Following all the attention and excitement about the 2007 “Green Man” theme, there was essentially a mandate to continue on the path towards sustainability in 2008 and beyond. The Burning Man Organization remains committed to exploring and employing sustainable practices whenever and wherever possible, both at the event, and in year-round operations.

The San Francisco Office strives to produce as close to zero waste as possible. We use recycled products wherever available, recycle everything we can, and compost all organics, foods, and paper from all office activities and events. These efforts save the Burning Man Project money by reducing our waste management bill, and allow us to help with San Francisco’s effort to reach its goal of 75% landfill diversion by 2010, and having the city produce zero waste by 2020.

In late 2007, Burning Man received an invitation from the Keep California Beautiful non-profit organization to help develop and implement a Leave No Trace plan for the Carlsbad Marathon in Carlsbad, California. In January of 2008, a team of 11 team members from the Playa Restoration crew traveled to San Diego County and took part in the first-ever greening effort for this marathon. Storm drains were covered to stop trash from ending up in the ocean, recycling and trash collection stations were placed along the marathon route and monitored by volunteers. The runners were encouraged to carry reusable water containers and small trash bags and pitch in to keep the trash off the street. Many runners signed up to be Eco-Runners and pledged to do their part to keep the course clean. “Only let your feet hit the ground” was the mantra of the day. The race was unanimously touted as the cleanest marathon the city had ever hosted.

As for the Burning Man event itself, we continue to move forward with — and thrive on — nearly all of the greening efforts we have instituted, including sustainable materials and supply purchasing, efficiency logistics management, and reusing and repurposing efforts. However, we were not able to do everything we set out to do. For example, where we had used biodiesel fuel in many of our generators in 2007, our generator vendor was forced to push back on the use of the alternative fuel by the manufacturers. These generators experienced myriad problems during the event, and losing power to our infrastructure can be stressful at the least, dangerous at worst. For 2008 it was decided that we would work closely with the generator vendor to develop a better relationship, and leverage this relationship to push for using biodiesel wherever possible. We hope that it won’t be too long before biodiesel is the norm in Black Rock City alongside other forms of alternative energy.

It’s gratifying to see more and more participants using alternative energy sources to provide power for their needs. Many of the larger theme camps use biodiesel in generators and more and more of the art in Black Rock City is being powered by solar. We also had a solar array installation, installed by Black Rock Solar (a grass roots non-profit organization created after the 2007 event), along the gate road which supplied power to the Gate and Box Office.

When the solar array from the 2007 Man Base was split up and donated to the Gerlach School and the Pershing County General Hospital in Lovelock, it was Black Rock Solar that made it happen. Today, this Nevada non-profit has a Nevada contractors license, a trained and certified crew and a number of projects already installed and in the queue; including the Natchez Elementary school in Wadsworth, NV, the new student union building at the University of Nevada at Reno, and a project in conjunction with the ROTHBURY festival in Rothbury, Michigan in the summer, and several new projects in the works in Reno.

Burners Without Borders once again returned to the playa in 2008, and conducted another wood reclamation project at the end of the event, allowing participants to donate used wood to be repurposed elsewhere. Six flatbed loads of construction grade lumber were recovered, and because the crew were unable to find an economical (or free) way to get it off the playa to donate it to somebody, the wood went to the Burning Man Work Ranch for use in future Burning Man related construction projects.

Project managers from Center Camp Café and the Staff Commissary worked with the Recycle Camp project manager and composting experts in 2008 to develop a plan to get closer to zero waste status. Along with the successful “Bring Your Own Cup” campaign at the Café, both departments continue to purchase and use biodegradable supplies for their operations, allowing us to implement a compost diversion effort again this year. Together the Café and the Commissary diverted 50 cubic yards of organic material to a commercial composting facility in Minden, NV. Other Burning Man infrastructure camps, including the Earth Guardians, Lamplighters and Recycle Camp, also diverted organics to the compost effort in 2008. This project will continue in 2009 and beyond, as the report back from the compost facility was very positive (which is to say, our material was clean), and they want to work with us in the future. This is another good example of building relationships with vendors and bringing them into the community to be a part of the solution, rather than just being a vendor.

The Earth Guardians continue to be environmental leaders in Black Rock City. In 2008, they developed a dedicated website to showcase their efforts, activities and contributions since their inception. Throughout the year, Earth Guardians hosted their annual Leave No Trace backpacking training, and nature walks. At the event they provided educational information via movies, workshops, exhibits, and theme camp visits to discuss sustainable practices, Leave No Trace, and resource sharing. They also facilitated patrols to protect local hot springs, provided outreach at the public burn platforms, and participated with the Playa Restoration Team on their “Lead by Example” MOOP sweeps. Their tireless promotion of the LNT Principles over the years is one of the reasons Burning Man continues to hold the distinguished title of the largest Leave No Trace event in the world.

Other key teams that contribute to the environmental efforts of the Burning Man Project include the Playa Restoration Team and Recycle Camp. For more information about these teams, please see their respective Afterburn Reports.

Finally, the Reno-Sparks Drive-thru Recycling Project returned in 2008 and was very successful. For more information, see their report.

Please join us as we continue on this path, straight on to Burning Man 2009 – Evolution. Make every effort to lead by example whenever and wherever possible. Think about the change you want to see as you plan your next trip to Black Rock City. Together we can make a difference and have a great time along the way.

Submitted by,
Paul Schreer, Heather Gallagher, Carmen Mauk, Tom Price, Karina O’Conner, and Nathan Heller