Many Hands: Meeting Burning Man’s Sustainability Goals, One Project at a Time

The nonprofit Burning Man Project collaborates with the community to build Black Rock City, and works year-round to nurture the global Burning Man movement. We can’t do any of this without YOU. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation in support of our work building a more creative, connected, and resilient world.

Whether in Black Rock City or at home, implementing sustainable practices to reduce our environmental impact will require participation from every one of us — collectively summoning our curiosity, creativity and hands-on dedication to change the way humanity lives on this planet.

Black Rock citizens and the global Burning Man community are already voices of inspiration and agents of change as we learn together and adapt as we go along. In Black Rock City in 2023, we saw incredible progress towards sustainability:

And this is just the beginning. The ephemeral communities we create together offer up endless opportunities to experiment and learn, resulting in solutions that travel far beyond our community projects.

Our ambitious 2030 sustainability goals to Handle Waste Ecologically, Be Regenerative and Be Carbon Negative become attainable when Burners collectively take on smaller parts of the big picture. Read on to learn about three multi-year sustainability projects that are having a powerful impact in Black Rock City and beyond.

Kat Nadel: Implementing City-wide Composting in Black Rock City

Kat Nadel atop a mountain of compost (Photo courtesy of IDEATE)

Have you collected and dried out your camp’s food waste, gathered it up into plastic pails and dragged or ridden it over to IDEATE? It’s more than a drop-off site, it’s an educational moment. While you’re there, volunteers will ask you to sort through your waste to remove odds and ends such as fruit labels and elastics, and they may teach you other inspiring nuggets of wisdom, too. It feels good, doesn’t it? Knowing you made an extra effort to recoup your compost and bring it somewhere it will be appreciated? Also, bringing your compost to IDEATE saves you from hauling stinky bags of trash back home with you.

IDEATE’s Compost Program was the brainchild of Kat Nadel, and she has led the project since its inception. In 2014 IDEATE was already composting its own food waste. She had the audacity to ask: “What if we were to collect other people’s compost?”

“I remember saying that out loud, and then getting called into a room with six men all who said, ‘Kat, are you crazy? Here are all the reasons why it’s not going to work…’ I took it as an opportunity to hear their concerns as feedback and as leverage on the important things to pay attention to in order to make it work.”

“Our first year was an incredible success. We had a ton of participation, and we just learned a lot. So that was 2015, and we’ve been going ever since.”

“This year we collected about 5,000 gallons, so that’s roughly 25 cubic yards of compost. 400 camps were registered. That ended up being about 16,000 people.”

“One of the main goals is education on not just how you can reduce food waste on playa, but how you can also do that in your own cities. It’s been such a great opportunity for me to teach people how to compost in cities that don’t have municipal composting. When people come to sift through and drop off their compost, we have these conversations… People are so gung-ho about it. It has been really inspiring.”

And where does all that compost go? IDEATE rents dumpsters, and hauls it to a local composting facility. “We have been working with a father-son business in Carson City. Nevada doesn’t have municipal composting, so they’re the only composting business being run in Nevada right now. We pay them to take our compost and process it, and then they can in turn sell that to the public.”

“There’s an opportunity here with the Burning Man event to utilize it as a platform for people to learn about sustainability and what that looks like both at the event and outside of it.” – Kat Nadel, IDEATE Compost Program lead

What does the future of the IDEATE Compost Program look like?

In order for the program to grow and meet its awesome potential, Kat needs some extra hands to help with communications in 2024. What’s more, she’d love it if a couple of like-minded camps in the 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00 sectors offered to be compost collection points. If this sounds like your kind of thing, email Kat at

Liz Creme: Organizing a Quarterly Beach Clean-up, Burner Style

Liz Creme at her BWB Chapter’s adopted beach (Photo courtesy of BWB Corpus Christi)

Liz Creme is co-founder of Burners Without Borders (BWB) in Corpus Christi, Texas, and lead instigator for the Burner Beach Project — a quarterly beach cleanup and community campout. Since 2015, Liz and her community have been stewards of a 6.7 mile stretch of beach, which they adopted through the General Land Office. Four times every year the community gathers on their adopted beach, camps and celebrates as only Burners can, then gets up the next morning and cleans up the beach.

“The agreement with the General Land Office is three cleanups a year, but we do four,” Liz explained. “The one in the summer, which we call Beachside, is our largest. That’s the one when we will have anywhere from 150 to 200 people come down from all over. We camp out for the weekend. Sometimes we have an effigy, sometimes not. We do the cleanup on Saturday morning and then have our burn event on Saturday night.”

Over the years, the Burner Beach Project has become a magnet for the Corpus Christi community, which doesn’t have access to many community spaces and events. “We don’t have as much going on down here, so we’re like, ‘All right, weirdos, if you want to get weird on the beach, come pick up some trash first and then we can do that.’ I think it has reminded folks that there’s more to this community than just a party in the desert or party in the woods or a party on the beach.

“I’m proud of building the community. I’m proud that the people that I like to hang out with do that kind of stuff too. I like that I’ve cultivated this world for myself, by doing good and hanging out with people who like to do good stuff.”

The Off Fossil Fuels Team: Tackling Emissions in Black Rock City

George B. Reed III and Matthew Deluge participate in a Renewables for Artists Team (RAT) sustainability talk at the Man. (Photo by Scott Williams)

It was a pivotal year for our sustainability efforts, showcasing exciting results emerging from two years of heroic work by Black Rock City staff and the community to meet the goals laid out by Burning Man’s 2030 Sustainability Roadmap

George B. Reed III, Matthew Deluge and the dedicated Off Fossil Fuels (OFF) team have been busy testing renewable fuels and implementing solar technology to transition Black Rock City and our Northern Nevada properties off fossil fuels. Here are just a few of many projects that came to life in Black Rock City 2023 as a result of their work:

  • We reduced our power-related fossil fuel use by ~25% through improved grid design and the introduction of battery-coupled generators.
  • We deployed and tested a variety of mobile solar prototypes, powering the Man Pavillion, the Temple, Center Camp, Gate, Department of Mutant Vehicles and Ranger Outpost Zero, along with 19 art installations.
  • We began the testing of renewable fuels and electric vehicles for our infrastructure and fleet needs.
  • We assembled a full-time team of industry leaders, including a data scientist to support implementation of sustainability initiatives and report on our emissions.

While solar is foundational to their current work, Matthew recognizes that community outreach and education is critical. “Now solar is kind of the footnote to all these other things we’re doing to try and track and comprehend, such as mitigating our consumption or transferring it into some other type of energy, for example, composting. We’ll see more solar going forward. But really, the main thing I think that we’re going to focus on is outreach.”

George believes in our community’s capacity to innovate and inspire hope in the face of the seemingly insurmountable challenge of climate change. “Burners are experts in looking at big problems, identifying the thousands of little challenges that emerge, and solving them together in one of the most unique environments on earth — together in this dusty incubator we call Black Rock City. If all Burners bring this ethos back out into the world — that will ultimately be where the real impact happens. And we can have some fun while we are at it.”

For an in-depth conversation about Burning Man’s ongoing work to get Off Fossil Fuels, listen to George Reed: Invisible MOOP and the Net-Zero on the Burning Man LIVE podcast.

This work is well underway, and gaining momentum. To learn more, watch our Year Four Sustainability Update, and learn about the amazing work by groups such as the Alternative Energy Zone and Black Rock Labs.

YOU Can Do It Too

Where can YOU start?

Whether it’s composting a city’s food waste, cleaning up a local beach, or taking Black Rock City Off Fossil Fuels, each story highlights a Burner with vision who brought people together to accomplish some pretty amazing sustainability goals. What’s YOUR vision? Whether in Black Rock City, your Regional Event or community, or in your neighborhood, you have endless potential to start small and organize your community to bring about big change.

Cover image of “Elder Mother” by Charles Gadeken, 2023 (Photo by Jamen Percy)

About the author: Kirsten Weisenburger

Kirsten Weisenburger

Misadventures led Kirsten Weisenburger (aka kbot) to Black Rock City in 2004. She was captivated and hoodwinked into organizing theme camps, rangering and participating in Regional Events. As Communications Strategist, Kirsten works across the organization and global community gathering stories and writing for the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks, and the annual Dispatch. She went to journalism school in the 1990s and then spent two decades at startups and digital agencies.

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