Green carnival powered by biofuels adds sustainability message to theatre fest

At the highest rotation of the ferris wheel, Edmonton Fringe-goers this year will be able to take in the festival site in its entirety, and know they’re doing their part to change the world.

Sustainival is billed as the world’s first green carnival, where midway rides are powered by french-fry grease and other waste vegetable oil, and where the prizes for the games of chance are eco-chic baubles and wares such as wooden watches, BPA-free water bottles and T-shirts fashioned from bamboo or organic cotton.

Located at the north end of the festival site, along 85th Avenue and 104th Street, Sustainival will also feature a clamshell tent where local DJs will spin veggie-powered techno beats all day long and into the night. Sustainival has nearly a dozen rides, among them the Tilt A Whirl, the Tornado, the Berry Go Round, the Gravitron and the Loop O Plane.

It opens to the public Thursday for its Fringe debut, introducing festivalgoers to what carnival creator Joey Hundert calls a “green mega-wow.”

Fringe program director Thomas Scott says partnering with the eco-friendly fair was a natural fit. The festival is always looking for new ways to go green – and to add entertainment value.

“The sustainability is the key to the relationship between Sustainival and Fringe,” Scott says. “It’s green, it’s eco-friendly, plus it’s fun, and it adds so much to the outdoor fair. It’s an experiment, but I hope to see this happen for many years to come.”

Hundert has been obsessed with the concept of sustainability for most of his adult life. Now an Edmonton entrepreneur, business executive and community organizer, he was 19 when he became aware of how badly society needed sustainable solutions to be able to thrive into the future. With that in mind, he pondered ways to reach out to mainstream culture and inspire a shift in behaviour.

“What I determined is that people learn best when they’re having fun,” says Hundert, who just turned 30. “And, really, what’s more fun than a carnival, and how better to be able to reach hundreds of thousands of people in just 10 days?”

Sustainival was an idea that took shape in his head in 2006 and finally came together last year, the result of a complicated business model and a “giant yarnball of relationships” he forged to begin acquiring the expensive rides. Sustainival made a soft opening of sorts earlier this year at Edmonton’s first outdoor winter music festival, Freezing Man, where, ironically, frigid temperatures forced organizers to move everything inside Northlands.

While young music fans listened to more than 30 bands on two stages and lined up for drinks on one side of the Expo Centre hall, thrill seekers lined up for four rides that spun and tilted on the other side.

“Everyone thought it was pretty cool,” Hundert says. He also discovered that the rides operated just as well indoors. “If they look big outside, they’re larger than life inside,” he says, “and that means we can book shows all over North America during times when typically the carnival industry lies fallow.”

In May, Sustainival had its biggest gig when Hundert took a dozen rides, two games and a food concession to the Little Rock River Festival in Little Rock, Ark., which had not had a carnival component in its 30-year history. “They had never wanted a carnival,” Hundert says. “They said ‘yes’ to us because of the sustainable focus.”

They ran the entire operation on vegetable oil from local sources, reaching some 250,000 people over the course of the three-day festival. “The feedback we had was amazing. People freaked out. They loved it.”

The next step, says Hundert, is to partner with state fairs across the U.S., where they’ll be able to reach between 500,000 and two million people in a 10-day period.

Closer to home, he’s psyched about the possibilities of being involved in the Fringe Festival every year, and even sees the possibility of “greening” Capital Ex in the not-too-distant future.

“We have had active ongoing conversations with Northlands about a number of their events, and I don’t know if they’re taking me seriously yet about greening Capital Ex from head to toe and making it a global green expo,” he says. “My hope is that the more they see us do on larger and larger scales, the more they’re going to start a real conversation about completely transforming Capital Ex as a global destination and a sustainable pinnacle, which is totally possible.

“There’s no reason that it shouldn’t happen.”

Sustainival will be open from noon to midnight daily, through to Aug. 21. All-ride-access 10-day passes are available for $73.50 from sustainival. com or at the site, single-day passes are $30 plus taxes, and single-ride passes are also available. Prices vary between $3 and $5 per ride.