Sustainable futures for music festivals
By Adrian Bossey, Head of Subject at Falmouth University and former artist manager in the music industry.
This summer I attended a fantastic Massive Attack show at the Eden Sessions. The Eden Project is a truly iconic venue for a festival and both an inspirational advocate for, and an excellent exemplar of best practice in sustainability, which according to Smit & Melissem (2018) “helps to raise awareness about environmental problems and possible solutions”.
Despite this, Gary Barlow had to issue an apology for plastic pollution following criticism after his 2018 Eden Sessions show. This blog post will consider sustainability at festivals by asking whether performers, venues and promoters can do more to minimise their own impacts?
Delivering excellent practice in event sustainably undoubtedly requires a demanding learning journey and at early stages it might still be relatively easy for artists' Production Managers to overlook sustainable procurement when pulling together the production for a big show. Indeed, in the interests of full disclosure and to mitigate sounding ‘preachy’, I should confess that my clients, Carter USM, faced very similar criticism from the media, after the 1992 Glastonbury Festival, for firing things at their audience (not a confetti cannon though - 20,000 yellow plastic balls via two very powerful electric fans). We all learnt a valuable lesson there!
Famously, the Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Whilst the standard approach to sustainability identifies the economic, environmental and social impacts of staging live events; some commentators are increasingly proposing that we ought to be adding technology and the impact of technology into that definition.
Taking this approach would perhaps include acknowledging the effect of social and other media in ultimately changing Gary Barlow’s future tour production practices, so that the controversy surrounding his plastic confetti informed a positive learning journey for the artist and his fans.
The global popularity of festivals makes them ideal vehicles for advocacy and shared learning, with procurement by artists and attendees, alongside subsequent relationships to the waste hierarchy, representing a really important consideration. Education is key and while there wasn’t much sustainability training available for band managers in 1992 (well that’s my excuse anyway!) today's promoters and venues can (and should) develop their sustainability through, for instance, schemes like the A Greener Festival Award.
Festivals must build on best practice from industry leaders like the Eden Project and we hope to help with this process through the successful Falmouth University / A Greener Festival Online Training course for event organisers and academics interested in sustainable practice.
Brundtland, G. H. (1987) Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future The United Nations, Oslo.
Smit, B & Melissen, F (2018) Sustainable Customer Experience Design – Co-creating Experiences in Events, Tourism and Hospitality Routledge Abingdon
Adrian Bossey blogs at https://futurefestivals.tumblr.com/.