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On the eve of signing its 50th festival to its charter, Powerful Thinking’s Chris Johnson makes a call to the festival industry for further change. festival-vision-logo

In November 2015 Powerful Thinking, the UK festival industry think tank for environmental sustainability, published a seminal report: The Show Must Go On.

The report was conceived and written as an industry response to the Paris climate conference COP21 in December 2015, where 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C.

The report brought together all known UK research and analysed the most comprehensive data sets available on the environmental impact of festivals. It details the measures that festivals can take, and in many cases are already taking, to reduce impacts, while also exploring what a cross-industry response to the global environmental challenge might look like.

Where are we now? The Show Must Go On report research was based on 279 UK summer music festivals, and it found that the industry is responsible for approximately 20 kilotonnes of CO2e annually (on-site emissions), rising to 100 kilotonnes CO2e annually when audience travel (80 per cent) is included. In the region of 23,500 tonnes of waste is produced, of which only 32 per cent or less is likely to be recycled. Festivals use in the region of five million litres of diesel each year, which contributes 65 per cent of a festival’s average on-site carbon footprint.

Subsequent consultation between festival organisers led to the launch of Festival Vision: 2025 – a pledge to reduce festival emissions by 50 per cent within the next 10 years.

It is with great excitement that six months on, we’re about to sign our 50th festival to the Festival Vision: 2025 pledge. The UK festival industry has been world leading in many ways, and now we are showing leadership for festivals globally on climate action.

At this stage in the journey we are simply building communication bridges with like-minded festival organisers who want to play their part in running festivals with responsible management of their carbon impact.

There is not much scepticism left when it comes to the science behind global warming, but there is still a reticence to act. We believe that this is based on a lack of information as to what to do, coupled with a fear of how much time and money it could cost. The truth is that we cannot afford to not invest the time to preserve our environment. It is all of our responsibilities and it needn’t cost.

The first thing we must all do is to learn how to measure our events’ carbon impacts, so that we can prioritise the most effective areas to achieve reductions. With reliable information we can identify our starting point and measure progress. A Greener Festival Awards and Julie’s Bicycle – the providers of the Creative Industry Green Tool (an event specific carbon calculator) – are working together to calibrate the data they collect from participating festivals. It’s just one example of how the industry is starting to collaborate toward Festival Vision: 2025.

For the many events that have not yet considered how to implement sustainability in any meaningful way, Festival Vision: 2025 provides a wealth of freely available best-practice information and case studies to provide a roadmap to the plethora of unique events that want to commit to positive change, create an open and collaborative culture in this endeavour and chart progress through measurement as they go.

Festival Vision: 2025 sets out a number of key commitments that will contribute to festivals achieving the 50 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2025. These include reducing waste, aiming for 50 per cent recycling rates, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and aiming to cut diesel consumption by 50 per cent.

Will this be possible? The simple answer is yes – it’s been done by many pioneering events already, where improvements in power management alongside the introduction of energy technologies (particularly efficient lighting and power) are delivering results and becoming widely available in the hire market.

If you are one of the 279 UK summer music festivals, and have not joined yet, it’s not too late – check out the website for more details about the pledge and to sign up.

Follow Powerful Thinking on Twitter at @powerthinkorg using the hashtags #FestivalVision2025 and #PowerfulThinking.


This feature originally appeared in the July/August issue of Access All Areas, out now.