Light clubbing?

Green issues rarely seem half as interesting as a night out. But what if the two were combined? Dan Hancox investigates sustainable nightlife, from recycled food to solar-powered clubs.

Most peoples’ ideas about sustainable consumption focus on the little things in our day-to-day lives: installing energy-saving light bulbs, recycling food packaging, and so on. But what about when we leave these kind of green micro-tasks to go out for the evening? Most of us tend to abandon our environmental concerns at home with the bills and household chores. In a way this semi-green lifestyle is understandable – after all, who wants to think about the environment when they’re standing at a bar, drink in hand? – but it has to change.

Take the average nightclub or bar. Lighting set-ups and sound-systems alone require colossal amounts of power, meaning that night-clubbing is probably one of the most environmentally destructive activities there is, as this article in the UK’s Independent newspaper reports:

“An average-size club, open three nights a week, consumes 150 times the energy [of] a four-person family.”

The most challenging aspect of making nightlife sustainable is that the two ideas seem to contradict each other. “Nightlife” sounds like fun, freedom, and escapism, while “sustainability” sounds like a boring set of rules and regulations – rules which we don’t mind applying in our prosaic day-to-day lives, but which don’t crop up very often after about 7pm.

So how do you get around this problem? The trick is to make the idea of sustainable nightlife cool, and in this regard the Dutch organisation Sustainable Dance Club (SDC) are out on their own. SDC consist of two main partners, the innovative green enterprise group Enviu and their architectural partners Döll; between the two of them they are determined to spread the message that eco-clubbing is the future. Döll architect Alijd van Doorn explained in The Guardian how a bit of imagination could transform the traditional energy-guzzling nightclub, describing some of the highlights of their new mobile dancefloor:

“[we have] intelligent LED lighting systems, rainwater-flush toilets, a water purification system to turn urine into drinking water [a system developed specifically for the project], a cafe using recycled food [they use leftovers from the previous night to make vegetarian-friendly burgers and stir fries] and an electricity-generating dancefloor, whereby the more people dance, the more energy they produce." 

At another Dutch club, “Worm”, the walls are made from recycled estate agents’ boards, the toilets from oil drums and the door handles from bicycle handlebars. The seats in their attached cinema are taken from disused Volkswagen Passats – and are therefore considerably more comfy than your average theatre! This sense that nothing is beyond recycling or re-use is another idea at the heart of the Sustainable Dance Club’s philosophy, but at the moment their work is all too rare.

One other beacon in the darkness is the Butterfly Social Club in Chicago in the United States. This club has been making a name for itself with an inspired range of sustainable energy resources: as well as solar energy and high-efficiency lights and amplifiers there is also a bike in the club’s front window that provides kinetic energy – assuming someone’s riding it of course. Once again recycling was integral from the outset: “we built the bar out of waste products, ultimately: mud, straw, and sand.” owner Mark Klemen explained to a local TV news crew. 

Bars made of mud? Drinking water made from urine? Bicycle-powered glitterballs? Something to think about next time you’re strutting your stuff on the dancefloor…

Dan Hancox is a London-based journalist and blogger, writing for The Guardian, New Statesman, The Word, and a variety of music

Homepage photo by Winter’s glam