Milan Meyberg (DGTL) on why we need utopian thinking to provoke social transformation.
The position Milan Meyberg (31) occupies at DGTL doesn’t really have a name yet. His official job title is ‘revolution manager.’ This seems befitting, since DGTL is currently spearheading a revolutionary sustainability transformation in the festival industry. Not that they’re the first or the only organization to put this hot topic on the agenda. But with the introduction of the ECO Coin and their target to become the world’s first circular festival in 2020, DGTL is definitely calling the shots. Milan feels the time of creating awareness is over. “We need to act now, and festivals are in a position to influence people’s attitudes.”
Written by Aron Friedman
TSOH: You’re a revolution manager at DGTL. Can you tell us how you got to this point in your career and what the job entails?
Milan: “I started organizing parties fifteen years ago. I studied Electronic Music and Event & Festival Management at the Academy for Popular Culture in Leeuwarden (NL). From that moment on, I’ve always been interested in sustainability. It would frequently come up in my event concepts. At DGTL, I really get to implement it into everything I do. As a revolution manager, I focus on sustainability, innovation and technology, to make DGTL the most sustainable festival in the world.
“I’m in a position where I can experiment with all kinds of strange, out of the box ideas. For DGTL specifically, I’m working on our “Revolution Program”, but I’m also focusing on sustainability for the entire mother organization Apenkooi (who also organize STRAF_WERK and Pleinvrees). I think it’s important to mention that sustainability is a longer trajectory. There is never talk of a sustainability switch, always of a transition—that’s because it doesn’t come overnight.
“That said, on a day to day basis, I’m working on projects like smart power-supply plans for our events, making the transition from diesel to renewable energy sources. And I’m trying to facilitate a transition from a linear economy to a circular economy. This is a term you’re definitely going to hear a lot more in the near future. It’s all about making the transition from a linear “consumption-economy” to a circular “use-economy”.
“With DGTL, we’re trying to be on the forefront of that change. When people think of sustainability, they usually think of energy and waste. But the most important part of my job is to help the shift at Apenkooi from waste-based thinking to resource-based thinking. We’re trying out all those concepts at DGTL. It’s like our testing ground. And we’ll need those tests too, if we are to achieve our goal of becoming the first circular festival in 2020.”
Can you explain what a circular festival is?
Milan: “You should see it this way: in a circular festival, waste doesn’t exist anymore. You’re only talking about resources. The resources are moving through your system. You’ve got your input and output. And you can view DGTL as a small temporary town, with 45,000 people living on that ground for a couple of days—with all the opportunities and consequences that come with the territory. How are you going to supply those people with energy? How are you going to provide healthy food for them? How do you handle their “waste”? I’m monitoring all those cycles, to see what it is we need to become circular three years from now.”
Why should a festival be the place to initiate the sustainability revolution?
Milan: “First of all, I think everyone should be concerned with sustainability. If we don’t get our act together, all our resources will be drained and we’ll see massive negative changes in both climate and society. Why festivals? Because festivals are a reflection of society, and of the Zeitgeist. Take the food you see at festivals; more and more, junk food is being replaced by organic food. Festivals play an exemplary role for many young people.
“Imagine going to a festival like DGTL, where you see people working really hard to keep everything clean and green. You don’t see any trash on the floor or anywhere else on the festival grounds. All the food served is organic and vegetarian. The entire festival is powered by green energy. It suddenly can become cool to make these lifestyle choices. Together with other festivals, we can reach millions of young people and inspire them to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. This is the greatest motivation for me to be doing what I’m doing.”
But if you really want to make a change, doesn’t it make more sense to get into politics?
Milan: “Politics don’t speak to young people like festivals do. There, a bunch of guys in their fifties telling people in their twenties how to change their habits, without offering any real vision or solutions. Politicians are hopelessly lagging behind when it comes to sustainability. For instance, the municipality of Amsterdam is putting together their new event policy for 2020. By then, it only wants to support sustainable events and festivals, but they can’t tell us how. This is all all empty rhetoric.
“So the festivals are the ones who are trying to figure out how to make that happen. Luckily, the municipality is offering room for experiment, and its different departments welcome collaboration. They are also watching us closely, because the problems that arise in a weekend at a festival, and how we deal with them in creative ways, is a precedent for the way the city itself can cope with these issues. Topics like waste management and power efficiency are as important to the city as they are to us.”
To get back to the circular economy: you’ve launched a new currency last spring at DGTL. What’s the idea behind it?
Milan: “In order to become circular, we’ve launched a new currency called the ECO Coin. We’re checking out how we can motivate people to behave more sustainable. We’re using the festival to investigate the introduction of this new coin. Imagine a currency that rewards you for sustainable behaviour. You get paid when you do something that promotes sustainability, and with that money, you can buy sustainable products or services. Imagine an entirely new system like that evolving besides our current monetary system (check out the movie below).”
Why should this be an entirely different system, and how do you keep people from abusing it?
Milan: “A circular economy differs so strongly from a linear one, that these two systems are simply incompatible. Therefore, we’ll have to build it next to the current linear system and develop it to the point it will become economically competitive. Then it will take the lead, and provide the opportunity to implentement a new currency system. The world is in desperate need of a new, much more stable currency. Valuta like the dollar and the euro are far too unstable and volatile, subject to manipulation and inflation, and do not balance economy and ecology.
“An important check to make sure the ECO Coin isn’t abused, is that it devaluates once you sit on it for too long. This means you can’t mess up the system by accumulating stacks and stacks of coins. The quicker you bring them back into the system by spending them, the more they’re worth. Imagine that currency becoming an international phenomenon, and to know that it was tested for the first time at a festival.”
So, what happens after DGTL becomes fully sustainable in 2020?
Milan: “That’s when it starts to get really interesting. Everyone’s always talking about becoming sustainable. But what I’m truly interested in, is what happens afterwards. If DGTL becomes the world’s first fully sustainable festival in 2020, that means we’ll be the first regenerative festival in 2021. We’ll produce more energy than we use, clean the environment, or produce more food than we can eat. That’s fascinating, because if a festival can be regenerative, that means a village or a city can, too. There’s a tipping point: there comes a time when you’re producing more than you’re using. But you still need to take care of all the waste you’ve produced before.”
And when all that is taken care of? Is that when you reach the end of the game?
Milan: “Well, maybe that’s utopian thinking for now. But I feel we need utopian thinking to provoke social change. At some point, utopias become realities. The way we are living now, was a utopia for someone who lived in the Middle Ages. But for us, it’s just normal everyday living. Luckily, I see utopian thinking all around me. Ninety percent of the start-ups today aren’t just about making money, but are much more rooted in creating social impact and positive change. Social responsibility has become worth more in today’s society than just making money.”
Finally, what would you say to students and readers of The School of House who are inspired and also want to make a difference in this field?
Milan: “It’s tough. I’ve never heard someone tell me they studied to become a ‘revolution manager.’ My position here is quite unique. It should become normal that you put sustainability before commercial gain. But that’s not something you can change on your own within any organization. You have to find enough kindred spirits to make the change.
“To young talents who want to make a difference in this field, I’d say: try and find the organizations that already have sustainability on their agenda. Start writing letters of inquiry, and be sure to write in your motivation how important this topic is for you. If the sustainable companies acquire all the best talent, the others companies can only do only one of two things: either go down with all the others stuck in their old patterns, or step up their game and become part of the revolution.”
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