“We’re very good at engineering,” Antoine Palmer told us in the season finale of Renewable Season One. Sitting on the grounds of Sustainival, an all renewable carnival event that uses food and fun to spark conversations around sustainability, we chatted as a biofuel powered food stand laced the air with the smell of mini donuts.
The big idea behind Sustainival, which runs this year in Edmonton from June 7 to 10, is reframing how families, and most importantly kids, think about sustainability. From a giant ferris wheel to a corn dog stand; seeing machines rumbling along, powered by a renewable energy source, can shift how we understand energy use. The carnival supplements these with signs and installations that unpack how the energy sources work, mostly solar and biodiesel, all in a kid friendly way. Getting people thinking about renewable energy as a capable and accessible choice when they’re young, reframes how they’ll think about it when they’re older. And it’s here that Sustainival takes on a unique role in Alberta.
Because Sustainival isn’t just about sparking ideas for the future, it’s also about reminding us of the potential we have right now. That means there are two conversations happening on the fairgrounds of this bustling carnival: one for the kids and one for the parents. One about fun and sustainability and one about energy and a changing industry. And those conversations are sparked in two entirely different ways.
For kids, it’s the Green Beast Challenge. An interactive scavenger hunt targeted towards the kids, families, and field trips that visit Sustainival, the Challenge takes the basic beats of an “Amazing Race” style competition and reframes them around sustainability. The contest gets kids moving through the park with the larger theme of sustainability in mind, looking for the challenges Mascot — the Green Beast — as they make their way over the sprawling grounds of the carnival.
Clues hidden around the fairgrounds, at stalls, and even on rides, pull participants through a sequence of stops that build their understanding of the technology that powers the park. Complete your puzzle and you’re eligible to win prizes. So beyond the rides and the food and prizes, kids walk away stewing on big ideas about sustainability. A question becomes a conversation, and the ride home becomes a learning opportunity for everyone.
It’s these conversations and ideas that are at the heart of Sustainival. A corn dog stand powered by biodiesel can spark a discussion about energy from under the earth’s crust. A rollercoaster can get you thinking about transferring skills from fossil fuel to renewables. And most importantly, a child learning about alternative energy during a fun day at the carnival can open up a conversation amongst the entire family.
“It’s about taking what might be a big, daunting conversation, and boiling it down to mini donuts.” Antoine shouted over the merry-go-round blasting music behind him. And whether that drive to compete and improve and reduce spurs biofuel development or sustainably powered carnivals or conversations around the dinner table, it’s a drive we ought to follow.