Wonderfruit: Thailand’s Celebration of Sustainable PartyingArticle by: Eamon Armstrong|@eamonarmstrong
Fri December 29, 2017 | 11:00 AM
What could be more grotesque in 2017 than the wasteful excess of mountains of plastic party trash? From small, boutique vendors to Bonnaroo, environmental sustainability has become an important part of any good festival promoter’s program. However, there’s a big difference between vague greenwashing gestures and creating a climate-positive impact that can be measured and certified. Wonderfruit Festival, now in its fourth iteration, is Thailand’s answer to California’s alternative festival scene, and it’s making positive waves for a country with serious environmental concerns.
As a destination for celebration, Thailand is most famous for the debaucherous Full Moon Party, a global frat boy gathering that trashes the beaches of sunny Koh Phangan. The depressing, polluted shores of Haad Rin represent the worst of Thai tourism. Ironically, tourist development has devastated the country’s coastal mangrove trees so much that it may lead to the loss of the very beaches that attract those visitors. Thailand’s Deputy Transport Minister fears that Thailand's pristine beaches could be lost to soil erosion within the next decade. Like other newly industrialized countries, Thailand’s rapid economic growth has come with a host of environmental challenges.
Festival culture has been satirized for the mentality that Millennials can "change the world one party at a time," but Wonderfruit shows that it’s possible to create a climate-positive event that inspires meaningful behavioral change – even in a developing country like Thailand.
Making Eco-Consciousness Attractive
Wonderfruit founder Pranitan “Pete” Phornprapha wasn’t looking to start a music festival. The son of a successful Thai businessman and environmentalist, Pete was raised with the quixotic influence of his father’s Think Earth Project created in the 1990s. He first tried to revive the campaign but soon decided that he could make a deeper impact by using art and culture to create environmental awareness. Thus Pete and his co-founder, Thai musician Montonn "Jay" Jira, created Wonderfruit, a lifestyle festival with the goal of making eco-consciousness attractive to Thailand’s hip future leaders.
When I spoke to Pete about Wonderfruit’s mission and potential I was struck by the sincerity of his mission and devotion to his native Thailand. The festival’s fixed costs are quite high and they haven’t broken even yet but Pete isn’t worried, as he knows it is on the right track. Wonderfruit is creating a sustainability movement and brand.
An Exercise in Environmentalism
From the paper used in the office to waste sorting on site, Wonderfruit has been an exercise in environmentalism from the ground up. From Year One, Wonderfruit was eliminating plastic and using natural building structures like ubiquitous and uber-renewable bamboo. By Year Four the event was certified carbon neutral by the Thailand Greenhouse Organization. This designation was helped by the purchase of 1,500 tons of carbon credit.
Wonderfruit has an impressive array of sustainability initiatives on display for its participants. There is a farm on the grounds that supplies the event’s Young Farmers program and their gastronomic Farm to Feast banquets, including a dinner by Gaggan, Bangkok’s most illustrious restaurant and 2017’s Best Restaurant in Asia. Wonderfruit also has a closed-loop water system, a food and material waste composting program, and some of the most adorable waste-sorting bins I’ve ever seen at a festival.
Jason Swamy, one of the directors of the festival, was my host. I asked him to recommend the best Wonderfruit memorabilia. He directed me to the ubiquitous stainless steel reusable Wonderfruit cups. “There’s great vending here but you’ll use this for the whole weekend, and beyond.”
Wonderfruit’s Scratch Talk Series also had an eco-hero theme with inspiring talks from Dianna Cohen of Plastic Pollution Coalition, Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home, and Shilpika Gautam, who paddleboarded the Ganges to create awareness about river pollution and inspire young women to adventure.
Then there are the mangroves.
Betting on Blockchain
“You will never get from negative to neutral to positive without investing,” Pete told me. Wonderfruit’s big eco-gamble? The climate superhero, mangrove trees.
I learned during a Scratch Talk by the venerable and hilarious 80-year-old Dr. Arne Fjortoft that coastal mangroves convert five times the Co2 as dry forests, each sequestering up to a ton of Co2 over 20 years. They also buffer coastlines against tropical storms by preventing erosion and protecting local communities. Dr. Fjortoft impishly championed “the wonderful people of Wonderfruit and their wonderful donation of marvelous mangrove trees!”
In addition to planting 3,500 mangrove trees in neighboring Chon Buri, Wonderfruit also invested in an ambitious new crypotasset called TREE , in collaboration with Swiss blockchain pioneer Lykke. Each TREE token protects a mangrove in Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park which is managed by Worldview International Foundation (WIF). Wonderfruit aims to be climate positive by investing in 10,000 TREEs as a natural capital asset.
“Investing in just 200 TREEs makes the average global citizen climate positive for life,” Lykke.blue founder Alan Laubsch told me. “The investment has a thousand-fold positive impact on community, biodiversity and climate. It empowers anyone to act.” Lykke.blue's mission is to democratize investment in natural capital, and to allocate 1% of global wealth to protect our ecological commons. “Imagine investing in Bitcoin when it traded at the cost of electricity. TREE has the same upside potential. We change the world when we show it's possible to make money and have a positive impact.”
Trendy, Sexy, and Fun
Claire O'Neill, co-founder of UK non-profit A Greener Festival, agrees with the Wonderfruit approach. "It's never been more crucial for festivals to look at every aspect of their event production and communication to ensure that not only are we not creating waste or pollution during the event, but that new ways are trialled and a positive message is amplified from the space through the participants.”
Pete wants to “make sustainability trendy, sexy and fun.” That’s why Wonderfruit is focused on creative solutions that are innovative and exciting, but don’t make people’s lives more difficult. “People want convenience. We have to prove that sustainability can be convenient.” If the fashionable future leaders of Thailand adopt these values, Wonderfruit’s impact will be exponentially farther reaching. This is much more difficult to measure than carbon offsets. However, I sure saw a lot of folks using cool reusable Wonderfruit cups.
Talking about the Next Generation
Wonderfruit will move to a new location next year. Pete believes that Year Five will be an exciting chapter. “Our sustainability road map is long and ambitious. There will be more terrain, more trees, more natural landscape at the new location. We use so much bamboo we’re planning our own bamboo nursery.”
Looked at a certain way, Wonderfruit Festival is itself a nursery for the next generation of eco-conscious leaders in the Land of Smiles.