Imagine an event that draws close to 200,000 people to downtown Des Moines. Now imagine that same event, with that many attendees, without a carbon footprint and leaving no waste behind.


Organizers of the Des Moines Arts Festival hope to make this idea a reality after announcing their goal this week to become a zero-waste event by 2016. Members of the festival's sustainability committee have created a long-term plan that organizers hope will both eliminate the environmental impact of the Arts Festival and set an example for other events.


"One of our goals is to establish a model for a festival that could lead the way not only in Des Moines but in the Midwest," said Chaden Halfhill of Silent Rivers Design + Build and chair of the festival's sustainability committee. "To us, it's very important and we're very committed to it.


This year's Arts Festival takes place June 27-29 in Western Gateway Park in downtown Des Moines. While the end goal is to be zero-waste by 2016, many measures will be put into place this year to dramatically reduce waste. Festival-goers can look for custom-designed waste stations that separate recyclables from compostables, free bike valet service, designated water stations to fill reusable bottles and more.


Many of these sustainability efforts are not new to the festival. Last year, the event received the Gold Pinnacle Award for best recycling program from theInternational Festivals and Events Association. 


"Sustainability has always been a priority for the Arts Festival, but now we're taking a comprehensive approach to that because we want the festival to have as small of an impact on ecology as possible," Halfhill said.


A sustainability committee was formed prior to last year's event to look at the festival's carbon footprint. The goal was to explore what was being done and what could still be done to reduce the event's environmental impact. Organizers worked with key stakeholders, including the City of Des Moines, Drake University, Waste Management and others to create the long-range sustainability plan.


Halfhill said committee members looked to other events for inspiration, but the final plan was tailored specifically to the Des Moines Arts Festival.


"We had to be cognizant of the fact we couldn't just translate that model," Halfhill said. "You can look at patterns but you still have to identify the individual festival, the audience, the goals and craft a plan that fits your intent. You have to personalize it."


This year's festival will focus on composting and education, Halfhill said, as the latter could also prove to be the biggest challenge in reaching the zero-waste goal. Volunteers will be critical to educating Arts Festival patrons, he added.


"You can put signs up, but people may not know what it means," Halfhill said. "We'll be teaching people the difference, because it's not always clear if they're not used to doing things a certain way."


Arts Festival attendees who want to help reduce the event's environmental impact, shouldn't hesitate to ask questions and learn what kind of differences can be made, Halfhill said.


"That's part of this whole effort -- promoting self-accountability," Halfhill said. "Let's make sure we leave nothing behind because if we want to have these types of events, we need to know how to do so with minimal environmental impact."


For more information about the festival's sustainability efforts, visit the event'swebsite.