National pilot prioritises sustainability for festivals and events

60 festivals are taking part in a pioneering project to establish a green events code of practice across England.

Creative climate non-profit Julie’s Bicycle, host of festival industry project Vision: 2025, is collaborating with ten local authorities and more than 60 festivals to test how a Green Events Code of Practice (GECoP) can be adopted nationally. 

Vision: 2025 Chair and Shamabla Festival Director Chris Johnson states:

“I’m very proud that our industry is making the environment a key priority to deliver more sustainable festivals in the future. I’m surprised that we’ve heard so little about environmental issues during this election campaign so far, given the scale of the climate emergency we’re in. I hope our pioneering sector can continue to highlight and inspire positive actions to make a significant difference for future generations.

“The Green Events Code of Practice has been developed to avoid a lottery of expectations across England, and establish consistent standards. Everyone is asking ‘what good looks like’ and how to understand and measure it. This project will help to answer that question.”  

As a summer of exciting arts, music and sporting events gets underway, event organisers and attendees watch keenly as the effects of climate change – from floods to heatwaves – continue to be impossible to ignore. In the face of these challenges and with a desire to significantly lessen their environmental impact, the outdoor events industry has come together to take action. 

The Green Events Code of Practice (GECoP), developed by the UK outdoor events industry as a working draft, sets out minimum voluntary standards for events. The GECoP project aims to establish clear, consistent, affordable, and workable minimum standards for sustainability in events nationally. The project is testing the practical use of the code as a framework for local policy, standards and assessment of event sustainability, providing support and advice to events. It hopes to establish the feasibility of the Code being implemented as nationally adopted best practice. 

GECoP focuses on seven key areas where positive environmental change can be achieved. Its overall aim is a minimum of 50% reduction of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 through reductions in fossil fuel consumption, reducing meat and dairy consumption, eliminating single-use plastic and many other measures.

The Local Authority Event Organisers Group, LAEOG, supports the approach to standardise assessment and best practices. Participating cities include Manchester, Liverpool and Reading, with events taking part including WOMEX Worldwide Music Expo, Bristol’s Harbour Festival, Parklife Festival, Reading Festival, The Davis Cup, Shambala Festival, Leicester Mela, National Athletics Championships, Chinese New Year celebrations, the Euro 2024 Fan Village, and several Pride festivals.

Cllr John Hacking, Executive Member for Skills, Employment and Leisure, Manchester City Council, said:

“Manchester is already very much a leader in the area of sustainable events as we recognise the part they have to play in our wider drive towards becoming a zero carbon city by 2038. 

“We’ve been supporting local events for some time now through knowledge sharing, guidance and practical support to embed sustainable practice throughout their operations, but we also recognise there are still some challenges to be addressed.

“We’re therefore going to be working with event organisers on several very different diverse events in Manchester over the coming months to trial this important new code of practice, which has a vital part to play in ensuring the future of the events industry nationally is a sustainable one.

“As well as helping standardise the expectations placed upon event organisers across the country, the trial will also help us formulate any additional further actions for events within the city as part of the city council’s next five-year Climate Change Action Plan.”

Andrew Lansley, Innovation lead at Cheltenham Festivals, states:

“With many frameworks, voluntary certifications, approaches to sustainability, and a lack of legislation, it is important that everyone understands what is good and bad in terms of environmental performance. The Donut Advisory Tool for Events (DATE) is the assessment method,  developed in line with GECoP to help these organisations collaborate, with the sole aim of producing something for the benefit of the industry, without a commercial agenda.  This free-to-use toolkit will make a genuine difference across our whole industry.” 

John Rostron, Chair of Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) says:

“The event industry is driving innovation, and event organisers are ready to take action on the climate, but they need guardrails, consistency and support to progress. Smaller grassroots and community events particularly need advice, support and the solutions for change.”

In December 2024 the project will report on the variety of ways the code has been put into practice, and outline a pathway to national adoption. 

The project is co-funded by Arts Council England and participating local authorities.

Find out more about the Green Events Code of Practice here: https://www.vision2025.org.uk/green-events-code