Roadmap to a sustainable and circular festival organisation

Debbie van Rijk November 15, 2021

‘Creating a fully circular festival by 2025? A very ambitious goal - but achievable if we work together!’ says Rob van Wegen, Sustainability Supervisor with Dutch Eurosonic Noorderslag festival (ESNS).

Rob van Wegen has created a 3-step roadmap model for realising long-term circular ambitions. In this article he explains how the model works and shares advice on how to implement sustainability in every layer of the festival organisation.

Rob has been working for ESNS since 2018. ‘A few years ago we asked ourselves the question: what does sustainability mean to us? We discovered that it’s an essential element of our organisation. We decided we wanted to become front-runners in the sustainable festival transition.’

Achieving long-term goals with a roadmap

ESNS joined the Plastic Promise in 2018, a Dutch platform for plastic reduction in the event industry. In 2019 they signed the Green Deal Circular Festivals. Rob: ’That was the first time I heard about the ‘roadmap', a multiyear planning for accomplishing organisation goals. In the industry we tend to mainly focus on the next festival season. I wanted to work on long-term solutions for bigger circular issues, other than recycling waste or plastic. My ideal is to anchor sustainability and circularity in our festival DNA. The roadmap supports this ideal.'

Inspired by the Green Deal Rob decided to create a roadmap for ESNS. His research turned out into a complete step-by-step model, not just applicable to ESNS but to any kind of festival. Rob: ‘I have never created a roadmap before. I started reading, writing and drawing. I asked festivals for their experiences and feedback, talked to freelancers and even educational institutes. I felt the need to develop a format that can help any festival transition into a fully sustainable organisation.'

Rob van Wegen, Sustainability Coordinator ESNS festival
Rob van Wegen, Sustainability Coordinator Eurosonic Noorderslag festival


Three steps to a personal roadmap

Rob’s roadmap model consists of 3 steps: examine the status quo, defining ambitions and creating overview with a timeline.

Step 1: Examine status quo

Rob: ’The first thing you do is ask yourself: what is my definition of a sustainable festival? Create a list with every sustainable and circular activity you have undertaken up until now. Identify your successes and more importantly, note down your failures. This way you’ll discover your strengths and your weaknesses.'

Step 2: Define ambitions

The second step is to define goals and ambitions for 6 circular themes: transport, water, food, energy, resources and plastics. Rob: ’The amount of themes can be overwhelming. Start out with 2 themes that really resonate with you and your organisation. Choose the ones that you really feel can make a difference. If your festival is located near a nature reserve, you might want to reduce local emissions to protect the area’s biodiversity. That means energy and transport are important themes.’

Step 3. Complete roadmap timeline

In the third phase all circular actions and goals are combined into one roadmap timeline ranging from the present up until 2025. Rob: ‘Your roadmap is not set in stone, it's a direction. But it does help to define a dot on the horizon and decide what steps you need to take now in order to get there in due time. Along the way you can readjust your goals.'

Tips for anchoring sustainability in your festival DNA

In order to accomplish the roadmap goals, a dedicated sustainability coordinator is essential. Someone who feels responsible and is not doing it because he has to. Rob: ‘It’s all about intrinsic motivation. If you truly believe in your job, you’ll inspire your colleagues. When I started out at ESNS I introduced myself in several sessions. I even organised sustainability mini colleges. I often ask my colleagues if they need my help. They see many aspects of our festival I don’t get to see. It’s great when others drop ideas and participate. That’s true collaboration.'

It’s also imperative the management team and other decision makers in the organisation endorse sustainable activities and allocate budget. Rob: ‘If that’s not the case, talk about it. Determine what ís possible, define your priorities and your needs. Consult different teams in your festival organisation. Sustainability is not the sole responsibility of the Production Department; Communications and Programme are equally important. Share your knowledge, talk to your suppliers, visitors, stakeholders and other contacts. Make them aware of your sustainable ambitions and actions.'

Embrace failure and celebrate success

To innovate means to try out new things. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Rob: ‘Don’t worry about failing. Failures are great opportunities for learning. Always be honest and remain transparent. Talk about mistakes and search for different solutions. Becoming circular is not a race. It’s much more important we help each other. And don’t forget to celebrate everything you’ve accomplished up to now!’

Do you have ay questions or do you want to know more about the roadmap? Send us an email.


About the Green Deal Circular Festivals

The Green Deal Circular Festivals (GDCF) supports ‘green growth’ by stimulating sustainable innovation. It’s one of the over 300 Green Deals closed in The Netherlands since the start in 2011.

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