A European Community of Frontrunners on Circularity and CO2-Reduction

Ted van Hooff June 02, 2022

by Ted van Hooff

While festivals are generally associated with a young and forward thinking audience, they still have a negative impact on the environment. The combination of large crowds, intensive energy use and the visible aftereffect of waste from disposable products ensures a harmful impact on their surroundings and the climate. More and more festival organizations feel like this should not have to be this way. Now, in the European partnership of the Green Deals Circular Festivals, European festival organizations are coming together to create their own set of standards to make circular and sustainable festivals the norm in Europe.

Green Deal Circular Festivals (GDCF) stands for a future-proof, circular and climate neutral festival industry. The festivals that participate in this Green Deal have committed themselves to achieving circularity by 2025. To reach this ambitious goal, the GDCF focuses on sustainability on six topics: energy, food and drinks, plastics, resource efficiency, travel and transportation and water. CO2-reduction is an integral part of all these topics, as CO2-reduction and circularity have an unmistakable interaction. The more circular a festival is, the less CO2 it will emit and the other way around. Through Green Deal Circular Festivals, the government of the Netherlands supports participating festivals by providing a platform on which they can connect as a collaborating and mutually inspiring community.

Climate and circularity are interlinked

Christa Licher, program manager of the international Green Deal Circular Festivals, explains: “When we designed the Green Deal, our focus was on circularity. However, all parties agreed immediately that our climate goals are intrinsically part of circularity and vice versa. Therefore it is an integral part of this Green Deal. Now you see the same in the international and national arena. Climate and circularity policies are increasingly interlinked. The next step would be to work within social and ecological boundaries, this includes biodiversity with its ecosystems approach as well.”

By experimenting with sustainable alternatives for current practices on each topic, and sharing their knowledge and success stories, festivals in the GDCF come closer to achieving full circularity year by year. A first version of a monitoring tool has already been developed. This tool will help festivals to measure their baseline. Together, the involved festivals shape the model of an ideal festival, and what this means per theme with feasible halfway goals. The baseline and the model together shape a roadmap towards sustainable goals, which also include a joint pilot. Efforts made as part of the GDCF do not only benefit the participating festivals but society as a whole, as what works in the microcosm of festivals can possibly also work in cities and towns. Festivals can therefore serve as an inspirational testing ground for sustainable innovations and practices.

Throughout Europe, initiatives and collaborations are emerging that provide an answer to sustainability challenges. Festivals in the GDCF community can for example turn to initiatives such as the EU-funded project Future-Fit-Festivals (3F) by the European Festival Association YOUROPE. 3F provides festivals with a custom sustainability roadmap as well as a diversity toolset. The project aims to make festivals more resilient to possible future challenges such as lockdowns and rising sustainability demands. In this way, networks are created between different festivals and organizations that reinforce each other.

Ambitious but realistic

Among the frontrunners in the GDCF community is Shambala’s co-founder Chris Johnson. With a set of environmental standards for outdoor events in the UK called the Green Code of Conduct – a preliminary name – Chris demonstrated that outdoor events and the environment can go hand in hand. The Green Code of Conduct was originally launched by Vision: 2025, a British outdoor events steering group and campaign that is chaired by Chris Johnson. The Green Code of Conduct is the result of intensive teamwork, in which feasibility and workability were important conditions. It intends to provide clear and robust minimum standards for sustainability practices for all stakeholders across the outdoor festival industry as well as common targets and a context for a relationship with local authorities. An example of one of the Green Code of Conduct’s minimum standards is reducing meat and dairy consumption by at least 30% by 2030. It act based on scientific targets and industry research, and has a focus on knowledge sharing. This makes it ambitious but realistic at the same time. Most importantly, the Green Code of Conduct has proven to be a very effective way of jointly taking action on the climate crisis. A similar Code of Conduct might also work for the GDCF-community.

A European community of frontrunners

Each participating festival in the GDCF has its own network, together generating a wealth of knowledge. The Danish Roskilde Festival, which had its first edition in 1971 and is one the largest music festivals in Europe, demonstrates that sustainability is possible for festivals of all shapes and sizes. Head of sustainability as Roskilde Festival Sanne Stephansen shares this view: “We want to be a sustainable community. As one of Denmark's largest cultural events with more than 130,000 participants, Roskilde Festival has a special responsibility to challenge, inspire and move our surroundings in a more green and sustainable direction - also outside the festival. We do this by donating all of our profits to charity, but also by for example choosing sustainable products and services, engaging in partnerships and by using our festival as a testing laboratory to explore new green solutions”.

Another community member and frontrunner in sustainability is the French festival We Love Green (WLG), which was first held in 2011 with the purpose of combining music and respect for the environment. Marianne Hocquard, who is responsible for the festival’s sustainable development, describes this year’s efforts: “We Love Green is a laboratory for sustainable solutions in the live sector. We planted over 80,000 trees and saved 2.1 million liters of water and 280,174 plastic bottles in 2019 alone. For 2022, we enhance innovations with a mix of solar panels, green hydrogen generators, fuel cells and various biofuel generators. To reduce waste, we use hard tableware backstage, with a dishwasher system managed by an organization for disabled people's work integration. This year, an impact assessment will give us a better understanding on how WLG affects local biodiversity and how to minimize impact. Speakers and lecturers discuss different sustainable development topics on our Think Tank stage. We will also welcome innovative organizations in our Association & Innovations Village to learn about tomorrow's solutions and to get involved." The efforts and accounts of Chris, Sanne and Marianne are just the tip of the iceberg of the sustainable actions that are taken across Europe right now.

After two challenging years in the live sector, the 2022 festival season promises to be an exciting time for the GDCF community. This year, the sustainable adaptations and innovations that each festival has made will be put into practice so that they can continue to inspire and learn from each other. To be continued.


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