Claire O’Neill, co-founder of A Greener Festival, details how events can embed sustainable practices at their core for business and reputational wins
In the last decade, the event sector has moved in leaps and bounds from seeking bolt-on ‘seen to be green’ actions. Now, more and more organisers are integrating sustainability into their event planning, delivery and review. This is not just the ethical choice, it is good business sense for smart, efficiently-run events with longevity.
At A Greener Festival we have been assessing, guiding and accrediting events (not just festivals) based on their environmental actions and sustainability management for over 10 years, and currently assess many different types of events for our award globally. This has resulted in a detailed insight into best practice, current challenges, and the importance of sharing experiences as the industry’s understanding and solutions evolve.
The Greener Festival Award and Greener Event Award assessment criteria is a useful structure to help guide organisers to understand their event’s environmental sustainability and, in many cases, identify cost savings, USPs and new opportunities.
We consider what are the potential local and ecosystem impacts? Where does your event take place? Does any venue you might be using have a sustainability policy, and is it in alignment with your own? There are a number of certifications that buildings can attain, if some of your event is held inside, such as BREEAM, LEED, and Green Tourism. Venues may have attained relevant ISOs such as ISO50001 for energy, or even ISO20121 for sustainable event management if they are event specific. Even without certification, you can engage with your chosen venue to find out whether or not they have an ethical procurement policy. Do they have low energy lighting systems? Where is their food sourced? What is the procedure for food waste? These are but a few of the questions which require answers. The key is to engage in the conversation and seek to work together to raise the bar where it is needed. Aim for your event to leave a positive legacy wherever it goes, and to continually learn from any good processes and procedures you encounter.
If you are in an outdoor space, be it greenfield or urban, you may require a Biodiversity Impact Assessment. This can identify high risk areas and provide guidance to minimise any potential negative impacts of the event taking place. There have been many instances of events having to change the location of stages and even event dates due to protected bird nesting cycles for example.
It is important that event organisers understand the site they are working with. In many instances, it is advisable to know the Site Drainage Plan, showing where drains are located, whether or not they lead to rivers or sewerage, and where potential contaminants are positioned in relation to this. The event should have a plan for managing spillages, potentially as part of a broader pollution incident response plan. It is important to note that substances such as beer and dairy can be pollutants – as well as the more obvious oils, fuels and solvents.
The local community
Has the local community been engaged with the event, not only in gaining permissions for licensing, but also as participant, contributors, and with feedback surveys post event? The local community will know best how the event can impact the area both positively and negatively so an open dialogue is key – especially in temporary event spaces. Whether the community is happy with your event taking place is a very good indicator of your local area impact.
Traffic and travel
What are the travel and transport implications of creating and delivering the event? Clearly if the event is implementing a successful travel and transport plan, which prioritises low carbon movement of audience, production and artists/exhibitors/talent, the results can be seen in how people arrive to site. Do you monitor the modes of transport for each of these groups? This can be done by use of surveys both on site and post event. Ticket data can be utilised, as well as artist liaison records for example.
Are local suppliers and artists sought where possible to minimise mileage associated with the event? On site, is low carbon transport utilised (eg. bikes, electric buggies, walking)? Are lift share schemes promoted and have locations been chosen for their good public transport links? If public transport is poor, what provisions has the event or venue made to help (eg. shuttles from nearest train stations/cities)? How are the audiences or participants incentivised to use public transport?
How is the event powered? Has your overall power use and relevant fuel usage been monitored, including peak and average use, in KW? We have found in recent years that many generators are being run at less than 30 per cent capacity. This means a huge amount of fuel – and hence money – is burned and wasted. The industry group Powerful Thinking has released the Smart Energy for Festival and Outdoor Events Guide, which gives the latest actions for improving this issue. Some events have managed to save as much as 80 per cent on fuel, and 98 per cent on CO2 emissions through the implementation of a SMART Power Plan (eg. DGTL Festival Netherlands working with Zap Concepts 2016).
Even if you are using mains power, are you using a green tariff provider? Are you monitoring usage and seeing where savings can be made, and is it reducing each year? Does your choice of venue have a good energy rating? There are a number of events which have been running on 100 per cent renewable energy for quite some time. They have become experts in finding the most energy efficient equipment to deliver their shows without compromising the artistic integrity.
If using generators or other temporary power sources, correct specification of exact power needs is key to avoid waste and save money.
Sustainable procurement is absolutely key. Events have the power to influence suppliers simply by the purchasing choices they make. We must consider the ethical, social and environmental impact of any purchases made. Does the event use materials from reclaimed and recycled sources to avoid extraction of virgin materials? Are durable resources used that can be reused following the event, and are procedures in place to ensure this happens? Where virgin materials are used, they should be certified as ethically sourced (eg. FSC timber) and a plan made for their reuse. Events can be highly wasteful places, and it is in the hands of the organiser to manage and reduce the amount of waste generated.
Suppliers and caterers can be asked to complete a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ), or to adhere to the event’s procurement policy and code of conduct, for example, to not engage with any company or product that contributes to deforestation, human rights abuses, or pollution to land and water. Is food local, organic, fair trade or otherwise ethically sourced? And are containers and cutlery reusable, recyclable or (facilities permitting) compostable? Provision of reusable bottles, cups and drinking water to avoid plastic bottles is highly advised.
What is the waste management plan and is it implanted from the event design phase? Does the event have a policy to reduce waste, reuse or recycle materials used by the event? The use of non-recyclable containers for either food or drink is a clear sign to anyone attending that no steps have been taken to minimise environmental impact. A waste management plan should be a collaboration between all vendors, organisers, the venue and the waste contractor, taking in to account all inputs and the process and destination for final outputs.
Organisers should seek a waste transfer note and/or weighbridge ticket from the waste contractor post event or, if in a venue with collections from the local authority, seek information about the event’s waste figures. Understand where the waste goes and what this really means for your recycling. For example, if 80 per cent of the event waste is taken to a facility for recycling, this does not mean that 80 per cent is recycled. If it is taken to a mechanical refuse facility, for example, it might have an average recycling rate of 20 per cent, with the remainder incinerated for energy with organic waste anaerobically digested. The waste hierarchy should be applied to all waste management plans. This is a legal requirement in the UK – prevention, preparation for reuse, recycling, other recovery, then disposal (amended UK Waste Regulations came into force 2015).
Where provisions are made for separating waste streams at source (the best way for quality outputs with higher recycling rates), bins should be very clearly marked, and always stationed in groups (eg. recycling with general waste – not standalone).
Your Sustainability Policy
In order to effectively manage the changes and progress, there needs to be an organisational structure and documentation to support the event’s ambitions. The event should have a Sustainability Policy that extends to all areas of operation and to all staff and contractors. It should be endorsed by the organisers at board level, and backed up by an action plan to ensure that it is implemented in practice on the ground. There should be a clear chain of responsibility to ensure that the policies are actioned and reviewed, and those with a position for driving this should have the authority to effectively do so.
Those in a position of upholding the event’s sustainability policies should also be suitably trained and informed about the latest actions, issues and best practice within the relevant field. Importantly, resources should be applied to this. While being a well-managed ‘green’ event will save money in many areas, in both the short and long term, it is important that the suitable resources are put behind it through staffing and training to ensure it is effective, and to avoid all talk and no action.
Events have the potential to educate and ultimately influence attendees’ behaviour and cultural practices well beyond the duration of the event. Is your event seeking to achieve this shift by example through its operations, programming and messaging? Green campsite initiatives such as the Clean Out Loud scheme at Roskilde Festival in Denmark and Love Your Tent at the Isle of Wight Festival are just a couple of recent innovations which are leading the way in influencing audiences to leave campsites clean, relaying a highly visible message to all attending these events.
Does the organisation have wider industry involvement through shared information, workshops and engagement outside of the event, or local projects and education? The event may involve and promote charities with environmental or social objectives. It is also important for events to shout about their sustainability aspirations including both the successes and the challenges. It is only through open and honest dialogue that we will achieve the changes that we desperately need to happen quickly.
In order to monitor the above in a quantitative way it is useful for the event to monitor and measure it’s CO2 emissions. Not only will it help set an internal benchmark for the event itself, but it will also help provide industry benchmarking if it is shared. It is important to be aware of the methodology to see where figures are comparable. Organisations such as Event Impacts, Green Tourism, Julie’s Bicycle, and HCMI provide online tools in the UK. Many events also take in depth CO2 analysis studies in-house or with environmental consultants.
This is a brief insight in to some of the actions and indicators to ensure your event is performing well for resilience in a maturing market. It is not exhaustive, but it is also not necessary to achieve everything all at once. If there are areas that your event simply cannot change, focus on where you can have a positive and meaningful impact. There is no one size fits all and we continuously learn.
Greener Festival and Greener Event Award
Applying for the Greener Festival Award or the Greener Event Award is an accessible way to assess your event’s actions and effectiveness, to celebrate the wins, to identify where improvements can be made, where costs can be saved, and to receive recommendations from a decade of experience in global assessment of event sustainability. To get involved, get in touch. firstname.lastname@example.org / www.agreenerfestival.com