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Turning sustainability into saleability

The issue of sustainability and the future of our planet has gripped the globe. Greta Thunberg has been arguably the world’s most foremost speaker in 2019, with every week something related to the topic dominating newsfeeds, be it freak weather, Amazonian fires or growing plastic reserves in our oceans.

It’s becoming omnipresent in the festivals and events space as well, with this year’s season being dominated by it. David Attenborough spoke at Glastonbury to congratulate their attendees for not using plastic, the festival also celebrating 99.3% of people taking their tents home and seeing over 2,000 people join climate change campaign group Extinction Rebellion. The Reading and Leeds Festivals also saw an upturn in sustainable behaviour, with 60% fewer tents left behind as a consequence of their own partnership with Extinction Rebellion.

Musicians also continue to take a stand, the most recent involving the 1975 pledging to plant a tree for every ticket on their tour sold.

The carbon footprint of festivals is one reason for the matter becoming so prominent, but we’re seeing it develop into a much bigger issue for the people that fund the events: the millions of festival ticket buyers. As a new generation of event attendees emerges, a younger demographic even more worried about the plight of the planet has thrust it beyond a side issue to an essential component of any festival or event’s identity.

According to a recent YouGov report, “a quarter (27%) of Britons now cite the environment in their top three issues facing the country, putting it behind only Brexit (67%) and health (32%). Among young Britons concern is higher still, with fully 45% of 18–24-year-olds saying environmental issues are one of the nation’s most pressing concerns, elevating it above health as their second biggest concern behind Brexit (57%).”

Could festivals and events harness consumer’s passions for sustainability issues to their advantage when marketing their shows?

YouGov’s research shows that Extinction Rebellion’s protests across the country have been the catalyst for this, and despite former PM Theresa May committing to net zero UK carbon emissions by 2050, the objections continue. We’re continuing to see this trend show up within festivals. Ticketmaster’s recent survey of 4,000 festival punters (the State of Play UK festivals report), found that a festival being eco-friendly was very important for 57% of attendees, and that waste reduction is very important for 62%.

It’s clear that environmental issues are incredibly important for festivalgoers, and luckily we are also seeing that the festival industry is responding. As well as Glastonbury banning single-use plastics this year, the Live Nation Green Charter across 20 festivals made a number of pledges around reducing the impact each event had. And smaller independent festivals have been leading the way for years, with Shambala, Green Man and many more all making sustainability a central tenet of how their events are delivered.

It’s heartening to see the industry make these steps, particularly as the damage to the environment they can cause needs reversing. But many of these initiatives are time-consuming and can also be daunting for newer events with smaller budgets.

I work with a multitude of events and festivals through my role as a director at Mustard Media, a festivals and events accelerator, and sustainability is a common topic of conversation among all our employees and with our discussions with clients. We looked inwards and asked ourselves if there was a way to deliver an impact with a quicker turnaround.

Could festivals and events harness consumer’s passions for sustainability issues to their advantage when marketing their shows, helping save the environment as part of their main marketing message?

It’s clear that environmental issues are incredibly important for festivalgoers, and the festival industry is responding

Corporate responsibility is an integral part of branding across all sectors, and we’re firm believers that if you can instil positive change when promoting your event, then you should take the opportunity to do so. We were curious to see if it was possible to utilise the power of marketing to make festivals more sustainable – and, in turn, sell more tickets whilst helping events reduce their carbon footprint via some simple promotional steps. We looked into our Mustard Media toolbox and decided running a mini version of our Event Growth Hack workshop could help us come up with a range of solutions for festivals to address this issue.

The Event Growth Hack is a simple process for rapidly solving marketing challenges. After initial research and evaluation, a collaborative workshop session is held which pools the creativity of all parties. A cluster of ideas are generated before a streamlined democratic decision-making process whittles down the most effective marketing solutions for events and festivals. We traditionally use it to help energise festivals mid-campaign or provide a quick burst of creativity when there are time constraints. We figured we could utilise the process to generate some positive ideas for festivals helping the environment alongside promoting their event.

We booked a day out with a crack team to see what ideas we could come up with, identifying five quick hacks and five bigger projects any event or festival could deploy. Among our discoveries were being able to utilise social media engagement to plant trees; reward green behaviour of attendees both before and after the event; and even use the power of comedy to raise awareness. Each initiative could directly benefit the environment and keep sustainability as an issue at the forefront of the marketing message. And as with all experiments in creativity, they can be the catalyst for further ideas to do the same.

We already plan to use these initiatives with both our clients and the festivals we work with as partners in 2020 – a new year and new decade where we envisage sustainability will be an even more dominant issue within the industry.

Visit our website and read our article to learn more about the initiatives and how you could implement these in your own marketing plans.


Rob Masterson is managing director of Mustard Media.