Sustainability in focus at The Showman's Show

This year, for the first time, the Festival Vision 2025 conference at The Showman’s Show was open not only to the festival and supplier members but all visitors.

Festival Vision 2025 is a shared vision for a sustainable festival industry. It was conceived as part of 'The Show Must Go On' report, a festival industry response to the 2015 global climate change talks in Paris.

'The Show Must Go On' report outlines the environmental impacts of the festival industry and aims to provide a robust basis for an industry-wide action. The Festival Vision 2025 Pledge brings together festivals that wish to take action to create a sustainable future.

The packed room demonstrated the keen interest that the festival industry as a whole is continuing to take in the subject of sustainability, and what can be done to put on greener events.

Throughout the day the conference, moderated by Plaster PR’s Graham Brown, covered key topics surrounding sustainability including waste management, food, power and the responsibilities of organisers, supplier and festival-goers.

The Showman's Show itself also took some incremental steps to practice what it preaches when it comes to sustainability; trialling temporary structures powered by battery, moving away from diesel-fuelled golf buggies and offering visitors charging points for electric cars.

The state of the world

Chiara Badiali, knowledge and sector intelligence lead at London-based environmental charity Julie’s Bicycle, was one of the first speakers to take to the stage. She addressed the situation as it stands, sharing some figures that highlight the importance of making rapid and fundamental changes to the way that events are fun.

She commented that whatever target the industry is aiming for it should aim higher, and that festivals are the ideal ecosystems in which to model the world as it should be.

The circular economy

Next up Sophie Thomas of design agency Thomas Matthews detailed the thinking behind the idea of the circular economy, quoting Kate Krebbs who said that waste is a design flaw.

Products aren’t being designed with reuse in mind, and the materials that go into something like a toothbrush, which will likely be replaced after a few months, can last up to 400 years. Elements such as Indium, used for things such as screens and microchips, have no clear recycling process and are in danger of becoming scarce.

Sophie, similar to Chiara, argued that festivals are the ideal places to practice responsible waste management and a true circular economy. She added that responsibility for recycling and reusing products is often left at the door of the consumer.

Supplier innovations

Throughout the day the conference focussed on a number of key supplier groups including food, energy and waste management.

The energy panel discussion noted that UK events consume 380 million litres of diesel annually, which makes up around 1.5% of the UK total. More efficient generators are currently larger, heavier and will inevitably result in more trucks on the road and more overall cost, environmental and financial, to the organiser.

There have, however, been some steps forward. Renewable energy, despite not being feasible for larger shows, is increasing in use and measurement tools are giving organisers and acts more insight into exactly how much power is needed.

Managing waste

The conference concluded with a panel discussion on waste management, which examined some of the issues facing organisers and their waste management professionals. One commonly experienced problem was that festival-goers weren’t taking the time to accurately separate waste into the correct recycling bins provided.

Chris Johnson, co-founder, operations director and sustainability lead for Shambala Festival, commented that at the festival consumers had been provided with food bins at their tents which made a noticeable impact on the volume of correctly sorted waste. The panelists commented that food waste and the accurate sorting of general waste was much easier to control in backstage areas.

Vikki Chapman, head of sustainability for the UK and Ireland at Festival Republic, detailed some of the successes and challenges of introducing sustainable practices into events such as Download Festival. Through measures such as only providing water for acts when requested and introducing partly recycled plastic bottles the events had made a dent in the volume of their overall waste.

The panel, which also included Jonathan Taylor from Grist Environmental and Andy Willcott of Critical Waste, reported a decrease in tent abandonment across the board, but were unsure of what to attribute it to. Media scrutiny, visible onsite campaigns, pledges and well-publicised moments such as David Attenborough appearing on the Pyramid Stage could all have played a part.

The final words came from Vikki Chapman, who admitted there were no straightforward fixes to many of the major waste challenges facing festivals, but that it was important for organisers to “control what you can control.”