
From the outset Terraforma worked with its partners on environmental sustainability.
For example, it worked on the mobility aspect of the festival with Erica
Sgr in order to reduce emissions. Thanks to the collaboration with a partner that works in the area of electric mobility, only electric cars are now used by the people producing the festival. In addition, attention has also been paid to festival visitors. In various places around the province, such as at Malpensa airport where many foreign visitors arrive, electric cars are made available for rent to reach the event.
A shuttle system has also been provided that connects Bollate and Cadorna stations to the festival site.
Organizing a festival is very complicated, especially as far as services are concerned: it is necessary to bring water, electricity, provide waste solutions, in short, build a sort of temporary “planet”. Hence the term “Terraforma”, which comes from 1940s science fiction and means to create a planet where human and other forms of life are possible.
Over its eight-year lifespan, Terraforma has worked to build just such a planet, focusing on certain areas in particular. First, the construction of festival facilities (bar, stage) and camping facilities (bathrooms, showers, reception areas). No less important were issues of social inclusion and diversity and finally the challenge of ecological impact, which encompasses energy needs and services. The festival
has invested in these areas one step at a time, always striving to improve and putting these interventions at the heart of their plans.
In previous editions, the theme of sustainability has mainly involved the following areas: waste reduction, mobility, water supply and reducing energy needs. Energy is a critical issue since the festival is located in a park and it is therefore very difficult to get electricity to the site from the grid and we have to use generators.
Terraforma tries, however, to offset its emissions through planting. Major strides have been made in reducing consumption. For example, the camping area has very low energy consumption due to the use of PV panels. Another example is the use of low flower showers heads that reduce water consumption.
Terraforma is constantly striving to build a sustainable “festival ecosystem” and invites visitors to contribute towards this. Since the first edition it has provided that all visitors with biodegradable soaps, thus discouraging the use of polluting products.
With regard to its buildings and structures, the festival has focused on two
aspects: on the one hand, the construction process on which it worked with young people, asylum seekers, carpenters and volunteers; on the other, ensuring the structures can be reused over the years and are built out of recycled materials.
For example, one of the stages at this year’s festival was made out of timber salvaged from the Vaia storm that ravaged the forests of northeastern Italy in late 2018.
Looking at the widespread awareness of environmental issues in Italy, on the one hand there is a greater sensitivity on the part of operators in the sector about the need for different approaches, especially for events that involve so many people.
On the other, when it comes to the companies that work with the festivals, this sensitivity is often lacking. Especially with the larger companies, even public or semi-public ones, a dialogue on sustainability issues can often be cumbersome and difficult to activate.
The role of public institutions should be to initiate courses of action that focus on sustainability. In this sense, the VCO Chamber of Commerce and Piedmont Region are a virtuous examples of institutions that show great care in encouraging cultural operators to embark on a journey of greater awareness. For two years they have subsidised ISO 20121 certification, a label dedicated to environmental
sustainability in the events sector. This financial support is a great incentive for organizations to equip themselves with a whole series of tools and resources that are then key to working towards greater environmental sustainability. In fact, once you have a sustainability manager or an organizational culture that is attentive to the measurement, auditing and reporting of energy consumption data,
you are automatically set on a path that you are much more likely to continue down. The events sector is huge in Italy, so more systemic thinking should take place and there should be a vision and direction, at least at the regional level.
As for plans for the coming years, Terraforma is working to integrate a sustainability manager into the organization who can dedicate themselves to the festival 365 days a year, helping the organisation to make a qualitative leap on sustainability issues. In fact, an event like Terraforma now requires attention that goes beyond the seasonal and festival event itself, but instead is constant throughout the year. Since Terraforma is a pioneering festival as regards sustainability issues,
it receives requests from the outside world throughout the year for spokespeople who can talk about good practices and engage in discussion and debate on these issues.
A goal of Terraforma for the coming years is to deepen its work with regard to sustainability. It is a course it started on during the pandemic when a series of meetings with philosophers were organized to enrich their thinking on the relationship with the environment and nature. It is time to rethink the vocabulary and narrative of sustainability, using different words, perhaps more related to the
theme of “care”. To put it concretely, it is much less important today to explain how to separate waste for recycling than it is to narrate and engage on broader issues in a more meaningful way. For instance, how we consume and how we relate with nature, how we can be less predatory and work to be part of something bigger.
The other major objective is to invest in research, to find technological solutions to all the practical problems that arise during the festival.
These two elements, science and technology on the one hand, and thought and philosophy on the other, are the two big goals Terraforma wants to focus on in the coming years.
The investments in sustainability that the festival has made so far have brought tangible results. You need only look at the issue of waste. The amount of rubbish produced at a festival is enormous: the introduction of reusable instead of disposable cups has made a huge difference to the staff cleaning up the day after the event. However, the impact of these sustainable choices should be measured more precisely, both in the short and medium-long term. Measuring and
quantifying impact should also consider the economic component, because environmental sustainability and economic sustainability run on the same track.
Terraforma is an economically sustainable festival and in part this is also due to its environmental choices. By opting for structures that can be reused over the years for example, the festival will be able to make savings.
Finally, one of the major challenges for the coming years is about communication.
What is the best way to convey sustainability issues and make them more attractive and socially relevant?
Niccolò Bonazzon, general manager of Threes Productions, Bonazzon is also director of the Tones on the Stones Foundation which operates in Val d’Ossola, in Piedmont, where he is also responsible for the direction of the Nextones project and he is curator of Campo Base Festival.
Nicola Giuliani, works as a Marketing & Partnership Consultant for the music and live entertainment industry. Giuliani has worked for sever cultural institutions and events, including Comune di Milano, MITO Settembre
Musica, Ponderosa (Piano City, Green City), Linecheck Music and Meeting festival, Live Nation Italia.
He has been part of the Terraforma Festival team since its first edition in 2014, now covering the role of Marketing & Partnership Manager.
Anita Wilczega, project Manager for Terraforma Festival 2022, she works in the production of cultural events in Italy and