Impact International UK/Euro: Claire O’Neill

Claire O’Neill
Co-Founder & CEO
A Greener Future

Claire ONeill A Greener Future

“I feel positive, but also frustrated at the slow speed of change,” says Claire O’Neill, CEO and co-founder of A Greener Future. “There is nothing like a deadline to get things done, and we have five years left of the time the IPCC said we had to curb emissions and keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid catastrophic climate change. With increasing extreme weather events, I hope that more people will wake up to the need to change the way we’re doing things.”

A Greener Future’s sustainability expertise is in high demand. O’Neill co-founded the company in 2005, following research conducted for her music industry management degree dissertation on the environmental impact of festivals – a topic she was told was too niche. Since then she has been working with some of the world’s most renowned events and buildings on implementing a sustainability strategy.

O’Neill is also an aerialist. She performed at the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony as Mary Poppins, swinging over the heads of 80,000, and in Arcadia Spectacular’s iconic Spider shows worldwide. As such, she’s used to both being on the ropes and having one’s world turned upside down. Figuratively, both have been true for this business in the past few years. There’s a calmness around O’Neill. It’s easy to think it has to do with the fact that she’s often swinging from great heights, attached to monstrous structures, with fire and thunderous noise erupting all around her all the while moving with the greatest precision.

A Greener Future was actually known as A Greener Festival until this year, but its scope widened since its inception 17 years ago. AGF certified its first football club this year — Forest Green Rovers FC in England’s League 2 — alongside handing out Greener Arena certifications to both The O2 and OVO Arena Wembley. Says O’Neill, “We’ve done significant work with The O2 the past couple of years, and recently announced the world’s first carbon-removed concerts with The 1975, AEG Europe and CUR8. Live Nation are promoting that show so it’s a nice joint project between multiple stakeholders.”

AGF also assessed over 50 festivals in 16 countries, wrote the European Green Festival Roadmap with Yourope, and provided on the ground sustainability support to BST Hyde
Park and All Points East.

Claire ONeill Arcadia Spectacular Photo Credit Charlie Obeiron
Claire O’Neill doing her thing at Arcadia Spectacular’s iconic Spider shows. (Picture by Charlie Obeirne)

While acknowledging the economic challenges this business is facing right now, she emphasizes, “To think that we can’t afford sustainability is a false economy. There is huge opportunity in the green economy and it’s what audiences want.” There was funding available, but people simply didn’t tap into it enough, according to O’Neill. The bottom line: since this business couldn’t survive “a climate catastrophe,” O’Neill says. “Measures to reduce fossil fuel consumption and to stop consuming products that are literally killing the ecosystem is simply not a choice and must be budgeted for.”

O’Neill isn’t the only one frustrated at the slow pace with which big societal shifts happen, but she’s one of the few to acknowledge that governments and businesses are only part of the problem. As she explains, “Environmental degradation and abuse of nature is possible because of our disassociation from the fact that we are nature, coupled with our remarkable capability for self-degradation and/or aggrandization. So long as we feel disconnected and separate, we seek to fill the void with something ‘other,’ be that more stuff, more power, bigger and better than that person did it, and so on. At the other end of the scale, so long as we feel superior as a species to everything else around us, we don’t value and respect our utter interdependence, and at worst are brutally abusive.

“Additionally, I see the state of the human mind and the state of the ecosystem as completely interlinked, naturally. The recent historical treatment of modern society towards women, indigenous peoples and people of color is the same as the treatment towards the environment – a subservient extractable commodity or an unruly ‘other’ to be tamed. As Pat McCabe — Woman Stands Shining of the Diné — puts it, we’re living in a ‘power over’ paradigm, in which to be at the top you have to oppress the rest. This is entirely at odds with the web of life and the hoop of living existence, that in reality we are one part of. The sooner we realize we’re not the ‘owners’ the better. It is not true that you need to deal with anything else first before caring for nature. Caring for nature is the same as caring for ourselves and all parts of our society.”