Rob Van Wegen is sustainability coordinator for Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS), a showcase festival and music conference in Holland that is part of the Green Deal Circular Festivals. Van Wegen believes in the potential for events to serve as a testing ground for innovative approaches to sustainability, an idea which he puts into practice through his work with Innofest and the DORP project.
In this Q&A he shares his inspiration, the highlights of his career and plans for the future: including the forthcoming launch of a project to help other festivals map out their sustainability ambitions.
What is the proudest sustainability achievement or moment of your career?
At ESNS we launched a Solidarity Eco Tax, where the visitors compensate their travel emissions. Around 75% of ticket buyers participated in the first year, and the numbers for 2022 are looking even better. For me personally, it was the moment Anjunabeats asked me to be part of a panel at MIT for Earth Day.
What was your worst ever sustainability-related decision, project or initiative and why?
A few years ago, we changed our crew menu. All dishes were to be vegetarian unless crew specifically asked for meat. When we made our order with the caterer, they thought the change was a typo, so they switched the orders back and we ended up with a lot of meat being served.
What are you excited about implementing this year?
We have launched ESNS Green Touring Support which means artists can get financial support to help them switch to more sustainable forms of travel during their tour.
Which environmental issue do you most care about?
The broken collaboration between people and nature.
What sustainable change have you made in your personal life that you are most proud of?
Structurally challenging myself after each new step: “Great, well done, what’s next?”
What do you read to stay in touch with green issues?
Articles through social media, and the independent platform The Correspondent (Dutch only).
What is the most memorable live performance in your life?
I’ve seen Kae Tempest, twice on the same stage at Into The Great Wide Open, both times mesmerising!
Was there a moment you committed to taking action on climate change?
I started off small, but when I joined Innofest and saw the potential of innovations, something switched and I wanted to become part of the pro-active movement.
What are the most important issues to tackle at your event?
Getting everyone to act in accordance with the knowledge they have about sustainability.
What do you think is the most significant challenge for the events industry becoming more sustainable?
To make sustainability part of the event industry DNA, so it is always there as a foundation.
Can you share something sustainable from another artist or event or company that inspired you to make a change?
The DORP project from Welcome to the Village Festival, an initiative which uses the event as a testing ground for new ideas with a focus on promoting more sustainable behaviour at the festival and beyond.
What is the secret to your sustainable success?
Transparency, share your story openly and honestly. Make yourself approachable, open to collaborate and learn.
Tell us something you feel positive about right now that relates to the environment
We keep on developing and I keep being inspired by all the wonderful things I see happening, so I can’t wait to see new changes at festivals this summer.
Tell us about a book, film or recent article you feel others should watch/read and why about positive change?
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink. This book helped me understand how motivation is a fundamental element in creating change, and where this motivation commonly comes from.
Can you give people new to sustainability in events a top tip?
Don’t be discouraged if things fail. Read, try, learn, develop and share, so others won’t make the same mistake, this way you still help the transition.
What is the favourite festival moment of your career?
There are too many wonderful specific moments to choose from – but one universal moment is when you meet a new person at a festival, and you later on realise that was the start of an exciting future. That is a magical feeling.
What habit or practice has helped you most in your personal journey in life?
Self-care, if you are good to yourself, you are in the right place to help others.
Is there anything new or exciting you are planning or changing for the future that you can tell us about?
We need leaders and followers. We have almost finished our project to build a roadmap template to help other festivals create their sustainability plans.
Will we save the world?
We will. If we keep on holding ourselves responsible and keep on trying to be better.
What would your sustainable superpower be?
To be an endless source of positivity.
This interview also appeared in the Vision: 2025 newsletter.