24 Hours with… Claire O’Neill

A day in the life of A Greener Festival co-founder Claire O’Neill as she assesses the sustainability of Dockyard Festival in the Netherlands.

Crowd at main stage of Dockyard festival

This morning I am at Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), and this week has been a marathon. I have delivered a Green Keynote for the AGM of the Association for Electronic Music (AFEM), spent two days environmental assessor training for A Greener Festival (AGF), held the first meeting of our new GEX Creative Europe project with four festival partners, and attended the ADE Green Conference. Last night I was also at the DGTL Festival at NDSM Warehouse to see Orbital, whose performance was as thought provoking and impeccable as always. We arrived home at 4am.

Today I assess Dockyard Festival for the “A Greener Festival Award”. They have submitted their self-assessment and I review our follow up questions and touch base with fellow AGF assessor for the day, Klavdia Debelova, to plan our meeting place and travel.

I am looking forward to meeting the Dockyard organisers and team. The self-assessment has described some great initiatives and the organisation is clearly committed to seeking sustainable solutions. Additionally there are friends and colleagues who work in the green event space in the Netherlands who we will see today. I hope that we are able to meet all of the necessary people and see enough of the event to complete the extensive assessment. It is important to gather as much information on site as possible to ensure we are able to score and contextualise any post event data we’re sent.

Large tents at CBOX festival

We have reviewed the festival’s self-assessment in advance so we recap when Klavdia and I meet. Klavdia has reviewed the supporting documents which are in Dutch, and we have already begun the analysis of the event’s communications and transport options for its audience.

We take the complimentary shuttle bus from the Metro to the festival site. Once on site we do a walk around, observe the materials used, installations, signage and communications, waste management, front of house, electrical usage, toilets, and speak with caterers, litter pickers, bars, and members of the audience and staff to find out how the site is being managed, and whether the green initiatives and actions we’ve read about in the self-assessment are being well communicated, understood, and implemented on site.

Next we meet with Jean-Pierre Timmermans, the sustainability coordinator, and commence a guided tour of the back of house with introductions to directors, key personnel and contractors. This includes observation of waste water processes, set up of power networks (in this case through battery and generators), the décor and materials storage containers, waste sorting and storage areas, artists’ areas and so on. We make notes and take pictures throughout, and following the meetings we enter further information into the assessor’s report and highlight which areas we will need post event evidence and data for (eg. the waste and recycling quantities, fuel usage, transport data, survey results and so on).

The next phase is to see how all of the systems and actions are running when night falls. As the full audience is present at this stage it is important to see how any systems and infrastructure work under full capacity, in the dark, perhaps with the added challenge of inebriation (of the audience – not us). This is also the time that tech production is “all systems go” as headliners take the stage (in this case four stages). On egress, the work continues, observing the traffic, waste management and communications around the event perimeter. This is only the beginning, as the detailed analysis and feedback report will come following the event when we have gathered all evidence.

CBOX festival catering

Today has gone smoothly. When looking at an assessment day, problems may be in relation to access, or if during our assessment we spot a leak, hazard or issue that would be useful for the site or production team to be aware of. Today no such issues arose.

The wonderful thing about the AGF Assessment is that we are also assessing the food sustainability, including sourcing, what food is served in, communication on menus and actions to reduce waste and salvage what is left over. So, eating a good lunch is a part of the job!

I feel very positive at the end of the day because this has been an event that is clearly committed to excelling where possible to make things greener. All of the people we met throughout the team were able to explain how their department was working towards realising the event’s sustainability plans. We saw inspiring actions in relation to waste management and investment in green energy systems. Plus we were lucky to see Len Faki play an excellent set, with an impressive LED lighting display in the Figure arena before our departure.

I love this job as I am able to visit some of the most impressive events from a vast spectrum of cultures, art forms and genres with the sole purpose of seeking out and encouraging best practice in sustainability. We meet like-minded people who are doing amazing work to reduce waste, increase resourcefulness, care for nature, share the good message, rethink our materials use, and to do all of this with an enhancement of experience and artistic expression. My job allows the opportunity to connect the dots between many organisations in the events and arts spaces, to accelerate our transition towards a sustainable future. What’s not to love about that!



Claire O‘Neill

Claire is co-founder and director of A Greener Festival (AGF), organiser of the Green Events & Innovations Conference (GEI), and chair of the Green Working Group at the Association for Electronic Music.

Claire’s 2006 research led to the formation of AGF, which has since assessed 500 events worldwide including Glastonbury Festival (UK) and Roskilde Festival (DK) through The Greener Festival Award, trained over 100 assessors, and founded GEI, the sustainable event conference in London. Claire heads up the AGF consultancy with clients including Paradigm (formerly Coda) Agency, AEG Presents, and the Royal Horticultural Society.

Board meeting about sustainable festivalsThe Green Events and Innovations Conference, entering its 12th year on 3 March 2020, kicks off the International Live Music Conference (ILMC). Claire is co-founder, producer and curator of GEI, welcoming environmental experts and the live industry to accelerate progress towards greener events.

As part of Arcadia Spectacular, Claire works as show manager and aerial performer at Glastonbury Festival and on International tours. Additionally, Claire is a director of the not for profit arm “Arcadia Reach CIC” established in 2018 to develop positive social projects.

Claire has also been general manager of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), new media and licensing manager at Media Records, and held varied festival management roles spanning 15 years. She also flew off the London Olympic Stadium roof dressed as Mary Poppins for the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony!

A Greener Festival

AGF is a not-for-profit company, committed to helping events, festivals, venues and artists around the world to become more sustainable and to reduce environmental impacts. As pioneers in event sustainability since the first research in 2006, AGF provides certification, training, expertise and facilitates the exchange of best practice. www.agreenerfestival.com

Dockyards Festival

Dockyard Festival is a techno and house party in the Dutch capital during Amsterdam Dance Event. Presenting a lineup of influential artists across four stages, each in their own massive tent, the festival has an energetic and raw atmosphere. www.dockyardfestival.com

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