Berlin is the second greenest European capital after Vienna. It has hundreds of parks, gardens and forests that make it green in the literal sense of the word, and its residents' obsession with an eco-friendly lifestyle has become a trademark of the city. Another trademark of Berlin is its nightlife, which is always buzzing with more than 300 bars and clubs. Yet the traditional party life is not always environmentally conscious. Quite the opposite, in fact – a medium-sized club uses around 1000 kWh of electricity every weekend, which is the amount an average household consumes in an entire year. Berlin's parties also emit about 30 tons of carbon dioxide per year, not including the energy needed to recycle the waste they produce. Today, several non-profit initiatives are determined to make Berlin the first city in the world with completely climate-neutral nightclubs.
The gay club ShwuZ – the oldest gay club in Berlin
he German capital is renowned for its green city government. In 2018, the local senate's environment, transport and climate protection department adopted the Berlin Energy and Climate Protection Program 2030 (known as BEK 2030), which has a dedicated budget set aside to help out the capital's nightlife in its efforts to reach climate neutrality. One of the incentives is the creation of the Berlin Green Club label for venues that meet the program's guidelines. The effort is supplemented by the Clubtopia project, which was founded in 2019. Its goal is to make the Berlin club scene more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Clubtopia provides completely free comprehensive energy training, seminars and consultations on club management and event management. Within the framework of the project, the so-called Green Guide for Clubs was published, which contains advice on how club owners can optimize their operations. For example, glass-front refrigerators may look attractive behind the bar, but they can be replaced with more energy efficient models. And buying craft beer from the many microbreweries based in Berlin reduces the harmful emissions created by transporting the beverage from other parts of the country while also promoting local production.
However, the idea of turning Berlin's clubs into climate-neutral businesses did not originate with the local city government. The non-profit initiative Clubmob, founded in 2011, also offers free consultations and has already helped several Berlin clubs become greener. Clubmob analyzes the power consumption of the club, takes into account many other factors such as lighting, insulation, air-conditioning installations, and draws up a plan to reduce costs. It also organizes parties to fund these renovations, while also introducing clubgoers to the issue of sustainability in the Berlin club scene.
Inspecting club ShwuZ before making recommendations for its optimization. / Photographer: Karoline Kohle
Most Berlin clubs today are directing their efforts at reducing energy consumption. They are being fitted with new, more efficient glass and solar panels, and some are investing in more innovative ideas such as floors that capture energy from the dancing patrons and convert it into electricity. As a result of these efforts, fourteen clubs certified with the Berlin Green Club label have implemented some of these measures and have saved a total of 220,000 kWh of electricity in one year, which amounts to around 51,000 euros in savings. Of course, the reduction in energy consumption doesn't mean that clubgoers are having a worse experience.
Katrine Gregersen, an employee of the non-governmental organization BUND Berlin Friends of the Earth Germany and an activist at Clubtopia, claims that the climate neutrality or energy efficiency of Berlin's clubs does not mean there is less light, less music or less fun to be found. According to her, there are many things a club can do that won't affect the visitor experience at all. One of the most important things is changing the electricity provider. Clubtopia has a list of suppliers that are completely green. In most cases, the energy they offer is cheaper than that of standard providers. Clubtopia also helps club owners get government funding and reduce their own investment in club upgrages.
The seminar "Sustainable (re)building of clubs" with Urban Design Thinking, an initiative of Clubcommission Berlin. Photographer: Karoline Kohle
Among the clubs actively participating in the Clubtopia initiative are Rummels Bucht, Suicide Circus, YAAM and SchwuZ – the oldest gay club in Berlin, which opened its doors way back in 1977. For now, the project's efforts are focused on the Berlin club scene, because the organization is funded by the Berlin Senate. But clubs in other German cities such as Hamburg, Leipzig and Bremen are also showing interest in their activities. Last year, Clubtopia achieved international renown by winning the Creative Cities Challenge award. This will allow the organization to exchange know-how with other major cities such as London, Paris and New York, which are actively working to reduce carbon emissions in their nightclubs.
In 2016, the Berlin Senate pledged to make the city climate neutral by 2050. This means that the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions had to be reduced by at least 40% by 2020, by at least 60% by 2030, and by at least 85% by 2050 compared to baseline 1990 levels. Berlin has already met the first target ahead of schedule, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 41.1%. It remains to be seen whether the German capital will successfully meet the remaining deadlines. There are many initiatives working towards this goal. For example, in February 2021, the non-governmental organization AutoFrei Berlin proposed that the 88 km2 zone enclosed by Berlin's overground subway, the S-Bahn, become a car-free space. If the Berlin Senate had accepted this proposal, the German capital would have become the largest car-free urban area on the planet. Reducing the carbon emissions of Berlin's clubs is a seemingly small, yet important part of this effort. Hailed as the birthplace of European techno music, Berlin's music scene has always been more than just a place for entertainment. It is a vibrant creative space with the potential to influence public causes and an integral part of the city's culture that drives social change.