In January, AEG Europe hired Sam Booth as its first director of sustainability to spearhead its work at its venues and festivals. He tells Access about his work on an array of new initiatives and garnering robust data to formulate strategy.
The many sustainability measures already taken by AEG Europe include powering events and venues with 100% renewable energy sources, banning single-use plastic, promoting plant-based food, and even introducing an onsite wormery at The O2 arena; which became the first arena in England to receive Greener Arena accreditation from A Greener Future (AGF). Most recently, AEG Europe has partnered with sustainable event specialists A Greener Future (AGF) and UK-based climate tech startup CUR8 to host ‘carbon removed’ events at the 20,000-capacity The O2.
Booth has more than a decade of experience working across high-profile event production and sustainability projects with major brands such as Nestlé, Adidas and Pernod Ricard. Here he outlines his priorities at AEG.
Since starting in the role at AEG what have been your priorities?
A new role is always an interesting one because you must spend a bit of time making sure the whole business is aware there is a new resource they can tap into. The amazing thing with AEG is that there’s so many passionate people in the business who were already doing great things before I arrived. The biggest thing I’ve been tackling so far is helping our LA head office rebaseline. We’re doing a repositioning piece where we’re coming up with major goals for the global business and I am responsible for translating those into a European context and for different business units. I’ve been trying to get that big strategic piece done and nailed down so we can then spend the latter half of the year outlining new goals and a whole host of new initiatives.
Have there been any new sustainability initiatives at AEG venues and events in the UK this year?
We did a lot of work at BST Hyde Park on our waste handling and our power generation. We really focused on making sure all the waste was segregated properly, which involved looking at all the bin systems, installing improved signage, and having crews of people at each bin helping to direct people. We also trialled a new battery system, which helped to supplement the generators we already have. We did a lot of test-and-learn this year to figure out what the capacity of those batteries are, where they’re best used and how they work best with generators.
“It’s amazing to see the buy-in from board level all the way through to the people on the ground.”
Is there a wider strategy around renewable energy?
Ultimately, the goal is to get our festivals hooked up to the national grid. That is the dream. Biodiesel is great, it’s a big move forward from where we were, but it does still produce carbon and not all generators can be run at maximum efficiency at all times. We’re finding you can charge up the batteries with generators that are operating at their best efficiency, which means they’re burning much less fuel to charge the battery. That can really drive down overall fuel usage across the site.
Research has shown audience travel is typically responsible for 80% of a greenfield event’s emissions, how much of a focus do you have on reducing the impact of audience travel?
With our London festivals and city venues we are very lucky to have incredible public transport links but beyond that we do have a lot of suppliers transport with large HGVs coming down to sites. We’re tracking all incoming site traffic, the types of vehicles used and the visit frequency. We don’t want to keep that data to ourselves, we want to be able to share that with our partners. It’s not something that can be tackled by us alone. We need to be able to bring everyone who’s operating on our site with us, and I think that data capture piece first and foremost is super important.
Are suppliers’ sustainability credentials examined before you engage with them on projects?
Absolutely. We are very lucky in our venue world to be working with the likes of Levy and Peppermint. Levy specifically have very stringent and ambitious goals in that space. So that helps us to aim for massively reduced carbon on our menus. At The O2, Peppermint have been measuring their impact for a number of years now and have got very ambitious targets in that space.
How are you tackling the issue of single-use plastic at events and venues?
At Eventim Apollo and The Halls Wolverhampton we use Stack-Cup reusable cups, and at The O2 and Indigo at The O2 we’re using compostable paper cups. Those systems are working pretty well at the moment but we’re constantly looking at the reusable systems to figure out how we can increase retention, that’s the most crucial part. Cups is a very live issue; we are working with Julie’s Bicycle to come up with a definitive solution to that issue. In Germany, we have reusable cup systems in our venues that involve having big in-house washing machines to clean the cups. We are also very hot on the plastic issue at festivals. There is no single-use plastic at BST. We make sure that all our suppliers and partners adhere to those regulations.
What is your view on carbon removal schemes that involve removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it through various means such as plants, rocks and underground reservoirs?
We are going to start looking at things like carbon removals in the not-too-distant future. Some people would say they are on the edge of this space, but they’re being looked at a lot more, and investigated by organisations such as the UN as the only real way of us getting towards net zero. I think us putting money into those kinds of technologies is going to be crucial, that’s the route that we want to go down with our partners. We are very focused on getting the carbon out of the atmosphere as quickly as possible.
What’s the next big step we can expect to see from AEG?
Towards the end of this year, we’re going to have an awful lot more to talk about. There’s a lot of big initiatives. It’s amazing to see the buy-in from board level all the way through to the people on the ground. One of the things we’ll be launching in September is a big training piece so everyone in the company understands not only what we’re trying to fix but how we’re approaching the issues. Education is such a huge piece because it really does help persuade people to take action.
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