Sustainable Event Management – Club Surya

“We Have to Make Green Mainstream”

Any event starts with the venue. Central London offers the world’s first sustainable nightclub, Surya, that generates parts of its own electricity. Its owner Andrew Charalambous wants to spread green ideas among the masses.

A portrait by Tina Friedrich

Andrew Charalambous is dreaming of a world of conscious consumers (Photo: Edmonton Conservatives)

Andrew Charalambous is what you would call a character. He appears late for the interview, dresses his compact statue elegantly, refuses to be photographed. His staff talks about him with much respect and appreciation. They provide pictures on demand.

Charalambous is Edmonton’s Conservative MP Candidate for the British elections on May 6. He is also the founder of the Club4Climate initiative and owner of the world’s first sustainable night club Surya in London.

“Our objective with Club4Climate and Surya was to make it easier for people to be green,” he says.

“If you can make seven billion people on this earth partly conscious consumers, the benefit for the environment is far greater than if you get one thousand people to make huge sacrifices.” According to Charalambous, small changes to one’s everyday life make all the difference. “We have to make green mainstream.”

Wholistic Approach

The Edmonton Conservatives do not organize elections campaign events themselves but are invited to talk at other events. It is difficult to take their sustainability into account. If he was to organize his own event, Charalambous would “use recycled cups and glasses, recycled bottles, and of course, choose Surya as the venue.”

His philosophy is to tackle climate and environmental issues from a wholistic angle. “The thing about being green is also to be frugal. We have become very used to overconsumption. We should ask ourselves, am I using the car or taking a walk, do I take a taxi or the tube?” To be fair, these ideas are not new.

First Steps to a Sustainable Club

It is said Charalambous invested £ 1Mio. in the refurbishment of the building near King’s Cross Station. A lot of the materials used are recycled.

The bar is made of old mobile phones, the walls in the basement are covered with old CDs, lamps were created out of used ball pens and all timber is reclaimed.

“We recycle waste and rainwater, and use waterless urinals. They use a certain carbon system. Combined with low flush toilets and automatic taps, we save about 640 gallons of water per day,” Charalambous claims. “The centerpiece of the club is, of course, the dancefloor.”

How the Floor Works

When squeezed, piezocrystals underneath the floor generate power (Source: Youtube)

Below the wooden surface of the floor, there are so called piezocrystals. The boards allow movements of about 1cm up and down. Like that the crystels are squeezed, rub against each other and generate electrical charge.

Managing Director of Surya Paul Edwards likes to compare it to a car’s cigarette lighter. “The system is the same, very simple. Expensive, but simple.”

A team of engineers and scientists constructed the floor together with Charalambous. It should generate electricity by converting the movement of people into power. “We used ideas from the universities, but in the end, we did it ourselves. It was a question of trial and error,” Charalambous recalls.

See the floor in action:

Money and Power

Managing Director Pauls Edwards calls the floor system "expensive, but simple." (Photo: Tina Friedrich)

Neither Edwards nor Charalambous like to put a number to the costs of the floor.

“It was very expensive and it is not economically efficient,” Charalambous says. “Surya was not a purely economic venture, obviously. We did it to give food for thought.”

When the club opened in July 2008, he was looking forward to “generating surplus energy to power not only the club but also neighbouring properties,” reported the Times.

Today he says that on an “extremely busy” night, up to 60% of the club’s energy can be produced by the floor. The percentage depends on the number and weight of guests, and on the music – that is, the level of hits on the floor.

Other Energy Sources

Out of seven days only two can safely be assumed to be crowded (see story below).

On quiet nights, the power has to be substituted by other forms of energy. Surya has its own wind turbine and a solar system. Of course at night, solar panels are useless. Energy can be stored throughout the day by charging special batteries that save DC voltage.

Energy coming from city suppliers is used for firealarms and other health and safety devices. Charalambous explains, “That is required by law. The electricity has to come from a guaranteed source, for health and safety reasons.” However, they use a green energy supplier, he says.

Environmental facts are printed all over Surya's walls. (Photo: Tina Friedrich)

Marketing

According to Charalambous, marketing is all word and mouth. “Unfortunately the audience has slightly changed. We had a lot of green people and organizations coming, but today we also just have DJs.” He thinks about this and adds, “In fact, that is a good thing. We need to become mainstream.”

Naturally, the green factor is important and is mentioned whenever Surya is mentioned. Scarce publicity has not been a problem – yet. Articles reached a peak in 2008 and have declined ever since. “We’ve probably been advertised in every country of the earth, a lot of people want to do what we did,” says Edwards.

The Sustainable Night Club WATT in Rotterdam is one example. The Dutch are using a similar system but not the same construction for their dancefloor.

Criticism from Friends of the Earth

The image of Surya seems flawless. On the website of its parent organization Club4Climate it even says that “the profits from the music, the nights and the destination [go] to Friends of the Earth.”

Friends of the Earth (FOE) is a British environmental non-profit organization. Andrew Charalambous was among the first conservative politicians to be a member. Today he says that “they have an ideology from the last generation.”

He prefers a more realistic approach, as he calls it. “Rather than telling people not to fly, not to drive, not to sit in front of the computer, we say, lets make small changes, use less plastic bags, lets make changes where we can.”

The website still says that money from Surya reaches FOE. That is not true. Charalambous clarifies: “We offered to give them donations, but they did not want them.”

A spokesperson of FOE explains. “We have a rigorous process for judging whether we will enter into a formal partnership with any profit-making company and we will only consider working with companies that are genuinely helping to create a low-carbon future,” she says.

This is not the case with Andrew Charalambous. “Telling people that they can save the world by flying to an island to party is a green con. We focus on empowering people to take political action to bring about big changes to protect our planet.”

At the bar, shapes of used mobile phones are clearly visible. (Photo: Tina Friedrich)

Measuring Success

How do you evaluate the achievements of a club that claims to change people’s awareness? Charalambous found his own answer to this question. “You measure it in terms of what fields of thought you have opened.”

According to him, the idea of measuring reduced carbon emissions is problematic. “There is a lot of green washing going on. Many people say that they save a certain amount of energy and carbon, when in fact it is very difficult to quantify.”

Looking at a bar made of used mobile phones could instead open a new field of thought by making a simple technical device a piece of art. “If I re-use a chair, I cannot tell how much carbon I save. You cant measure it like that, that is a fallacy. We need to look at the bigger picture, how we could live in more harmony.”

Actual Change

Surya’s managing director Paul Edwards drives an SUV. When he takes a plane, he checks the airline’s carbon footprint first, he says to emphasize the green steps he has taken.

The question how one could actually find out if people have effectively changed remains unanswered.

The Legacy – Sustained Success?

A Visitor’s Journal

Text and Photos by Tina Friedrich

When Andrew Charalambous said he wanted to appeal to the masses rather than to a couple of environmental enthusiasts, I became curious. Would these masses queue up in front of Surya, eager to get in and save the world by dancing? After two nights of on-site inspection, it seemed that Charalambous’ idea of engaging the masses in the fight against climate change has lost some of its power.

Tuesday Night, Tango Classes.

Paul wants all pavements to generate electricity.

NO CROWDS, NO QUEUES

A couple of people were dancing. About ten feet applied pressure on the floor, where little lamps read “Dance to save the world”. I reckoned that in this rainy Tuesday night the club had to use stored energy from its batteries.

One of the guests, Paul, attended for the first time. If he knew what the club was known for? “The dancing I guess, as it says so on the floor. They have the best Tango teachers in London.”

“DANCE MORE, PEOPLE!”

He was astounded when he heard of the special floor. “Every floor, every pavement should generate electricity! Let’s find ways to do it in the City of London! Let’s get Boris Johnson [the Mayor of London, ed.] on it!”

Paul called everyone to dance more that night. “Dance more, people, move, make power!”

Nevertheless, the club was almost empty. People came for the Tango lessons. Half of them did not even know about the sustainability concept.

Brian expected the club to be bigger.

Thursday Night, Brazilian Night.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

It is more crowded, but we are still far away from “extremely busy.”

Brian has read about the club. “I am pretty sure I came across an article about a year ago. But you know how it is, you read something and forget.”

Surya did only partly met his expectations. “From what I’ve read about it, I expected it to be much bigger than it actually is,” he said. “But I am highly impressed by the floor and will definitely come back.”

Iria and Ines like Surya's dance events.

TIME OUT AND FACEBOOK

Ines and her girlfriends read about Surya in London’s event guide Time Out and on Facebook.

They came because of the quality of the dance classes. “I love the club and that is why I come here, but if they had good classes in another club, I would go there too,” Ines’ friend Iria adds.

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