Sustainability has become a key priority for events and festivals in recent years and while COVID-19 may have destroyed the 2020 festival calendar thankfully it has not dampened ambitions for a sustainable future. For many, 2020 has actually served as a catalyst to inspire further action. Two thirds of outdoor event and festival organisers responding to a recent Vision:2025 survey stated that their experience of 2020 made environmental sustainability a higher priority.

Industry wide we are also starting to see greater collaboration and collective action that supports a transition to a more sustainable and environmentally conscious industry. Campaigns such as AIF’s ‘Drastic on Plastic’ and ‘Take Your Tent Home’ have acted as important rallying points for organisers to unite under a clear goal. Additionally, organisers from across the world are sharing knowledge and learnings to the benefit of the industry as a whole. For example, A Greener Festival hold bi-weekly meetings wherein AGF Award winners, Award applicants and Festival Members share experiences and discuss challenges such as those presented by COVID-19.

In December 2020 Julies Bicycle, a charity that works with the creative community, also submitted evidence to DCMS about festival sustainability and opened the first direct dialogue with Government on the subject. The evidence focused on how festivals could be supported to reduce environmental impacts, and warned of the challenges for events to implement environmental sustainability initiatives in the wake of the pandemic. This appetite for sustainable events is not just being driven by the industry. Festival audiences too are becoming more conscious of their own impacts and demanding festivals to do more to address key challenges such as waste and reducing emissions. A 2019 Ticketmaster Survey revealed 62% of respondents wanted to see less waste at festivals and 57% wanted to see more eco-friendly initiatives.

Here at WAP we have also been reflecting on the impact of our operations and the small changes we can make to live more sustainably and support our planet. Sustainability is central to the planning process and by considering the full lifecycle of the products we procure we prioritise re-use over recycling and disposal. We aim to source resources and materials locally and sustainably and we work with local suppliers wherever possible. We are also aware of the impacts of our events locally and we work actively with stakeholders and communities to reduce any negative impacts. We have a dedicated Stakeholder Engagement Manager on our team and we involve stakeholders and the community throughout the planning phases of our events.

 

On a more personal level some of our team have shifted towards a predominantly vegetarian based diet and others have been cycling and walking to reduce dependency on public transport and minimise car journeys. These changes have helped to reduce emissions, save money, keep us physically active and boost our mental health. Lockdown has also taken on us on a journey of reflection around our spending habits and patterns of consumption. Witnessing panic buying, bare shelves in the supermarket and restrictions on ‘essential’ items compounded issues of overconsumption and got us thinking about whether our own purchases really are ‘essential’. During this time, we also learnt to value our corner shops, greengrocers and butchers the smaller, local businesses that are on our doorsteps.

Although individually and collectively we are taking steps to become more sustainable, we are also conscious of the scale and magnitude of the challenge we face. Covid-19 provided us all with the time and space to think but now it is time for us to act. The Guardian recently reported that lockdowns across the world helped global emissions to fall by 7% in 2020 (which is about 2.6bn tonnes of CO2), but we need similar reductions every single year of the next decade if we are to successfully restrict global warming to the levels required by the Paris agreement.

 

Thus, we are using this time to learn and to understand how we as festival organisers can become a force for positive change. In May, Sarah completed the first stage in training with A Greener Festival to become an Assessor and is now completing a short course in Business Sustainability Management through The University of Cambridge. We are committed to furthering our own education, measuring and reducing our carbon footprint and supporting clients to address environmental and social impacts. Together, we can continue the journey to a sustainable and resilient future.