The Netherlands’ Revolution Foundation and DGTL Festival have been leaders in event sustainability for many years, and circularity is at the heart of their approach. Mitchell Van Dooijeweerd talked to Green Events NL to explain his role and how circular solutions were used to tackle everything from the food court to the legion of inflatable animals for which Elrow Town in Amsterdam is renowned.
What is your role within Revolution Foundation for Elrow?
I’m the sustainability manager at Revolution Foundation. Our foundation provides sustainable and circular systems for festivals and events. Revolution Foundation started to share circular practices and experiences from the pioneering DGTL Festival. So we work closely with events, companies, and governments to design and implement circular blueprints at as many festivals as possible, which allows us to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable society.
Our projects are effecting radical change in the behavior of festival-goers, partners, companies, and governments around the world. Our projects prove that it’s possible to transition to circular systems without having to compromise on quality or experience. We believe this is the best way to introduce the world to the circular economy.
Our sustainability interventions are supported by the Revolution volunteer program, where we partner with a range of training programs and courses. The ultimate goal is to help young people discover their passion and introduce them to their future profession in circular events.”
What are Elrow’s ambitions around sustainability?
Elrow is aware of the importance of sustainability, and we’ve demonstrated that by brainstorming on and working with the sustainability plan. Elrow’s goal is to improve our raw materials plan and to handle food more responsibly, ultimately reducing the impact on the environment. That’s why our organization is working to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions by using solar and wind power. As one of the leading brands in the sector, Elrow not only feels a responsibility for improving their relationship with the environment, but also for actively participating in social change. As part of that process, it’s important to share our values with the society and be an example to our fans.
Elrow is prepared for a new era, a new generation, more aware and sustainable than the last. Elrow wants to inspire its 7,000,000 fans around the world!”
What does your circular approach look like?
Our circular approach starts with a baseline measurement, something we call a Material Flow Analysis (MFA). This creates a visual representation of an events’ metabolism. It shows you which raw materials streams are coming into the festival, and the impact those streams have once they leave the festival site.
We have a sustainability program where we work within five different themes: Resources, Mobility, Food, Energy, and Water & Sanitation. That means that we’re intentionally addressing these different themes that are relevant to our events. We reuse, recycle, and use renewable sources like sun, wind, and rain as much as possible.
We have an ultimate goal for each theme, and if we achieve all of those goals, the result will be a circular festival.”
From take-make-waste to reuse, how do you manage it?
“Reuse is an important theme for us, and we’ve come up with different interventions to maximize reuse and eliminate single-use materials. One of the most visible parts of the sustainability plan is the introduction of the hard cup system. We will no longer serve our customers with traditional disposable soft cups. Instead, they’ll come in a reusable hard cup. It not only saves an enormous amount of plastic waste, but it also prompts visitors to think about their current ‘linear’ behaviour (take-make-waste) and offers a new perspective on reusing valuable raw materials.
We’re also moving from waste as a problem to raw material as a solution. We no longer consider waste as material to be burned or dumped. Instead, we look at it as a collection of valuable raw materials. The festival offers central ‘Recycling Points’ for visitors, to guarantee high raw materials recycling levels. All of the raw materials are collected on-site as a mono stream. What happens backstage and behind the bars is happening in front of the house, too. The entire festival is set up to reach the highest possible percentage of raw materials separation and collection.
Another important aspect is that we’re trying to redesign the way we currently use raw materials. So we’ve designed fully digital menu signage at the bars and the food court, so they no longer need to be printed. We’ve also introduced gamification, by collecting cigarettes in a ballot box with a funny statement. We didn’t use confetti, but we did use other special effects and acts (CO2 jets and stilt walkers) that didn’t create any extra waste to create that overwhelming wow moment.”
What does a circular food court entail?
Elrow Town festival has 20,000 visitors and offers only vegetarian dishes, which means we can reduce 9,000 kg of CO2 emissions. We have a circular food court, because 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost every year that’s produced for human consumption, and 2/3 of all packaging waste comes from food packaging. Almost all of it ends up in non-recycled waste, and it’s a massive, urgent problem that has a huge impact on the environment. That’s why we’ve put together a procurement policy for our caterers. The caterers can only use compostable materials to serve their vegetarian dishes. We then convert our food scraps, plates, and cutlery into compost within 24 hours, within sight of the visitor. That compost is then used to grow vegetables for local farmers. So we’re bringing nutrients from the soil back into the food cycle and inspiring visitors with our circular food system.”
Elrow is known for its legion of inflatable animals and other single-use party favours. What solutions have you come up with?
We started an initiative where we reuse inflatable items, turning them into magical new decorations. It keeps them from becoming garbage. There was a collection point where broken inflatable animals could be handed in. Then they were given a new lease on life at the Animal Rescue Centre, where they were glued back together or repurposed. After the festival, all the discarded inflatable animals were collected on the grounds and are currently being made into a large decorative piece that we’ll use in 2022.”
Is this event setting an example for other Elrow shows?
Elrow organizes 150+ shows in 26 countries every year, so Elrow Town Amsterdam is an example for other Elrow events. It’s Elrow’s testing ground to see what can be implemented at other events around the world. That’s partly because we’re already quite advanced in the Netherlands when it comes to sustainable events and there’s a demand for it from visitors here.
For example, we have an efficient power plan here in the Netherlands, which allows us to match power generation to power demand and save up to 40% on diesel. We choose to maximize our clean and renewable energy usage. We’re moving away from diesel generators and towards batteries, solar energy, wind energy, and other renewable energy sources, which will significantly reduce our CO2 emissions. Where we still use diesel generators, we are replacing the standard diesel with bio-fuel.”
You have applied for A Greener Festival Award, what are your expectations?
“We’re entering A Greener Festival Awards again this year. This year we are keen to be challenged on every aspect of a festival to deliver the most sustainable event possible and assessed by theme. We’re working hard to achieve the highest possible score and to earn an ‘Outstanding’ award. Last year, we were nominated for the ‘A Greener Catering Award’ for the first time, and we’ve launched a wide range of new projects this year.
This Q&A originally appeared in the Vision: 2025 newsletter.