There is no doubt that concerts are the most important factor for music festivals, but we should also consider their environmental impact. During the last Primavera Sound, winner of “A Greener Festival Award 2012,” it was obvious that this festival cares about being environmentally friendly. At the same time, there is still not enough eco-friendly food, a better recycling plan would be appreciated and the audience seems to lack commitment.

Heels and Cigarettes ask: How can music festivals become greener?

Holger Jan Schmidt answers:

If pedantic enough, one might say: The greenest event is no event. Fair enough, but this option sounds a little boring. Beyond environmental concerns, there are still the cultural demands and jobs depending on this industry. Not to forget the social aspect of people getting together, experiencing something special and having the time of their lives. So, no event is not the solution.

Nevertheless, this stance is no excuse for not pursuing more sustainable events, either. By now, green issues are no longer a novelty for the events industry. Although this relatively “unsexy” topic probably sells no additional tickets, a glance at climate change and social processes makes it obvious that everyone needs to play their part in delivering a better performance. And showing that you are doing something right also boosts your reputation.

Green campsites vs. normal festival campsites, photo: Thomas Freischem
Green campsites vs. normal festival campsites, photo: Thomas Freischem

As part of this process, festival promoters seem to be more of a driving force than artists or venues, for example. This might be because it is their business to build things from scratch, finding mobile and efficient solutions, and – due to their open air nature – taking care of the show’s environment. As part of their set-up, they need to consider a wide range of aspects: mobility and transport, energy efficiency and power supply, waste management, catering, sanitary systems and water treatment, noise emissions, resource management, and even camping solutions. Naturally, financial criteria dominate, but green and intelligent solutions are clearly gaining ground.

Fortunately, a lot has happened during the last decade. More and more promoters recognize their environmental and social responsibility and it is good to see them trying to live up to the challenge. There are deposit schemes, attractive public transport options, more efficient gear, recycling and reuse of materials, composting toilets, water treatment facilities, or alternative generator fuels, to name just a few examples. Some of these are still more expensive than standard solutions, but others are not – and might even save the promoters money. More often than not, it is more about rethinking habits and spending some time and manpower on different approaches as well as access to the required information.

Automatic deposit return, photo: SfN Green Team
Automatic deposit return, photo: SfN Green Team

Today, there are a number of very good and helpful organizations that offer guidance and support for promoters willing to ‘green up’ their operations. While standards like ISO 20121, BS8901, and EMAS promote the establishment of sustainable systems in event management for organizations and companies, award and certification schemes like “A Greener Festival“, “Green’n’Clean“ by Yourope (The European Festival Association), or the German “Sounds For Nature“ seal and their respective guidelines or surveys pursue a more practical and hands-on approach to guide producers and promoters through most of these complex challenges.

With projects like the international think-tank GO Group (Green Operations Europe), the annual GreenEvents Europe Conference as well as Yourope’s very active pool of members, the last few years have seen a lot of exchange – and this is what it is all about, apart from taking actual action. Here, people in the business come together to share what works and what has failed, swapping and adopting ideas and solutions or starting joint projects and initiatives. Altogether, the network managed to bring together more than 100 festivals from around 20 European countries over the past three years. The general principle, however, also applies to suppliers, local authorities, and science – a growing and “weird family“ of green events and related stakeholders. A family that could easily use some more brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunts. To be clear, there is nothing hippiesque about this affair: The atmosphere is that of like-minded people at work; really productive and very personal.

One important group is still missing from the equation: the audience. While promoters can reorganize their supply chain and create great sustainability programs, the whole thing would never work without the punters who are a unique target group. This is where the festivals’ core competence comes in: They are powerful brands and their fans and attendees are devoted followers with a strong commitment to the events. It is the promoters’ obligation to reach out and sensitize them to the issues at hand. Involvement and positive communication are key when it comes to engaging the audience. And this is easier said than done, in view of far more exciting topics like beer, bands, or parties. Festivals all over Europe need to face and address everyday consumer behavior in our throwaway society. At the same time, organizers also need to consider everyone’s individual comfort standards that might make them choose less environmental-friendly transportation, for example, and they have to deal with people who are dead set on whooping it up for a weekend – there is no cure-all for human habits or audience behavior. In the end, each and every promoter needs to find an individual solution, but learning from others may go a long way. Festival partnerships, too, could help to find and establish joint solutions and offers, as popular among many Scandinavian festivals. Alternatively, there are initiatives like “Love Your Tent“ that pursue mutual goals.

To recap our opening statement: No, maybe there are no green events, but there can be ‘greener’ events, ultimately aiming for truly green events. Active pursuit of environmental and social issues does not provide a real market advantage – at least not yet, as it is just a matter of time before legislation introduces a more definite framework. At the moment, however, this is a plus for the greening process because people are happy to show and share their achievements. A cleaner industry is better for all involved and likely to create some positive peer pressure – positive for the environment, that is, and that is what counts in the end.

It is a bit like health and safety: For years, experts from all over the continent have been working together to create a safer live music and events industry. Instigated by some really distressing incidents, this has evolved into something extremely positive. With global climate change, green issues have their own warning and wake-up call. And that should be reason enough to run events in a greener, smarter, and more sustainable way.

header image: Greenspots trailer on screen, photo: SfN green team