Blog: The Greener Events and Innovations Conference

22nd March 2016

At the beginning of March, Gemma (Creative Carbon Scotland) and Catriona (Festivals Edinburgh) travelled (through low-carbon methods!) to London to attend the Greener Events and Innovations conference, held by A Greener Festival and Bucks New University over the course of a day.

Aimed primarily at green-field/open-air music festivals, and addressing the theme of ‘challenging the status quo’, the event covered everything from the formal mechanisms for change, innovative examples, and the different dimensions of sustainability through which festivals can make an impact.

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Two active initiatives leading the outdoor music festival sector towards environmental sustainability were presented publicly at the conference. A Greener Festival, having run their successful sustainability-assessment awards scheme for a decade, relaunched their application and assessor recruitment and training for their award. Applied for annually, the award rates festivals on their commitments and actions, and helps adapt and continuously refine their behaviour towards environmental sustainability.

This was followed by Chris Johnston (Powerful Thinking, Shambala Festival, Kambe Events), who emphasised the message of “Alone I can go faster, together we can go further”, when discussing The Show Must Go On report (created as a festival industry response to the Paris COP that took place in December).

Chris particularly urged those festivals present to sign up to the Festival Vision:2025 pledge, which encourages those committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 50% over the next 9 years. Audience comments and questions around the pledge were varied, with those festivals more established in their sustainability efforts unsure as to how to reduce their power consumption further, and those heavily reliant on generator power requiring significant management support to make the changes suggested.

However, presentations on Smart Power Plans for fuel optimisation and the how hybrid generators can provide uninterrupted power supply at festivals and in the developing world (Tim Benson, Firefly Clean Energy), provided rational, tested and current opportunities for realising these goals.

Tech innovations

Inspired by the ‘disrupting complacency’ element of the conference, there was a focus on new ideas and innovation, several of which seemed to co-incidentally address the issue of human waste at outdoor sites. Managing to avoid toilet humour, Jonathan Winfield of Bristol Bioenergy Centre excited the group with his explanation of the major scientific and practical advancements in urine-powered fuel cells, producing enough electricity to light their test toilet at Glastonbury Festival in 2015. Hamish Skermer (A Natural Event) also regaled the group with the various tribulations of beginning composting toilets at his own festival, claiming: “Port-a-loos are designed for building sites, not music festivals!”.

Interpreting sustainability

Consistent across the conference was the variety through which the presenting individuals and festivals approached different dimensions of sustainability. As well as the innovative technological developments, the speakers highlighted the areas of:

  • Society: Throughout the event, speakers from across the panel sessions highlighted the more social good and non-profit motivations of festivals and how these had typically been more explicit in the past. Particularly relevant to the arts and sustainability, WE LOVE GREEN’s upcycled ‘scenography’ opportunity for emerging artists combined professional opportunities with the circular economy. Panellists also highlighted the concept of festivals performing social good, and those working in the events and festivals sector having significant transferrable skills to offer – for example, in application to working at refugee camps with honed abilities in generator power, temporary structures, mass catering and working with people.
  • Behaviour: The role of festivals in affecting audience behaviour change is a hot topic, and Livvy Drake of Shambala discussed the positive and negative reception the festival faced when announcing their plan to go ‘meat-free’ in their catering. There was a conflict too between those with differing beliefs around audience engagement in behaviour change initiatives: whereas Steve Muggeridge’s Green Gathering background led him to appreciate the democratic and audience-demanded sustainability adaptations, Rob Scully (Glastonbury) explained the festival’s internal process for developing stainless-steel re-useable cups, and the executive decision, research and development taken by the festival to ensure that the process was well implemented in its first instance.

Overall, the event provided a snapshot of the varied and international avenues to increasing the positive contributions festivals can make to their societies and the natural world. Never before have we learnt about koalas, fuel cells, stainless steel and Japanese ski resorts in the one day!


At the Greener Events and Innovations conference, Gemma and Catriona also presented on their learning around working in collaboration with respect to cultural and music festivals. Click here to find out more about our Fields of Green project, the Green Arts Initiative and the work of the Edinburgh Festivals.

Photo: Shambala by Marc Reck via Flickr Creative Commons

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We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.


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