Author Shares Secrets to Producing Sustainable Events

Meegan Jones has been the sustainability coordinator for such famous U.K. festivals as Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds.  She’s put together her experiences in a new book, Sustainable Event Management: A Practical Guide, which talks about the ways to understand and manage the environmental impact of any event.

Using her U.K. experiences and examples from around the world, including the Burning Man, Coachella and Bonnaroo festivals in the United States, Jones discusses energy, zero emissions options, carbon and waste management and other aspects of handling the small to mid-sized cities that spring up during festival season and quickly dissolve in days.

CleanTechies:  Do sustainable events cost more than non-sustainable ones?  Tell us what the differences are between the two. Meegan Jones:  It completely depends on the elements of the particular event. They are so complex in nature and therefore it is difficult to have an answer to this that would cover all events. There are certainly cost savings to be made if waste volumes are reduced. Buying FSC timber may be more expensive than buying uncertified timber, for example. ‘Eco’ paint would be more expensive than toxic paint. But many of the “sustainable” solutions are operations based and therefore are process rather than purchase and should have no cost variables attached.

CleanTechies: Since most events resemble small to mid-sized cities, are any of these ideas transferable outside of the actual events?

Jones:  Of course, yes. The very nature of many events is that they set up mini communities and one of the primary benefits of producing events sustainably is to demonstrate this possibility in action. Transport, waste, energy, sanitation, water, purchasing — all of these are directly transferable to real life.

Also, innovations which are not commercialized yet can find a home inside an event to demonstrate possibilities and engage people with the potential, if not the actuality, in real life (kinetic energy dance floors, for example).

CleanTechies: What’s the biggest adjustment in thinking needed to create sustainable events?

Jones: The decision to do so. And for the events production team to understand what questions they need to ask their contractors. Most of the impacts are due to supply chain issues as well as the operational ones, and therefore it really does come down to an informed team. The event must commit to sustainability and resource it to enable it to happen (people, knowledge, money, time).

CleanTechies:  Transportation is often a sticking point with sustainability; witness the number of private jets to the Copenhagen climate talks, the need to site events in large spaces that often are far away from public transportation. Tell us how you deal with these issues.

There is no solution apart from not holding these events in remote or fly-in locations. Or, depending on the situation, offsetting may be appropriate. We must remember that having no event at all is often not the answer. Many events are essential to be held face-to-face and the benefits of them being such can be balanced against environmental concerns.

However, hedonistic excessive and environmentally irresponsible events with people jetting in for luxury and indulgent reasons probably are the ones we can do without.

Careful planning of where your event’s market is (in terms of the people that would attend) versus where it is held should be weighed. I can see no reason, for example, for greenfield festivals to be held in remote locations with flying access the main means of transport, if the event is purely for pleasure.

But many people would argue that leisure-based or recreation events are part of a quality of life which is deserved and offers an outlet for creative expression necessary for a healthy functioning society. So I guess it is one that doesn’t really have an answer.

Being practical – if you must have an event in a location where people fly in, bundle the offset with the ticket price, discussions on offsetting relevance and appropriateness of projects to support aside. However, I would strongly recommend no mention or thought toward offsetting if it is the only ‘greening’ attempt made by an event – (that is) screaming greenwash!  Apart from fly-in events, join the dots on public transport. There is no reason, in most situations, why an event can’t:

  • Put on regular and efficient shuttle bus systems.
  • Offer a percentage of tickets as bundled with public transport
  • Put a car parking fee on which encourages people to fill up the seats in their car.
  • Promote and advertise all the public transport options.
  • Establish a must-take or voluntary opt-in for offsetting travel.
  • Reward people for full cars or taking public transport

CleanTechies:   What events would you like to see become more sustainable?  For example, the Super Bowl is always viewed as a temple to conspicuous consumption….

Jones:  Definitely big sporting events, and most definitely the ‘meetings’ industry. It seems the cultural sector is leading the way with greening and I think that is possibly because there is a natural pairing between environment and the arts. Also, audiences are generally emotionally attached to the actual event. Sure, they are very emotionally attached to a sporting event. But generally with the game itself, not that actual event. The meetings industry (conventions, expos, trade shows etc) are all about money and often neither the attendee or the organizer is concerned with environmental impact. The organizer usually is commercially motivated to sell stall space and get bums on seats, and the punter is there to find out about the new widget or gizmo they need for their profession. Thus, they aren’t thinking about whether their plate scrapings are composted or if the burger they order comes in a polystyrene box.

Certainly conspicuous consumption and the selling of  crap at games is a big problem, as is the spectator/fan paraphernalia (clappers, banners, flags, streamers etc – which are single use).

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