An interview with

Julie Forchhammer

Environmental Manager, Øya Festival

What was the career path that led you to becoming the Environmental Manager at Øya Festival?

I worked at my first festival when I was 6 years old.  I’m Danish, and my mother and father were working as volunteers at a Danish festival, so I got to join them and help them out.  I had a job pouring the hard liquor in the bar, it was Denmark in the early 80s, it wouldn’t be allowed now.  I always loved live music and festivals.  We moved to Norway and I moved to Bergen to start studying, Bergen is on the west coast of Norway, it’s a really beautiful city. There’s a lot of good bands coming out of Bergen, whether it’s Sondre Lerche or Royksopp, many many other great Norwegian artists came from there.  I worked as a volunteer at the college radio there, I think many people who are working in the music industry today started out working as a volunteer at a festival or at a college radio station.

I was a lousy student, so I haven’t got any education whatsoever, and after a couple of years, I got a job in Oslo at the Rockefeller Music Hall. It had nothing to do with Rockefeller, it’s just a big venue in Oslo.  It was almost a volunteer job because it was so shitty paid but it was a great place to work and I got to see a lot of shows, and made so many friends working in the music business.  I stayed there for a couple of years and then started working at an independent record label, V2, which Richard Branson started in the 1990s after he sold Virgin Records, and at the point I got to work with Mercury Rev and Grandaddy and a lot of incredible American indie bands that did really well in Norway.

After that, I got a job at EMI as a label manager and then as the head of marketing. Luckily it was during those rocky major label years where a lot of people got fired, unlucky for all of us who got fired, but lucky for me because I got some money to quit, I don’t know what you call that in English.


I only worked there for a year but I got like half a years pay to leave when Virgin bought up EMI.  So I got enough money to start my own company with a friend of mine.  It was called Bpop, we did marketing and management for a lot of Norwegian bands. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun and we got to work with some great great bands and we got to go on tour to Canada, the United States, and Japan.

By 2006, I had worked in the music industry for 10 or 15 years and I didn’t really think it was that important anymore.  I think music is really really important but maybe not the music business.  I don’t think it’s so important if a radio station playlists a song or not, or what reviews Pitchfork gives an album.  I really love music but I didn’t want to spend my whole life working on that so I quit the music business completely in 2006 and luckily I got a job at the Rainforest Foundation in Norway.  Do you remember 20 years ago when Sting traveled around with the guy from the Amazon with the big plate in his lip?

Angel Haze live at the festival 2013. Photo: Erik Five Gunnerud.

I remember seeing pictures as a kid.

At that time there was a Rainforest Foundation in many countries around the world, and the one in Norway is the biggest and it’s been really well run.  Luckily they wanted to hire me, even though I came from the music business.  I worked there on their communications for 5 years. I totally left the music business from one day to another because I really wanted to work with sustainability and with the environment and with bigger issues than just the music business.

If you have been working in the music business for a few years, and if you’ve been doing a good job, you have a lot of knowledge and contacts, which you can use in your environmental work because when it comes to NGOs and sustainability many of them may not be as skilled in marketing. Things like what pictures to use, how to reach different target audiences, all the stuff that if you’re working in the music business you’ll be really skilled at.  If we have a pop group, we’ll do the press photos like this, we’ve got a hip-hop group so we’ll do the marketing like this, if you’ve worked with different music genres you learn a lot about how to reach people.

I could use those skills for my work at the Rainforest Foundation and I got to travel to the Congo, Borneo, the Amazon, and actually meet people who lived there, and meet people who worked for the environment and for their own livelihood. It was life threatening. It’s easy to sit in Norway and say you’re green or work with sustainability because it’s not dangerous at all.  After going out and working with people who got threatened by the big logging companies or big oil companies, and people who had to have security guards walk their kids to school, it really changed the way I thought about it and it changed what I wanted to do.  It was a great experience. I got to attend the International Climate Negotiations for a couple of years.  I’d just like to emphasize that I didn’t do any of the important work at the Rainforest Foundation (laughs). I’m just a music business, self-taught person, but I did a lot of interviews, press-work and public relations.

In the summer of 2011, I got a call from the Øya Festival, I knew the festival really well, I’d been to all of the festivals for the last 16 years. A lot of the bands I was managing had played the festival, but they needed a person to do their environmental work, and do a bit of work with the sponsors.  So they asked me if I was interested and I immediately said “no, I’m not interested”. I really didn’t want to go back to the music business, I really liked working with the environment and I liked working with people who had an education and who could speak 5 different languages and who were skilled in all types of different professions.  I don’t know what it’s like in Canada but in Norway there’s a lot of people like me who are self-taught and we try to do their best, but I liked the Rainforest foundation because I learned a lot there.  The people at Øya said come by the office and let’s have a talk.  I went to have a meeting and thought it was a great job, how many jobs in the world are there where you can combine working with sustainability and the music business?  With my background in the music business and with the Rainforest Foundation I thought, of course, I’ve got to have this job

So you really have no education or background for working with the environment? You just sort of thought one day that it was something that was important to you and decided to switch careers to help out?

I grew up in a Danish hippie family. My father and brother are biologists, so I grew up laying in the fields in Denmark looking for birds with my father every Sunday.  I was always interested in it and I always said I had a concern for sustainability and all that, but I really hadn’t, and I wanted to explore that a bit more.  It’s really easy to say you’re green without doing shit about it.

Julie in Jotunheimen (notice the flock of reindeers in the back)

What goes into planning the festival? How far in advance do you start? 

It’s a big festival but the capacity is only 15,000 a day, so compared to Glastonbury or Coachella we’re quite small, but we’re big for Norway.  We are 10 people in the office who work all year.  We have our booking department who book the bands, the marketing department, the sponsor department.  It takes a lot of planning and it’s nerve-wracking, especially in May, because now is the time that everything has to be set, we print our program and we’ve got to have all the contracts and plan out the area. How many toilets do we need? Where should the stages be and what should they be called?  Where should the sponsor stands be?  So, right now it’s nerve-wracking in the office but it’s really really fun.

I’ve been here for a couple of years and I’m really impressed. I don’t think the audience understands how much we try to make it a good experience for them.  We have people measuring the lines each year so we know that this was the longest line at the toilets, or this was the longest line to buy the beers, so we try to figure out how we can make the lines shorter next year and how we get more toilets into the area.  There’s so much stuff to think of.

There is so much that goes into the environmental planning, there’s food, transportation, who do you co-ordinate and work with?

The festival has been working on their environmental impact for 10 years.  When we started out we were like the first, so we worked a lot with the Roskilde Festival and a few other European festivals who were thinking the same line that we were.  Now a lot of other festivals are doing the same stuff, and what we’re trying to do now, is figure out how we can raise the bar and become even better.  We’re always thinking about what we can do next year and how we can minimize our environmental imprint.

There’s not always a black and white answer to that because if you take Coachella, and some of the other major festivals who also have a “green” focus, if you look at all of the people who flew into that concert from all over the world and what is the impact of the C02 emissions from all of those people traveling so far.  There aren’t  always clear answers. We fly a lot of artists in from the US or from England and we try to figure out how we can reduce those flights.  We work together with the Way Out West Festival in Sweden and a the Flow Festival in Finland so if we get the same artists from the US they aren’t just flying out to Oslo and then back they can play Oslo, Gothenburg and Finland.  About 72% of our audience is from Oslo so they are just coming from the neighbourhoods around the festival.

When you do environmental work you can’t always get the figures down on paper but we try to be aware of the impact we have and we try to reduce it as much as we can.  We also try to inspire others and change the way our partners do business.  We can demand things from our parents and suppliers that other people can’t demand because we’re a popular festival.  If you can’t supply us with organic cotton t-shirts then we won’t want any t-shirts. We can make some demands and change how they do business.

I read that 90% of your food is organic.  So if people want to serve food at the festival they need to serve organic?

We actually had to close one of the restaurants at the festival last year because their organic papers weren’t in order.  There’s not really that much organic food here, we’re way behind Sweden and Denmark, and it’s really expensive.  To get hold of 30 tons of organic food for one weekend is a big big job.  I think we empty most of Norway’s organic food.  We work with a lot of local restaurants who maybe don’t use that much organic food but after they work with us they take in more organic food in their day to day business.  That’s a huge part of the festival.  It has also been said that food is the new indie (laughs) and I think our festival is a good example of that.  Now that you can stream everything on Spotify and sites like that you can discover a lot of music like that the food thing is taking over that search for new things and that identity.

93 % of the food at the festival is organic. Photo: Erik Five Gunnerud

What do you do on a typical day?

Right now I’m working with the city of Oslo because Oslo is not really good when it comes to cycling.  We are really good when it comes to buses and trams but when it comes to biking and creating bike lanes and getting people to bike, Oslo is way way behind.  We’re doing a pilot project with the city this year to get our first proper bike parking.  We’re moving to a bigger site so we actually have space for bike parking.  I’ve been working with the bike director for the city of Oslo and they are renting temporary parking for 500 bikes, which we will use at Øya for the first time and hopefully if it goes well the city will use the temporary bike parking at other festivals and sporting events.  It’s great because it not only benefits our festival it benefits the city and other events as well. The audience gets so happy because now they don’t have to take their bikes and put them in trees or scaffolding.

What are you doing during the festival?

Last year during the festival we did a seminar on green festivals, which I will never do again, because to run a seminar during a festival that you work at is a lot of work, but it was great fun. There were people from maybe 20 festivals from Europe and Norway and we did a 2-day seminar on how we do our environmental work, and how we can learn from each other.  So many festivals have been green for years now so we have to work to take it to the next level.  We can’t just have people riding their bikes and charging their cell phones with the power from the bike.  That’s great but let’s take it further.

I work with our environmental programs but also with our sponsors.  We think those two things are very tightly connected.  I follow up with our sponsors during the festival to make sure they are happy.   We get approached by companies who want to work with us because we have a green image and that’s why I think the two sides are very closely connected.  We also turn sponsors down who we don’t think are sustainable, like oil or flight companies.

The Øya Festival produces an Environmental Handbook, what are you hoping to accomplish by publishing and sharing your experience?

We just updated the Norwegian version in April and we have to get it translated into English as well.  We got a lot of Norwegian, Swedish and Danish festivals to write chapters and give examples on exactly how they are working.  A really interesting example is the Way Out West Festival who two years ago decided to go 100% vegetarian, it’s been a great success for them and they did it to minimize their environmental impact.  They found out that was the biggest step they could take to minimize their C02 emissions.  That’s been an inspiration to many festivals.  We’re not going vegetarian at the Øya Festival but we’re trying to reduce the amount of meat and to provide great vegetarian and vegan food as well.

We hope it’s not complicated and we hope we don’t scare people.  If you’re a small festival or an outdoor event and you want to have a green focus it can be scary because you don’t know if you should start on your energy issues, transportation issues, or waste management issues, which can be crazy, especially if you’re a camping festival, which we’re not.  We hope that people can find the areas they want to focus on, like organic food, then maybe it’s not 90% organic food in the first year but 10% organic food.  We sort our waste in 15 different fractions but maybe other festivals can start at 4 different fractions.  We hope it will inspire people to start, and we’ve been doing this for many years now.

This week I’m going to give a lecture for the city of Oslo on how to create greener spaces at parks and city squares and outdoor events.  The city knows that we are a bit further ahead than other organizers in Oslo.  We spend a lot of time giving lectures and using the environmental handbook to guide other people.  It’s really a win-win because we get to lecture other people but we also get to learn a lot because we’re not perfect and we get to learn what other people are doing.  We get great ideas that we can use and if we can change the way the city of Oslo is doing outdoor events and if we can help sporting events in Norway become greener than we’ve done a great job.

150 people from the environmental organization Nature & Youth is sorting all the garbage at the festival (38 tonnes last year) into 15 different fractions. Photo: Erik Five Gunnerud

You’ve been talking about trying to take it to the next level, what’s something that you’re very proud to have accomplished and something that you want to do that you maybe haven’t accomplished yet?

In 2013 I got the chance to work with the perfect combination of music and sustainability. The Norwegian producer Lindstrøm released an album called Smalhans – where each song is named after a traditional Norwegian food dish. At the festival we merged Lindstrom with Maaemo – a local 2 star Michelin restaurant which only serves organic and local produce. They cooked up a brunch based on each of Lindstrøm songs. The chefs from Maaemo cooked and served the dishes while Lindstrøm were dj-ing. A journalist from the Quietus attended the brunch and he wrote a very funny feature from it.

Another great project was cooperating with 120 hours – the world’s largest architect competition for students. This years task was to design a sustainable installation for the Øya Festival. Over 600 teams from 83 different countries participated. You can see all the creative proposals on their website.

Getting the city of Oslo to buy temporary bike parking is fantastic.  It might not be that impressive if you’re from Copenhagen or Amsterdam.

It’s very impressive.  I’ve been to a few festivals where I couldn’t find a spot to lock my bike.

I’m really happy about that.  I think we helped the city of Oslo because we make them a bit cooler.  They can rub up against our festival image and if that means the city is spending more money on bike projects then that’s fantastic.  Some of the festivals we’ve been working with are doing a lot more organic food, which is great to see.  We are also doing another project with the city of Oslo’s sanitation department. We approached them last year and asked them if they wanted to do something with the festival, in Oslo in private homes you have to put all of your food waste in a green bag and all of your plastic waste in a blue bag.  I invited them to join us at the festival and we did the same thing at the festival.

We’re always trying to figure out how we can get behavioural change, not just for the 4 days of the festival, but the other 361 days of the year.  We place a lot of blue and green balloons over the bins at the festival, so you’d know where to put your plastic and food waste.  Some of the audience, of course, stole the balloons when they were drunk, so at some of the biggest acts last year you saw green and blue balloons in front of the stage.  It’s fine because when people return to their home and they have the green and blue plastic bags they think “oh now I remember that concept and of course I’ll put my potato skins in the green bag”.  We’d love to take our environmental work one step further and do a research project on behavioural changes. Can festivals and events actually change people’s way of living for the remaining days of the year?  Of course we can’t measure that but we’re trying.

The environmental benefits turn into economic benefits for the city as well.  Some cities might be hesitant to collaborate with a festival but you’ve shown the economic benefits of running a green festival.

It’s a little bit like the thing with the flights I was talking about earlier because you can’t completely measure all of the impacts.  A lot of the audience is from Oslo and we work with a lot of local venues, during the festival they have the highest turnaround all year, so it’s not just the audience coming to our festival, it’s also people going out to the city afterwards to eat and drink and go to concerts.  There’s a big impact there.

Since we serve only organic food, a lot of people worry about the costs, but I think it’s the same thing as the bands we book.  Do you want to book Queens of the Stone Age to headline or do you want to hire a band that costs 30% less and is not as good?  We want the best bands and the best food so we’ll pay an extra 10% for cauliflower but it’s a huge part of our brand and what we believe in.  Our booking manager doesn’t book the bands on sale, he books the bands that fit our festivals and that’s the same thing with our spending on environmental issues.  It’s so much a part of who we are.

Our toilet waste is going back to district heating, there’s something like 100,000 litres of toilet waste each year, which is almost exactly the same amount of beer we are selling (laughs).  Our toilet waste goes to district heating and it helps warm up a lot of the houses in Oslo and also helps warm up a lot of the water in Oslo, so if you’re taking a shower in your house and the water is warm it could be because it’s heated by the toilet waste from  Øya.  Of course not directly (laughs). We try to make sure everything is a part of the cycle.

This year we’ll have a bike parking area for the very first time. Last year it looked like this around the festival site. Photo: Erik Five Gunnerud

You’re actually starting a new job at Vinjerock, what can you tell me about that festival?

I’m in that lucky position where I have to leave a city that I absolutely love. I’ve lived here for almost 20 years, and I also have to leave a job that I love, so I’m a lucky bastard.  After this year’s Øya Festival I am moving to the mountains and I am bringing my dog, my dog is flabbergasted.  It’s actually my dog’s idea to move to the mountains.  I’m going to be working with a really small and quite new festival in Norway called Vinjerock, it’s placed in Jotunheimen, which is our largest national park.  It’s a music festival but it’s also an outdoors festival, so during the day there are nature hikes and lectures on outdoor experiences and at nighttime there are bands, mostly Norwegian and Swedish bands so far. I’m really excited to get to work with the national park and to combine that with working for a festival.

The festival also has a non-profit image and wants to work on sustainability issues.  The capacity is only for 3000 people because it’s in a national park and people are camping you can’t really go Coachella there because it would be too damaging for the nature.  It’s going to be hugely exciting.  It’s a dream job.  The festival started in July, it’s now the most popular music event in Norway, I think they sold out in 10 seconds.  For the last couple years it’s been impossible to get tickets, so I guess the only way I’ll get into the festival is to become the festival manager.

It’s very convenient to sit in the comfort of Oslo and talk about sustainability, organic kale and the importance of nature. Moving to Vang in the mountains will give me a lot of new inputs on the more practical aspect of my environmental concern. How much snow will we get this winter, how cold will it be, when will it melt and what measures do we have to take to protect our festival site in Jotunheimen are some of the issues which will affect my upcoming everyday life. I love watching nature documentaries and reading books like Wild Ones by Jon Mooallem. With this new job I can spend the time actually being in the nature, instead of just consuming it through TV or books. I’m really excited about that.

Do you have any final advice?

It may sounds silly, but for me it have always worked to be tough but with a lot of heart. Especially in the music and media business there’s always to much talk and not enough action. I hate gimmicks and PR stunts with no content. Try to work with projects that is actually moving this world forward, either artistically or environmentally. Maybe it’s actually the hipsters that are the greatest threat these days? The constant search for something new is not really that sustainable.

You just have to be willing to learn and learn and learn and never be satisfied with the position you have or where you are.  You have to do a lot of reading and you have to meet a lot of people.  It’s obvious answers of course, but you really have to mean it.  A big part of my job has been to be a bullshit detector when it comes to marketing and events I really really hate gimmicks.  You have to have content and you have to mean it, otherwise the audience will always see through it.  Be serious and be strict about it and mean it, of course.

A Green Look at Oya Festival 2013

Date: May 26, 2014 • Category:
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