The Event Production Show conference saw key stakeholders in the world’s first carbon removed arena shows reveal the work involved in the project, how removal compares to reduction and offsetting, and why it could become an essential approach for the live events industry.

A partnership between AEG Europe, A Greener Future (AGF) and UK-based climate tech start-up CUR8 saw The O2 become the first arena in the world to host ‘carbon removed’ concerts, with four shows last month by The 1975.

The aim was to remove more than 100 tonnes of residual carbon emissions per event, helping to mitigate the environmental damage caused by the shows. AEG Europe teamed with CUR8 to predict the emissions of the shows, based on expected outputs for categories including catering, transport and electricity. A portfolio of carbon removal methods is now being used to physically extract the carbon generated by the events from the atmosphere and store it safely.

The O2 arena’s hospitality partner Levy UK + Ireland, accounted for the removal costs in their operations, while emissions from audience travel was estimated based on travel surveys and removal costs accounted for by 90p being added to the ticket price.

AEG intends to use the findings of the test events to create a best practice-model for venues, promoters and tours worldwide on how to execute a carbon-removed event.

An ambassador for environmental law firm ClientEarth, and until recently a special advisor to the Ministry of Defence on national security and climate change, Mark Stevenson is the co-founder of CUR8.

He was joined on the panel by AGF co-founder Claire O’Neil, who has worked closely with AEG for more than a decade on a series of projects. AGF was involved in calculating CO₂ emissions from The 1975 shows while also working on reduction schemes.

Also on the EPS conference panel was Sam Booth, who was hired in January last year by AEG Europe as its first director of sustainability. Booth has helped lead carbon reduction measures at The O2, which include the introduction of a revised menu to reduce the carbon footprint of meals by 30%, the use of seaweed-based Notpla food packaging and serveware that reduces emissions by up to 70% compared with standard alternatives, reusable cups, and an on-site wormery for food waste.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

AAA: Mark, for the uninitiated, can you explain the basics of carbon removed events?

MS: “First and foremost, before I get into that, removal is the last thing you should be doing, it’s the reduction that really matters. Removing your carbon properly is quite expensive, so that should act as a further incentive for you to reduce your emissions. The real heroes are the people who are reducing emissions, but the fact is we have to remove about 200 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere before 2050. The legal and scientific definition of NetZero is that you must remove, and that means take out of the atmosphere and store away, your residual emissions. You can’t offset it, that’s protecting carbon that’s already come down, that’s a good thing to do but that will not get us to where we need to be as a planet.

Carbon removal is really the business of taking carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into what my scientific team would call a ‘chemically recalcitrant form’, a form that’s not going to bond with oxygen again, and then storing it away. Then being able to verify that scientifically and legally.

“Getting carbon out of the atmosphere is not hard. Carbon is like the slut of the periodic table. It’s a very promiscuous element, it will bond with everything.”

Getting carbon out of the atmosphere is not hard. Carbon is like the slut of the periodic table. It’s a very promiscuous element, it will bond with everything. But that is also a problem, in that it will also bond very quickly with oxygen and go back up again. What you’ve got to do is find some way, and there are actually lots of ways, of getting it into that chemically recalcitrant form. We have a draconian due diligence process that works out which methods can do that, and that we can scientifically and legally verify. That’s important for AEG, because if they’re going to say ‘this is a carbon removed event’, they’ve got to prove that, otherwise they’re going get hammered in the press but also legally in the future in terms of compliance.

So, we do everything from things like biochar, enhanced rock weathering, direct air capture, carbon storing building materials. We have a watching brief on 400 methods but only about 12 of have so far made it into the stuff that we sell. Our job is to try and get those carbon removal technologies and approaches, nature-based or technology-based or a mix of both, to the stage where they can scale rapidly to draw down the carbon we need.

AAA: Claire, you’ve been involved in helping to lead the reduction effort in the live music industry for quite some time. How did you get involved in the project?

CO: I’ve been working for about 20 years on reducing emissions and waste, trying to make the festival, events and music industry a tool for good rather than for bad. We had never considered offsets; we have always focused on ways to reduce and improve. Then, during the pandemic, I met Mark and Gabrielle Walker, who went on to found CUR8. That was the first time the penny dropped that even if we stopped all emissions now, we still have to remove the excess CO₂ from the atmosphere, because we’ve already gone too far.

I really trust what is being done through the team at CUR8 and can see real positive benefits from these removal projects. The enhanced rock weathering, for example, when it’s done right the rock gets ground up and can replace chemical fertilisers. So, it has biodiversity benefits, as well as removing carbon from the atmosphere. It’s another positive for the ecosystem beyond just our carbon balance sheet.

“It’s another positive for the ecosystem beyond just our carbon balance sheet.”

 When we did The O2’s CO₂ analysis, removal was one of the recommendations we gave for handling the residual emissions. Because The O2 is in a position that they can invest in the reductions, they can also invest in removals.  We wouldn’t recommend it if you were on a very low budget and still needed to make major carbon reductions, but for those that are ready, this is definitely necessary and needs to be built out.

AAA: Sam, what has the reaction been like to the initiative and where do you take it from here?  

SB: Everyone knows that when people try and do new, ambitious, things they often get shouted out for doing it. So full credit to The 1975’s team and the band for saying, ‘yes, we want to be involved’.

We’ve already had a couple of artists come to us independently and ask if it something that they can do as well. In the first instance, we’ve said no, because what we want to do is package this up and turn it into a really cool watertight case study that we can then go out to market with and tell artists that if they want to come to The O2, we can offer this as a service to them and we can estimate what it might cost for them.

It is an important thing to stress that all the different players within the shows have been paying for the removal of their own part of the carbon footprint. So, the band will look after their emissions, AEG and The O2 look after the emissions associated with the arena specifically, and we’ve added 90p to the cost of the tickets. That 90p accounts for roughly the amount of money it would cost to remove the carbon emissions of an average fan journey to the arena. Between 60% and 80% of an average show’s carbon footprint comes from people getting to and from the arena. That is a huge chunk of money, which needs to be sourced from somewhere. That 90p was folded into the ticket price and not a single person put their hand up and criticised it.

“It’s ideally something that we want to roll out as much as we can. not just at The O2 but also our festivals.”

“It’s been a big team effort, and it’s ideally something that we want to roll out as much as we can. not just at The O2 but also our festivals. But it does involve everyone working together because it’s too big a problem for one person to manage.

AAA: Claire, when it comes to rolling the carbon removal model out to greenfield festivals, what are the cost implications and what are the additional challenges?

CO: It would really vary depending on the type of festival. The real key is that the [cost] has to be split between people. There’s going to be legislative requirements to deal with carbon in the future and therefore we do have to do this removal element at some point, assuming that we’re not going to be able to make everything carbon free, which is very unlikely. Therefore, for it to not be a major cost for any one individual, we need to work out as an industry who is responsible for what piece of the pie. So, when you’re looking at a festival site, you’re going to have quite a similar setup; there’ll be the merchandise, the food and beverage. Who’s responsible for that can all be calculated and separated out and you put a cost on that tranche of the emissions.

With the artists coming in, that’s slightly more complicated, but a fraction of all of the artists’ travel can be shared with the agent and artist fee. The promoter can then decide, depending on what their setup is, whether to share the cost of the carbon removal for the event with, for instance, the power contractor and the waste contractor etc. We know from years of having looked into the data, what emits what, where and when. Many festivals now understand that and have the data. So, it’s just a matter of working that out commercially and depending on the culture of the event, how you want to split that up.

MS: When you make it something you’ve actually got to do, in terms of removing the carbon, it’s going to also really focus your mind on reducing emissions, which is what we want as a planet.

Compliance is going to come in and that turns it into a commercial reality. Already local authorities, who have all been tasked to get to NetZero, are saying to venue owners, ‘If you’re not going to show me a path to NetZero, sometime in the future you’re going to lose your late-night entertainment drinks licence’. You cannot now get some government contracts unless you can show a path to NetZero, which means removing your carbon at the end.

I’m already talking to bands that are saying, ‘if only the venue’s would give us this platform then we could do a properly NetZero tour looking after our bit, and that would allow us to talk about the climate, which we really want to do’. So, until the venues sort themselves out, the artists are stuck. I’m creating a coalition of people like U2 and Metallic to make this point to the industry.