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Green Guardians: Artists and activists

The Green Guardians Guide, spearheaded by the Green Events and Innovations Conference (GEI) and IQ Magazine, is a new yearly initiative boosting the profiles of those working at the forefront of sustainability, in the hope that it might also inspire others.

The 2021 list, which originally ran in IQ 103, includes 40 entries across eight categories, highlighting some of the organisations and individuals who are working so tirelessly to reduce the carbon footprint of the live entertainment business.

This year’s winners have been chosen by a judging panel that includes experts from A Greener Festival, Greener Events, Julie’s Bicycle, the Sustainability in Production Alliance, the Sustainable Event Council and the Tour Production Group.

IQ will publish entries across all categories over the coming weeks. Catch up on the previous instalment of the Green Guardians Guide which looks at activation, communication and marketing.


Paula Birtwistle
During the pandemic, Paula Birtwistle’s work life switched from travelling across the country to large gigs, to creating hyper-local experiences in her hometown. Working with local partners Culture Weston, Loves music venue, and Music Declares Emergency, she has been able to produce a series of live gigs with low environmental impact but huge social impact.

Birtwistle attended online training with Walk The Plank/Green Production Lab, a course designed to empower production managers to make better environmental choices in their work. “It’s interesting how people accept my advice on health and safety matters, but my advice on environmental impact should be taken just as seriously – and I am starting to see this happen,” she reports.

“For my latest series of gigs, I used a solar system to power them, backed up with investment in some very efficient lighting and sound kit. Even with Kosheen rocking the tent of 120 people we only pulled about 1,100W, or less than half [the amount of power required to boil] a domestic kettle!”

In addition to thinking about power, Birtwistle made sure everything was sourced locally, even down to beer brewed in the town and locally made vegan food. “I’ve also been thinking more about how to start important conversations,” she adds. “For example, I worked with Music Declares Emergency on a really cool inclusive gig that used the pull of free, quality live music to talk about local climate issues and small changes people could make. We hope to take this bandstand model around the country.”

“The UK live events industry is made up of people with exactly the skills needed to find new sustainable solutions”

Greenbelt Festival
Code Red for Humanity – that was the stark warning on 9 August from UN secretary general António Guterres. A brutal but realistic assessment highlighting just how important it is that we all join forces to avert a rapidly approaching climate catastrophe.

Organisers at Greenbelt have always advocated that there is strength in unity, in working together and learning from others, and that has been no different during the pandemic. Throughout this tricky time of cancelled festivals and plans A, B, C and D for any interim events, Greenbelt’s Green Guardians have persisted with their desire to find new and sustainable ways of doing things.
The organisation has talked regularly with the A Greener Festival community, shared knowledge with others in training sessions, and envisioned how the festival might be improved in 2022.

They’ve continued to support Vision:2025 and helped to set up a sustainability steering group for the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF).

“One thing we know for certain is that, battered and bruised as it is, the UK live events industry is made up of incredibly talented, problem-solving individuals – people with exactly the skills needed to find new sustainable solutions, new ways of powering things, of avoiding waste and inspiring audiences to make changes,” says Greenbelt’s Mary Corfield. “We can do this, if we all work together – we look forward to working alongside you.”

Openstage is seeking to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50,000 tons of CO2e per annum from the UK music market

Alison Hussey
After 32 years of being the first global concierge service to actively offer green and ethical options and support to rock stars and events, and with a history of working with global superstar vegans and activists, lockdown changed everything for Alison Hussey – as it did for so many.

Finding a silver lining in the situation allowed her to work towards the Vision:2025 aim of building the industry back greener (#BuildBackGreener) and to continue concentrating on promoting green lifestyles, holistic living and sustainability behind the scenes via social media, with her own company VIPZeronauts. She was also able to devote more time to her advisory roles with Openstage and NOQ, helping to empower companies that are making a difference in sustainability.

Openstage – with its capacity to use fan data to quantify and reduce emissions associated with live events, analysing location clusters of ticket purchasers and offering lower-emission travel alternatives to attendees – is seeking to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50,000 tons of CO2e per annum from the UK music market, and by 10% in any other country they operate meaningfully within.

NOQ, meanwhile, is revolutionising food and drink ordering at events and venues, solving problems around queue management whilst enhancing customer experience and providing a covid-safe solution. The NOQ app is an all-round more sustainable solution for events and venues, increasing sales whilst reducing food wastage, manpower and cash transactions through pre-ordering, and working with NCASS, AIF and NOEA.

“Shambala is becoming a disposables-free event, embracing new energy technologies, and working on a radical new food strategy”

Chris Johnson
In 2019, Chris Johnson spent around six months on furlough – his first break from festival organising in 20 years. As well as giving him the time and space to learn how to relax, it also provided him with the opportunity to get involved with various sustainability projects.

Johnson recently joined the Climate Live Advisory Board and is proud to have played a small role in getting singer-songwriter and political activist Declan McKenna onto a boat outside the UK Houses of Parliament with the message “Can you hear us yet?”

Meanwhile, at Vision:2025, which Johnson chairs, efforts were refocussed on communication and resources to support climate action. A monthly industry newsletter was launched, and a new ‘knowledge hub’ website constructed. The organisation also gained EU funding to develop a European knowledge hub and e-learning course for event professionals, which is under development.

In his role as CEO of UK music industry sustainable travel charity ecolibrium, Johnson was able to support a rebrand and strategic review, giving the organisation stronger foundations.

Last year, he also launched Chris Johnson Consulting, which has been working with marketing agencies, events companies and industry bodies on sustainability strategy.

And if all that wasn’t enough, his festival, Shambala, has also been busy on the sustainability front, including becoming a disposables-free event, embracing new energy technologies, and working on diversity and a radical new food strategy. “I can’t wait to get my teeth back into this in 2022,” says Johnson.

“Amplify gives 25 musicians a three-day immersion into nature connection and environmental awareness training”

Sam Lee
In addition to being a working artist, Sam Lee keeps himself busy through multiple projects. He is a co-founder of Music Declares Emergency, hosting their monthly radio show, supporting their No Music on a Dead Planet campaign, and sits on the Live Green working group focusing on creating a greener Live Music Charter.

Informing IQ how he has spent the pandemic, Lee says, “I released my first book, The Nightingale, a biography of this red-list endangered bird and its cultural importance. “Through my arts and environment organisation, The Nest Collective, I have been running many ecological awareness projects including my six-week concert series, Singing with Nightingales, both in-person and hosting the online broadcast series for Earth Day and International Dawn Chorus Day.”

Lee is also leading a series of the ecologically unique chalk stream awareness nature walks for audiences around the southeast of the UK. He continues, “I produced and led an artists’ development programme called Amplify, giving 25 musicians a three-day immersion into nature connection and environmental awareness training. I’ve also been holding numerous lectures and panels at conferences and events online on the importance of arts and creativity in the campaign for climate justice and sustainability.”


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New industry sustainability resources launched

Five years on from its inaugural edition, the second Show Must Go On report has been published, offering a comprehensive insight into outdoor event sustainability.

The report, which is available to download here, is the result of years of planning, research, data gathering and crowdfunding from within the industry. The Show Must Go On launches alongside a free-to-access online resource, the Vision2025 website, that features case studies, briefings and a supplier directory.

Both resources reflect the progress made in terms of the technologies, materials and operational practices used to reduce the environmental impacts of live events. The report is divided into chapters on governance, resources and waste, water, food, energy, travel and transports.

So far, more than 100 festivals and events have made the Vision:2025 pledge, committing to cutting the environmental impact of the events sector in half within five years.

“After a decade of the Powerful Thinking industry steering group, this is a significant step in the journey. The industry has now come together around a vision and has crowdfunded world-leading resources to inspire meaningful action,” comments Chris Johnson, chair of Powerful Thinking and Vision2025.

“The report is a call to action. Whatever people and organisations have done to date, the time to act and to tackle the climate crisis is now”

“This has been a huge collaborative effort and our thanks go out to all contributors, including our three gamechangers: Festival Republic, Continest and Nordic Wristbands, whose financial support underpinned the process.

“The report is a call to action. Whatever people and organisations have done to date, the time to act and to tackle the climate crisis is now.”

Alison Tickell, CEO and founder of Julie’s Bicycle, the charity behind Powerful Thinking and Vision 2025, adds: “Living within the generous boundaries of our planet’s ecosystems is now the only job in hand. As a creative and events collective, we can bring inspiration and community to this task.”

Live industry professional will discuss ways to reduce the environmental impact of events at music business sustainability gathering the Green Events and Innovations Conference (GEI) on 3 March, presented by A Greener Festival in partnership with the International Live Music Conference.


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Time to regenerate

As Shambala Festival’s 20th anniversary approaches in 2020, I’m reflecting on our journey from humble beginnings with 120 friends in a field to becoming one of Europe’s leading sustainable events. We have been driven by the desire to put on a wildly creative celebration and be at the vanguard of ethics and environmental practice.

We have experimented in every way we can, learning about our impacts with the input of scientific experts, setting ambitious targets, working with all stakeholders and taking risks. We have transitioned from diesel generators to completely renewable energy, eliminated single-use plastics, taken meat and fish off the menu, and in 2018, served only plant-based milks across the festival. We have a myriad of policies in place to reduce travel impacts and tackle the complex issue of waste, from both materials management and audience perspectives, with the support of behaviour-change psychologists. All of this has helped us to reduce the overall environmental footprint of the festival by over 90%, verified by third-party carbon calculator tools and certification.

We also place a huge emphasis on inspiring – and often requiring – everyone we are in contact with to think and act differently: audience, supply chain, local community and authorities, and the wider industry. I see a festival as a petri dish opportunity for experimenting with positive change. We know we can positively affect audience behaviour beyond the festival. When we took meat and fish off the menu, 50% of our audience ‘drastically changed their diets as a result of their experience of the festival’ and 76% of them had sustained that change six months later.

Not everything we’ve done works initially; we try things, learn, collect data like it’s going out of fashion so that we understand the minutiae of Shambala, we review, and then we shape strategy and policy accordingly. But I believe this isn’t enough. The climate crisis is rapidly changing the world, biodiversity is in freefall, soil fertility is seriously at risk and the oceans are saturated with plastics. It’s not climate ‘change.’ It’s an emergency, and one that affects people profoundly disproportionately globally.

We recently looked into our food policies and standards. What crystallised was that ‘sustainability’ as a concept is no longer fully adequate in meeting the challenges we face. It’s not enough to sustain. We need to improve ecological systems as quickly as we can, and a paradigm shift toward ‘regenerative’ thinking, models and practices is required to provide the life-support systems we need for the future.

I see a festival as a petri dish opportunity for experimenting with positive change

My eyes have been opened to how all aspects of our supply chain could become more regenerative. We will now pursue long-term relationships with food producers that are enhancing environmental and social capital, embracing a truly circular approach, whereby materials we use and no longer require have a next-life use pre-identified.

I’m beginning to appreciate how all aspects of our supply chain could become more regenerative, particularly in relation to food. Small-scale agriculture – under 12 acres – is significantly more beneficial for biodiversity, productivity, health, wellbeing and employment. On this basis, we are now developing long-term relationships with small-scale local food growers that are actually enhancing environmental and social capital, rather than simply ‘not damaging it.’

I feel optimistic about the bigger picture, but we face a challenge and need to get on with it quickly. We have the knowledge, technology, skills and resources to do this.

The event and music industries are now showing signs of taking real action. Energy Revolution, a UK charity dedicated to sustainable travel and carbon balancing now has 50 festivals and many suppliers engaged; and has balanced over 10 million miles of travel emissions with investments in renewable energy. Music Declares Emergency has experienced an explosive start, with 2,500 individuals and organisations joining within months of the launch.

The Powerful Thinking group, comprised of all the membership bodies in the events industry, has been working together on environmental practice for ten years. Their Vision:2025 campaign, a framework for halving the event industry’s impacts by 2025, has over 100 festivals in its portfolio.

Given the scale and urgency of the challenge, I am heartened by the cross-industry support to launch an updated Show Must Go On report and Vision:2025 online hub in January 2020. These free-to-access knowledge hubs will give all event professionals the tools to take significant steps toward zero-carbon events, without having to re-invent the wheel.


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