As part of this year’s Berlin Music Week, with its countless concerts and club nights as well as talks, workshops, and conferences, we caught up with Jacob Bilabel, co-founder of the Go Group environmental organization, and Michael Müller of EnergieAgentur NRW to find out more about sustainability and green awareness in the event industry.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Let’s talk about pioneering projects that could serve a blueprint for the future music, event, and entertainment industry on a national and international level. Among such efforts, the “Green Areas” initiative takes pole position – could you tell us what this endeavor is all about?
Jacob: In the past, we spent a lot of time and energy focusing on festivals, i. e. outdoor events that are built from scratch for three days or so. Considering that space and infrastructure are already in place when it comes to large arenas or stadiums, you’d think that everything should be running smoothly. At the same time, such spaces have huge energy requirements, but up to now, sustainability was simply not an issue for most of these complex venues. Right now, we are in the process of identifying potential pioneers like the O2 and Velomax groups or the Dusseldorf arena … our aim is to bring them all together to identify trailblazing venues and ideas. Who are potential candidates for inclusion? Who is already getting it right? What are the most pressing challenges facing this particular industry? That is what this project is all about.

Michael: Germany is already dotted with huge stadiums – the country boasts around 50 in total with 6,000+ capacities. The Federal Land of North Rhine-Westphalia alone has ten of those, including Dortmund’s Westfalenhalle, which was built in the 1950s. At the same time, numbers have risen steeply over the last decade or so, so there is definitely plenty of demand.

So, what kind of challenges are we talking about at this scale?
Jacob: There are three areas to be leveraged: energy consumption, i. e. “how much energy is used? How is it generated? Is a switch to greener sources feasible?”; mobility, i. e. “how do you get 60,000 visitors to the stadium? Are they using sustainable transport solutions?”; and then there is the third, and possibly most exciting, aspect of how to convey to management, caterers, and merchandisers which venues are considered “green” – and why? How do we communicate the added value of using such locations?

Rave to save the planet

What exactly is the GMI (Green Music Initiative) and where is it active?
Jacob: Strictly speaking, we – as the GMI – serve as brokers. We identify supply and demand. We help suppliers to become more visible and help those looking for sustainable venues to get a better overview of what’s on offer. In our role as intermediaries we try to ensure that both sides are represented because the whole set-up can only work if both supply and demand exist.

In a way, the GMI is a platform to support and encourage a climate-friendly music and entertainment industry via the initiation and realization of joint activities. Close cooperations with institutes, stakeholders, and artists ensure exemplary implementation of amelioration strategies. Our ultimate goal is an across-the-board reduction of CO2 emissions and environmental impacts.

By now, the GMI has grown to become Europe’s biggest initiative encompassing 25 countries, but Berlin remains our true hub and home. This is where everyone comes together and we are working on establishing a real point of call.

So, how should we imagine the event of the future?
Jacob: That’s a great question! The event of the future will be just as loud and maybe even more colorful and fun than today. But it will be powered by different energy sources and rely on mobility innovations like ride sharing or electric vehicles. Anything already being tested in urban environments will come together at these events. 60,000 people arriving in electric vehicles to experience the greatest show of their life, one that is powered by green energy. Guests who enjoy regional and seasonal catering. That’s the best show of the future!

Michael: New stadiums will automatically consider and integrate state-of-the-art technologies. Their operators will place great emphasis on energy-saving measures due to the ensuing savings and cost potential. In addition, they can place greater emphasis on exploiting the promotional and marketing potential of their climate or environmental policies. Once one of them sets things in motion and the market demands such measures – which is already the case for such stadiums – others are soon to follow.

Participants of the workshop

How far away are we from realizing this particular vision?
Jacob: The good news is that all of this is already possible, although it might take some more thought and effort get it right and realized. Right now, we aim to bring the few existing pioneers together.

Michael: And the venues need to get better at marketing. They need to improve their brand image and publicize their actions to let bookers know about these initiatives. At the same time, bookers need to be aware and interested in promoting exemplary stadiums to their artists. So, it’s a two-way street, really.

What’s next for the Green Music Initiative? Any concrete plans for the future?
Jacob: At the moment, we are trying to establish satellite schemes in the 25 countries mentioned above. That’s a very exciting prospect considering that we are great fans of the European idea! Each event would pursue the same standards, anywhere across Europe. The GMI has been a European initiative from day one and needs to really push this aspect to play a decisive role. And we are also in the process of becoming an active energy supplier, on hand to supply all interested events with green power. Generally speaking, as green energy is traded on the stock exchange, it costs more in times of high consumption and less when there is less demand. Festivals use most of their energy at night, at weekends, and during the summer months. So, we buy power at times of low demand and then resell it to festivals at a competitive price, allowing them to draw green power at the rate of coal-fired electricity.

You are already active in several cities. Which European metropolis is ahead of a pack in terms of environmental friendliness?
Jacob: That would be hard to generalize as many cities have their own particular innovators and approaches. Naturally, Scandinavia is quite advanced when it comes to green issues, but Norway still uses electricity for heating. And then there are very wealthy nations that can afford to get it right. In terms of technology, Germany takes a leading role with plenty of inventions and clean construction, for example. We love our efficiency! On the other hand, countries like Portugal, Spain, and Italy explore some very creative approaches, despite or even because of their obvious lack of funding, coupled with a wealth of great ideas. Right now, I’d say that Southeast Europe is especially exciting because this region is only just starting to tackle environmental issues and often leap-frogs many of the stages we had to work through ourselves. They want to get it right – but they are also facing many complicated stumbling blocks. For example, we can’t just offer them a green energy option since the state tends to be the sole energy provider. Going green in such an environment really means being a bold pioneer and pushing boundaries. In this sense, we are entirely European: We pick tried-and-tested ideas from the north, take them all the way southeast and then spice them up with some inspirations from our southern neighbors. That’s a great example why a pan-European approach is truly important and worth it!

Michael: I think that many countries could learn from Germany. Take the exemplary O2 Arena in Hamburg: The European group behind it is glad to appropriate German know-how. We tend to lead the way in this field.

If I can't dance it's not my revolution

When it comes to individual consumers, what should we do in terms of energy efficiency?
Michael: It all starts with your purchase of devices or white goods, for example. And although many of us already scan the energy efficiency label of fridges, consumers shouldn’t underestimate the impact of entertainment devices. All too often, figuring out just how much power a cell phone or computer requires is still a fairly confusing affair. It really pays to use your power as a consumer by questioning the manufacturer or retailer about it. And we would welcome mandatory efficiency labeling by the manufacturer. This also requires some political backing.

Thank you very much for these insights and good luck with your future endeavors!

Text and interview: Franca Rainer
All images, incl. the header image, by GO Group/ Green Music Initiative