Sustainability chops – how green is festival thinking

Time hasn’t been kind to the climate change ‘tipping point’ of 20 years ago. We have tipped. And the world is a furious place, wars and pandemics kicking containment ambitions across the tracks, across the continents. 

While UK politicians bend interpretations of ‘climate-neutral’ to the wants of archaic media outlets and fickle voters, Claire O’Neill, co-founder and CEO at A Greener Future, the not-for-profit company pioneering event sustainability, is a power of positivism.

For 45 minutes I throw out Eeyore-style ‘we’re doomed’ laden questions, that’s what it feels like, and without exception, O’Neill responds with solutions.

Between the lines, there has been a change for the better over the last few years, a different outlook. The pandemic left people wanting cleaner air, cleaner water and bio-diversity. A new openness to living more harmoniously coupled, as the storms, the floods and the heatwaves, bear testament, to an ever-tighter deadline. As a result, the drive for sustainability has become almost competitive among promoters/organisers.

“All big events want to be the greenest and they are requesting improved solutions across the supply chain,” O’Neill says. “They have more management systems in place too and, when those are turned into action, it’s very beneficial.”

There is a whole lot that can be done without extra capital of course, like specifying power requirements correctly rather than paying for alternatives and accommodating the inefficiency.

“Smaller events can be more agile, more pioneering, with a direct handle on what works,” O’Neill tells this magazine.

She cites reuse, food salvage and building a community network as examples of commitment over cost, and points out the opportunity for the industry whole to make a difference – swap shops between organisers by way of example.

“Event teams get really excited when things aren’t going to waste, and associations representing festivals would welcome simple, easy mechanisms not normally a part of the planning schedule.

“[Sharing equipment between organisers/events] needs arranged collection, storage space and crew hours, which is starting to happen, to become a part of the process. It’s an obvious opportunity for best value economics.”

To the test

Festival-world, a safe, hedonistic, well-funded environment, is the perfect shop window for highlighting sustainable steps and for trying new ways of doing things, through adoption or adaptation.

“Festivals bring an opportunity for people to come together in a community where they are not bombarded by rules, regulations, and advertising,” O’Neill says. “It’s somewhere where they can open up to each other and think differently, inspiring solutions, showing there’s a different way to be.

“Mindset is fundamental to making a difference. If you’re not that bothered, you’re probably not going to do that well, whatever gadgets you’ve got. Never underestimate the power of commitment, across the board.”

Every sustainable stride made anywhere on the festival map, be it tech-led or community-driven, is a boost for ‘better’ – at the risk of sounding a bit W1A.

Research shouts more than suggests that festivalgoers say ‘yes’ to the environment, that they will pay £1 extra on a ticket, for instance, if they know it’s targeted exclusively at sustainability.

“That’s when we need good governments/governance,” O’Neill says, “amplifying the cause and its benefits.”