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The industry is coming of age on the issue of sustainability

Reflecting on the GEI Summer Edition, A Greener Festival’s Claire O’Neill says the industry is uniting on a common goal of shared learning

22 Nov 2021

In 2021, sustainability in live music has become such a hot topic that we needed not one but two Green Events & Innovations (GEI) conferences. After the Summer Edition, it became clear that the industry is “coming of age” on sustainability. I’m not talking body hair and sexual impulses – they’ve always been a prolific feature of our industry; it’s other features of transformation from “childhood” to “adulthood” that we’re displaying.

There’s a notable increase in recognition of the purpose behind what we do and why. Perhaps because of the prolonged grounded months of 20/21, we’ve had space to reflect on what’s important, to see the impact of actions, positive and negative. Glimmers of emotional maturity are showing where it might have been lacking in the past.

Another factor is stepping into our responsibility. It isn’t enough to just ‘not be shit’. We must recreate our structure of business, communication, and where we place value. Never have we experienced such engagement on the topic of sustainability across all levels of the live music sector, from grassroots to c-suites – venues, promoters, agents, artists, production.

All parts of the industry are uniting on a common goal of shared learning and understanding, to not only reduce our fuel-use, plastic-use, and meat consumption etc, but to create equitable environments that nurture positive outcomes.

Never have we experienced such engagement on the topic of sustainability across all levels of the live music sector

So why is this happening now as A Greener Festival (AGF) enters its 16th year and GEI its 14th? Whilst there have been pioneers and innovators present all the way, the majority of the industry has been slow off the mark to respond to the sustainability challenges we face. It is fair to say that it is human or indeed cultural nature to go with the path of least resistance, and only get things done when there’s a looming deadline.

For decades it’s been made easy to make healthy profits by exploiting other people and our ecosystem – now it’s coming back to bite us on the bum. There is also a global shift in awareness, which is influencing government policy; infrastructure and logistics; marketing communications; education systems; and fields of research. Our industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

The ignorance of sustainability was a shared global condition, as much as its current focus is (save for indigenous communities who have lived in reciprocity with the rest of nature for millennia). We’re also now presented with solutions and information that was previously not available to us. After all, we generally create mind-blowing and unforgettable entertaining and emotional experiences, not synthetic fuels, transport networks, and renewable energy.

So back to the boots on the ground. GEI welcomed delegates and speakers from all over the globe, from elders of indigenous communities to execs of global promoters. The conference featured a collective industry-first when LIVE Green launched its declaration, asking the sector to commit to reaching net-zero by 2030.

The trend of artists announcing or at the very least aspiring to greener tours, should and will increase

Elsewhere, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Studies shared their tour-impact research commissioned by Massive Attack, and Coldplay were back in the press with their actions, intentions, and failings for creating a greener tour. All of these actions are vitally important to put wind in the sails of where we need to get to.

The trend of artists announcing or at the very least aspiring to greener tours, should and will increase. There are enough eyes, expertise, and open dialogue that the industry will be able to work to facilitate this, with any dubious attempts at PR stunts and greenwashing being quickly washed out of the game. What’s more, it is essential that the business provides a green industry, so that artists can confidently use their profile to engage and inspire billions of people.

We will return for GEI 14 in March, alongside ILMC and IPM. We will regroup to share each sector’s actions and obstacles, as well as to report on the work done since our frenzied reboot of the industry across multiple countries. Testing how far along we have come and making sure we are all ‘walking the talk.’

At the summer edition of GEI, a deeply respected and internationally renowned elder from the Diné tribe, Patricia McCabe, Woman Stands Shining, reminded us that this vast and staggering transition is not going to be painful; it is going to be deeply satisfying. And I wholeheartedly agree!


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