This Wednesday marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, the day each year that the Earth Day organisers and activists attempt to engage us all through sharing an environmental priority. This year the priority is climate action and while COVID-19 continues to dominate news, social channels, and our conversations it is important that we avoid being swallowed up by its vacuum and continue to keep sustainability in festivals and events at the forefront of our minds.
As the pace of life slows for many of us and we spend more time at home it is easy to believe that the earth and the environment are also enjoying the break. Of course, the reduction in transport and air traffic, the absence of festivals, mass gatherings and events, the images of clear skies replacing smog, spring flowers, deserted cities, and quiet roads do certainly give the impression that the climate is doing well. Yet, while it is true that this unexpected pause in human activity has reduced pollution and CO2 across the globe the outlook is far from simple and the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the environment are far from certain.
While lockdown is likely to be temporary we are undoubtedly going to feel the effects of COVID-19 for far longer. Then, when the economy does begin to open up and businesses return to some level of normality there will be losses to compensate for, and revenue to make up. But it is imperative that we do not surrender to economic growth. Nor forget about climate change and the challenge it presents for humanity and our environmental life-support systems.
Now with events on hold we suddenly have the luxury of time. We have the time to appreciate our environment and the time to reflect on our events and consider their impacts. As event organisers this is an opportunity to stage our come back! If we are to stand out we must consider how events can make a positive difference. Our audiences are captive and immersed and they are already demanding this change. Indeed, they are increasingly conscious of their own actions and behaviours as well as those they partake in. When festivals and events do return, and they will, it is our opportunity to influence behaviour and successfully build trust and confidence amongst our audiences.
Although, historically festivals and events have been criticised for the waste they generate and their heavy consumption of single use plastics, festivals and events have the potential to influence thousands of people offering a unique platform for promoting social change. Indeed, prior to the enforced hiatus, festival and event organisers were taking giant steps towards ensuring the 2020 season would be the most sustainable yet.
Small actions and initiatives can make a difference to sustainability and help audiences to feel they are part of the process. Some examples that are widely used includes tackling waste through the introduction of a reusable cup system (provided you do reuse them each year), encouraging festival goers to bring their own bottles, and asking food traders and concessions to consider the reusability of all disposable food packaging helps to tackle waste. Putting a recycling system in place that is easy for festival goers to follow with clearly labelled bins can also help to boost recycling efforts and reduce the amount of waste unnecessarily sent to landfill. Sourcing food and drink from local and responsible suppliers can also help to reduce travel time and boost the local economy. Some festivals including Fusion in Germany and Shambala in the UK have also taken the decision to serve only vegetarian food in order to reduce their carbon footprint. Travel is another key area with the potential for reductions, encouraging travel by public transport or car share and offering incentives is a good way to influence audience behaviour.
But is this all enough and is it happening quickly enough? The answer to that is definitely not. Festival Organisers need to set themselves SMART objectives. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed targets. Sustainability is a buzz word at the moment and it’s important not to get swept up in that, some initiatives that may look more sustainable on the outside but actually increase carbon emissions through poorly vetted supply chains, longer distance trucking and lack of consideration for the energy used in production of new products (whether plastic or not).
Now our planet has been given the chance to breathe it is our time to consider change. If you are really looking to make your festival more sustainable you need to set yourself realistic targets and be prepared to spend time researching. There is no quick fix so let’s use Earth Day as a kick up the bum to make the most of this ‘Great Pause’ to keep innovating and make 2021 our lowest combined emissions yet.
If you’re interested in finding out more about sustainability practices in the events and festival production industry or you would like to pledge a commitment to sustainability, further reading and information is below.
Written by Sarah Tew
- Sign up to the Vision 2025: Festival Pledge this aims to bring together festivals who would like to take action through reducing their environmental impacts.
- Download the Vision 2025 report.
- Check out Julie’s Bicycle a Charity that supports the creative community to act on climate change and environmental sustainability. They have lots of useful resources and information.
- Contact The Fair if you’re interested in assessing the sustainability of your event and supply chain