From Seed to Song: Lindsay Stevens Gardner ’89

This USM alumna turned her vision for an environmentally friendly music festival into a reality.

“I’ve always been really into the environment and the outdoors,” said Lindsay Stevens Gardner ’89. At 15 I decided to become a vegetarian, and my parents started to wonder where I came from,” she joked. So it makes sense that her passion for conservation and sustainability would eventually grow into something big.

She started her career at a record label in Boulder, Colorado, and segued into lifestyle marketing after moving to San Francisco. While producing hundreds of large-scale tours and festivals around the country, Stevens Gardner saw their environmental impact first hand. “Events generate a tremendous amount of waste, and when they are over there is a massive mess to clean up—dumpsters filled with food scraps, tchotchkes, you name it,” she said. She wanted to create a festival that was different: one that “greened” every aspect and made conscious production decisions to minimize energy needs and waste.

It’s amazing to be able to show my kids that you can start something from nothing.

The seed was planted, and in 2003 Stevens Gardner and her family moved to Milwaukee. “I was still producing events, but in the back of my head I had this idea to create a near-zero waste music festival at Veterans Park.” She envisioned the festival to be an example and an educational opportunity for communities and music fans. In 2008 she put plans for Rock the Green, Milwaukee’s first eco-friendly music festival, down on paper.

Lindsay Stevens Gardner back stage with Imagine Dragons at Rock the Green 2012.

Stevens Gardner met with just about everybody she could, including then-county executive Scott Walker, Badger Meter CEO Rich Meeusen, Greater Milwaukee Committee’s Julia Taylor and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, to generate backing from key dignitaries and business leaders in the community. After countless meetings, the first Rock the Green festival was held in 2011 in Veterans Park.

While the event has grown with subsequent sustainability festivals and Earth Day celebrations, its environmental footprint has shrunk through the use of pedal- and solar-powered stages, generators powered with bio-diesel fuel, free water-filling stations for reusable water bottles, compostable utensils, paperless ticketing, and food from local, sustainable vendors. Stevens Gardner worked with Goodwill to repurpose their gently used t-shirts into concert merchandise t-shirts, and even used commercial-grade garbage disposals from InSinkErator® to grind up food scraps that the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District recycled into Milorganite organic fertilizer. Rock the Green was named one of the greenest music festivals in the world by the UK-based A Greener Festival organization.

You might have just a seed of an idea, but if you stick with it, you can be succesful and make an impact.

“The goal of the sustainability festival is to have eco-education on site, but presented in an engaging way. Learning about sustainability and conservation is more fun if you can throw in world-class bands, a little beer, and great food,” said Stevens Gardner. Over the years, bands have included Imagine Dragons, Fitz & the Tantrums, The Fray, Third Eye Blind, Ben Folds, Lord Huron, Metric, Atlas Genius, Robert DeLong, and more.

Stevens Gardner credits her USM experience with helping to build her confidence. “At USM, I found my outlet in sports. It’s where I thrived,” she said. “In addition, the teachers were accessible. Mr. [Carl] John was my favorite teacher; he would give me extra help whenever I needed it and was always there to lend a helping hand.” Now, with two of her four children enrolled at USM, she loves how the school incorporates outdoor education into the curriculum.

Ultimately, though, she is happy to serve as a role model for her children. “It’s amazing to be able to show my kids that you can start something from nothing. You might have just a seed of an idea, but if you stick with it, you can be successful and make an impact.”


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