Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) CEO Paul Reed on the launch of the Green Events Code and what the organisation is doing to keep environmental protection at the top of the agenda

As an organisation representing and supporting a community of more than 45% of all UK festivals that are 5,000+ capacity, AIF has an opportunity to show leadership in climate action, establish expectations around best practice, increase awareness, help members to take effective action and share experiences.

In fact, we’ve been doing this for several years. In 2018, AIF launched Drastic On Plastic, a digital campaign in which participating websites were ‘wrapped in plastic’ for 24 hours to raise awareness of the devastating effects of single-use plastic. More importantly, participating festivals pledged to eliminate all single-use plastic at their events within a three-year period.

In truth, there have been some pandemic-related delays in achieving this target by 2022 but festivals remain committed to the issue, even if they are all at slightly different stages of the journey.

The campaign reached more than 15m people online and, in the first year of the pledge, AIF members took various operational measures, with 93% of participants ditching plastic straws; 40% banning sales of drinks on site that were in single-use plastic; 87% promoting use of reusable drinking bottles; and 67% buying and selling branded reusable drinks bottles to audiences.

We built upon this in 2019 with a Take Your Tent Home/Say No To Single Use campaign, aimed at inspiring festival-goers to take home the 250,000 abandoned tents left at festivals each year.

Both campaigns were impactful, reaching millions of people. The messaging is ongoing but, in recent years, we’ve turned our attention to bigger picture issues. AIF has a climate action strategy underpinned by the principles that we need to act now, show leadership, take an evidence-based and collaborative approach, and raise the level of our members’ collective knowledge and carbon literacy.

AIF is also amongst organisations funding the creation of a Green Events Code for outdoor events, which will provide clear and workable minimum environmental standards and targets for all UK outdoor events, local authorities and the supply chain. The code will align with 1.5 degrees, national 2030 net zero targets, Race to Zero, and the LIVE Green declaration, and will hopefully become part of the planning process at a local level.

The guide is being developed by Vision: 2025 and is in its final phase of development, to be launched later this year. Crucially, these efforts must be cross sector. Managing the impact of our events is a universal concern but we have previous form of being quite siloed on this issue as an industry. There has been extensive consultation on the draft guide across the entire live events industry, local authorities and key industry bodies. Ultimately, if we don’t get our house in order, Government will impose legislation that will possibly be ill thought out with unintended consequences. Frankly, it is already the expectation from audiences that events will do all they can to mitigate their carbon footprint. Any type of event business not prioritising this is simply going to get left behind.

The climate emergency is an overwhelming topic, but I feel that there is some scope for optimism when you consider how the industry is pro-actively aligning to collectively tackle the most important challenge we’ll ever face.