Sustainability Is Still On Everyone’s Mind In The UK’s & Europe’s Cultural Sector
The solar carport at the site of Lowlands Festival in the Netherlands. Photo By Solarfields

Ten years ago, Arts Council England and UK charity Julie’s Bicycle introduced a joint environmental program built on a shared vision of the transformative role culture could play in tackling environmental challenges. The program produces an annual report presenting data from hundreds of organizations in the Art Council’s portfolio, many of them dealing in live entertainment. And even though England went through three lockdowns during the reporting period (April 2020-March 2021), more than half of the organizations, 482 in total, still reported data. It shows that despite the devastating effects of the pandemic, the cultural sector remains steadfast in analyzing its environmental impact, sharing best practices and taking action.

85% of respondents said they have been making the same, or increased, progress on environmental commitments as the previous year; 96% said that environmental commitments made during lockdown were underway; 88% of organizations include environmental sustainability in core business planning; 49% of respondents collaborated with other cultural organizations to find and share solutions to environmental issues. The COVID crisis also created opportunities to do things differently. Many organizations are committed to providing environmentally sound ways of remote working. Promoters were forced to engage with local artists and crew to overcome travel restrictions, which simultaneously reduced travel consumption, and decreased the environmental impacts of business travel. Alison Tickell, CEO of Julie’s Bicycle, had expected the pandemic to distract attention away from environmental issues, but now finds that “the opposite happened. The cultural community not only kept climate on the agenda, but with an eye on the CO26 climate talks last November, organized, mobilized and connected cultural practice with climate action.”

This year’s COP26 took place at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow, which took the opportunity to introduce a new food strategy committed to using 80% of produce sourced in Scotland at all SEC venues, including its live entertainment flagship, The OVO Hydro. Last month the SEC introduced reusable Stack Cups, which replace all single-use plastic cups at events. The move will save the campus two million cups per year and reduce its carbon footprint by 1,500 tons in the next 10 years, by its own admission. Fans pay a £1 deposit for a Stack Cup at the bar when ordering their drink and swap it for a clean one on their next order. At the end of the night, they can either get their deposit back or place their cups in a collection bin to donate the deposit to the SEC’s environmental and charitable initiatives.

ILMC in London, April 26-29, reflects the importance of sustainability in its program each year. In 2022, the conference goes one step further by integrating the Green Events & Innovations Conference (GEI), which used to be a stand-alone ticketed event ahead of ILMC, into its main program. Aside from a keynote with Brian Eno in conversation with Aurora and Love Ssega, speakers come from AEG, ASM Global, EarthPercent, Forest Green Rovers, Glastonbury, Music Declares Emergency, OVO Arena Wembley, Roskilde Festival, Royal Albert Hall, SEC, Soul Sutras, We Love Green, Yourope, and more. Topics to be discussed include more European co-operation in the live music sector; transport and energy; greener areas and greener touring; sustainable F&B for events; circularity of materials and tackling plastic pollution with a focus on cups, and much else.

In Germany, FKP Scorpio published a sustainability concept around its brand-new festival Tempelhof Sounds, which premieres June 10-12 in Berlin. Through a cooperation with German company Finizio, the event will provide dry toilets on site, which promise to be spacious, odor-free, and environmentally friendly. Finizio has found a way to recycle the toilets’ contents into fertilizer. So, instead of disposing of the waste at great expense and a high energy and water consumption, it will become fertile soil at the end of a sanitization process. Finizio’s toilets also require less space than the portable plastic cabins traditionally used at festivals. The company’s folding and stacking system allows for 40 dry toilets to be transported on eight square meters of loading space. Up to 200 toilets can be delivered by a conventional tractor-trailer, and fuel consumption is reduced to 0.175 liters of diesel per 100 km per cabin.

One man who’s been shouting about turning this business green for years is talent buyer and booking agent Stefan Lohmann, founder of Sustainable Event Solutions, which developed both a sustainability checklist as well as a sustainable rider for touring acts. In conjunction with Meet Germany, the largest network in the German- speaking MICE and business travel industry led by CEO Tanja Schramm, Lohmann identified 16 Steps designed to make this business climate neutral. Step one is the switch to green electricity and the expansion of renewable energies at events. Lowlands Festival in the Netherlands recently showed how it’s done by turning its parking spaces into the world’s largest solar carport. The 16 steps initiative is supported by various media, environmental networks, and associations from the evets sector. The plan is to publish one step per quarter, meaning the last one will be revealed by the end of 2025.