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Sustainability in live: a long way to go

A Greener Festival's Claire O’Neill comments on what is being done to improve sustainability and tackle the live music industry's environmental impact

09 Jul 2019

Sustainability in the live music industry, Claire O'Neill

Whilst the live music industry undoubtedly has the ability and power to share good practice and ideas across borders, operationally speaking, it has a whole host of negative environmental impacts.

In 2006, I joined an ILMC panel discussing environmental sustainability in the live music industry. Live Nation had just appointed their first sustainability manager, and Download Festival’s bars were already employing a reusable cup deposit system. Thirteen years later, the same conversations continue to take place, but with one big difference: what was previously a topic deemed worthy by only a small section of the live music industry, has now become an unavoidable theme applicable throughout the business.

With the publication of the 12-year warning (now 11) – before irreversible climate change takes place – by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the issue has been pushed higher up on the international agenda. Difficult decisions have to be made with some industries no longer being permitted or able to operate as they did in the past. As an industry, we have three options: (1) wait to be told to change by governments and regulations, (2) stick our heads in the sand (whilst there’s still sand to stick things in) and hope it all goes away, or (3) do something, get creative and evolve.

What was previously a topic deemed worthy by only a small section of the live music industry, has now become an unavoidable theme applicable throughout the business

Event greening and sustainability often put the main focus on the elimination of single-use plastics and plastic pollution. Whilst this is extremely important, it’s actually just one small piece of a much larger puzzle. Reports such as The Show Must Go On published by Powerful Thinking have highlighted that a significant impact of live events on the environment is the burning of fossil fuels used for transportation. And more recently, it has been revealed that the meat and dairy industries are responsible for even greater emissions than transportation and that a huge reduction in their consumption is essential to avoid climate breakdown. In addition, regulations such as the Modern Slavery Act, and campaign groups like Fashion Revolution increasingly expose the supply chains for goods and merchandise.

So what’s the live music industry doing to reverse climate change? The recent Green Events & Innovations Conference (GEI) saw Coda Agency launch their Green Artist Rider alongside A Greener Festival, following growing requests from artists. Venues, including the Royal Albert Hall and the O2, highlighted their efforts to reduce FOH waste and facilitate low carbon travel for productions and audiences. Meanwhile, festival organisers across Europe have been pioneering in the field of sustainability – combating the rampant waste of campers with the formation of the Campsite Chaos working group. All of these actions and issues are helping the industry to focus on the issue and improve event sustainability.

Wasteful consumption of finite resources resulting in pollution is a huge challenge. Many of us are now aware of the circular or closed-loop economy – an area that requires innovation and creativity so that we can retire out-dated linear design systems that rely on cheap materials and disposability, and instead keep resources within the “loop.”

Difficult decisions have to be made with some industries no longer being permitted or able to operate as they did in the past

The circular economy aims to use renewable energy. Improved accuracy of temporary event power requirements results in optimum efficiency, saving both fuel and money. Energy storage systems are becoming more widely available and are particularly beneficial for supplementing limited grid power during peak usage.

There is an increasing demand for biofuels to replace the fossil fuels used for transport and generators. At GEI, Maarten Arkenboot of transport company Pieter Smit spoke of trucking fleets meeting Euro 6 emission standards due to regulations from major cities, and their use of HVO in their engines. HVO distribution and availability, however, is still lacking.

Public awareness of issues such as single-use plastics is growing, but we must be wary of knee-jerk reactions. Whilst new “green” alternatives are obviously attractive, we must give equal attention to the infrastructure for waste management and materials recovery. Sources of uncertified alternative fuel, for instance, can lead to deforestation and other consequences. The full life-cycle of each product must be considered.

Fundamental changes are needed to make a significant difference. Tour design needs to consider routing and the quantity of what is on the road or flown. Improvements can be made to in-house venue production, reducing trucking whilst boosting local creative employment. Low carbon travel for audiences needs to be facilitated.

Ultimately, it is not about saving the planet. It existed before us, and can exist without us in the future. A greener live music industry is concerned with our wellbeing as a species. Equality, diversity, health and wellbeing go hand in hand with effectively tackling ecological challenges.


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