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How We Could Make Clubs in Berlin More Sustainable

Poor, sexy, sustainable.

This piece is a collaboration between Jack McGovan of Delta S and Plan A. All of the illustrations are created by Plan A.

To say that Berlin is known for its club scene is probably an understatement. When deciding that I wanted to move here, the nightlife was certainly an attractive feature for me and – as it turns out – I’m not alone. According to a 2018 study, the scene is responsible for bringing 3 million people to the city each year who contribute €1.5 billion in tourism revenue to the economy; not taking into account that’s only for the legal businesses. Although not all clubs are as equally welcoming of tourists, the general atmosphere is one of acceptance, with many clubs taking clear political stances against the many forms of hate which exist in our world.

So, what’s the downside? Well, despite the many positive benefits, clubs aren’t the most sustainable places in the world: an average sized club uses in one weekend the same amount of energy as a normal household needs for an entire year. In order to remain an integral part of life in Berlin, clubs have a large part to play in the move to a sustainable world. Luckily, we only need to take one look at the history of the city to see that a lot can change in a few decades. It only begs the question, based on what we know today, how might our clubs look in the future?

Outside appearances

Well, we know one thing for certain: there’s always going to be a 40-minute wait. At the back of the queue, you’d get a good shot of the facade of the building, which I presume would be layered with solar panels. Perhaps they’d have retracted during the night, to form different shapes, adding a certain aesthetic to the night.

Berlin clubbing sustainable

Fanny packs will still be a thing (Credit Plan A)

Slowly moving forward, you turn around, a flash of fanny packs pass by your eyes; at this point, the Sternis are reaching their full potential. What you didn’t notice at your first glance, is those particular fanny packs are sustainably sourced. Better yet, they’ve been passed down through the generations of techno dancers.

Finally, you reach the front. A quick scan by the bouncers. Stickers on your front, back, side and 3D camera. You’re in.

Energy generating dancefloors in clubs

As you approach the next logical step in your night – the bar – you march across the dancefloor. With each step you take, you begin to notice that your steps and those of the crowd match with the tempo of the light show. Is this a coincidence?

In fact, an example of this already exists in Rotterdam at Club Watt. The technology is called piezoelectric energy harvesting. Like most words and symbols in science, piezoelectric has roots in the Greek language, with ‘piezo’ meaning ‘to push’. Essentially, piezoelectric materials produce electricity when put under pressure. The addition of pressure disrupts the lattice structure of the material causing a charge imbalance – where one section of the material has more positive charge and another negative, as opposed to the evenly spread charges in the undisturbed structure.

This charge imbalance creates a potential difference and subsequently a small electric current. Piezoelectric technology is currently used in sonar technology and in ignitions for gas-powered appliances, with the piezoelectric effect even being present in our bones and DNA.

However, there are a few reasons why such technology isn’t currently widespread. For one, it’s very expensive. Otherwise, the best piezoelectric materials contain lead and are therefore quite toxic. Not only this but installing such materials would require large renovations, meaning clubs would be closed for significant periods of time.

Berlin clubs use at least one year’s worth of drinking water for flushing toilets

A few beers later you walk, mesmerised by the light show in the direction of the toilet. Given that this would be Germany, you stand patiently in line waiting your turn. From there, you hear a lot of people sniffling in the toilets, wondering why everyone is so upset as you’re having such a great time. As you wait and wait, your gaze wanders to the sinks where your eyes focus on a sign: ‘ACHTUNG: KEIN TRINKWASSER‘.

Trinkwasser in klubs

Water has become a rare commodity (Credit: Plan A)

Although 92% of water is used for agriculture or in industry, combating the amount of water consumed in clubs is still a problem which needs to be addressed. According to Die Pop im Kiez Toolbox, ~691,200 litres of drinking water are used for flushing toilets by an average club per year. If we say each human was to drink 2 litres of water a day on average, that’s enough drinking water for 345,600 people per year. Given that there are more than 10 clubs of this size in Berlin, clubs flush at least the equivalent amount of a year’s worth of drinking water for the whole population of the city per year, if not more. By using a rainwater collection system, this amount of water could be significantly reduced.

Read also: How is Berlin nightlife preparing to the sustainable transition?

However, there are already some examples of clubs tackling the issue of water waste. For example, Surya in London has waterless urinals, low flush toilets and automatic taps. In addition, Temple in San Francisco also have these low flush toilets, not to mention they also use corn cups and straws for their drinks; though not really related to water, corn crockery is worth a mention.

Energy storage technologies in commercial buildings

Stumbling out of the toilet relieved – not only because you didn’t waste any water, but also for that other reason – you make your way to a quiet corner, to escape the noise and relax for a minute. You set yourself up in a comfortable seat, surrounded by people deep into their cuddles and conversations. As you talk excitedly about the rainwater collection system you found in the toilets, the person you’re talking to points in the direction of a closed-door while they begin to tell you the tale of what lies behind it, you scuttle slowly to the edge of your seat.

One of the biggest hurdles in moving to a system of sustainable energy is the intermittent availability – solar and wind aren’t constantly available. For this reason, energy storage technologies will become more and more important in the future. The problem is that the lithium batteries we currently use in our mobile devices and whatnot, become much more dangerous on a larger scale. Not only this, but they also can’t store energy for long periods; though this is perhaps not much of an issue for a club. In fact, the aforementioned club Surya already generates the energy it needs from renewables: 60% comes from the piezoelectric dancefloor, the rest from the club’s very own wind turbine and solar energy system. Any excess energy is used to power private homes in the area.

Some potential solutions to energy storage are thermal storage (trapping heat underground), mechanical storage (using gravitational forces to store the energy) and hydrogen storage (electrolysis of water to give hydrogen). However, whether these technologies are appropriate for a commercial building is another question. With a mixture of cost, safety and space, this is likely to be one of the harder hurdles to cross in bringing these clubs into the future.

Sustainable clubs should protect the health of clubgoers through drug safety measures

Having developed a gust of second wind from talking about all the sustainable contraptions in the club, you find yourself again on the energy-generating dancefloor. You make your way to the front as the light show resembles something more like fireworks, courtesy of your favourite DJ. They make the transition into a new track with the help of the latest technology, creating sounds which are almost too euphoric for the human mind to comprehend. You see someone who clearly has consumed something other than alcohol looking a little unwell. Being such an upstanding citizen, you take them to the health centre you saw by the entrance.

Dancing for electricity

People who know know. Dancing has always created more energy (Credit: Plan A)

Recreational drugs have been a part of club culture since clubs have emerged. Whether it’s alcohol, cigarettes, weed or something harder, by going to a club you’re always exposed to different smells and sights. However, the illegality of certain substances can lead to many dangerous situations, as the consumer doesn’t know what they’re taking, nor can they be sure of the concentration. One solution to this problem – aside from legalising drugs – can be found in the Netherlands. There, you are legally allowed to have your drugs tested so that you can find out exactly what it is that you’re putting in your body. Regardless of the way we move forward with this issue, protecting the health of drug users is intrinsically linked with creating clubs for the future.

Creative solutions help make clubs more sustainable

Finally, after dancing till you couldn’t dance anymore, you leave the club in the company of the morning sun, where the solar panels are out and working hard to generate electricity to keep the party going.

Having explored a variety of options of how our clubs might function in the future, it shows the creativity that can come with the implementation of sustainable technologies. Though it goes deeper still. For example, if we still live in the same economic system which values profit above all else, perhaps DJs will get paid commission depending on how much energy their crowd generates, further motivating them to put on a good show. Or, the most likely scenario, all of our clubs will end up being replaced by motorways.

As someone who enjoys visiting a club every now and then, it has been important to accept that this part of my life is not as sustainable as it could be. Perhaps now is the time for us all to demand that our favourite venues take more affirmative action to reduce their environmental impacts. Or maybe, just maybe, we’ll have to take our dancing shoes elsewhere.

This piece is a collaboration between Jack McGovan of Delta S and Plan A. All of the illustrations are created by Plan A.

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