Festivals and Suppliers Share Sustainability Insights

Festivals’ environmental impacts and ways to address the climate crisis were in the spotlight at The Showman’s Show last week.

Speakers from across the festival sector were brought together by live events sustainability campaign Festival Vision: 2025 to share climate-related insights—including Chiara Badiali of environmental charity Julie’s Bicycle, who updated attendees on the state of the climate crisis, what the new Climate Change Act means for the festival scene and how organisers can use their platforms to effect change.

“There are two levels that we can work on and they both amplify each other,” she said. “The first is working to minimise our own environmental impacts—a very physical process of reducing emissions. The second is that, crucially, we can use our incredible collective voice to speak out and bring people together, both in our communities and in pushing for change at a systemic level.

“By taking action and walking the walk we strengthen that voice. We have, in our events and in our spaces, a really unique opportunity to model the kind of world we want to see out there.”

The conference’s keynote speaker was design and communications expert Sophie Thomas, who cited data from the landmark Show Must Go On report indicating that UK festivals create more than 23,500 tonnes of waste a year—68% of which is incinerated or sent to landfill. She contrasted the current linear structure of the economy—based on a pathway of manufacturing, usage and disposal—with a circular economy, which endeavours to produce, repeatedly re-use and recycle goods, extracting the maximum value from them before reintroducing materials back into society.

Thomas pointed out that sustainability issues are much larger than the festival industry—especially since many products are made from co-mingled materials and are therefore not viable for recycling. She called for more clarity in the legal landscape around recycled materials, chemical usage and waste, and greater efforts to educate festival-going consumers about the materials their waste is composed of.

CGA’s Charlie Mitchell presented an analysis of consumer attitudes towards climate action, gleaned from the 2018 UK Festival Census. He revealed that 21% of festivalgoers factor in a festival’s apparent dedication to sustainability when considering which events to attend. Fifty five per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that they ‘care more about the overall environmental and social impact of festivals than [they] did this time last year’. Averaged across age ranges, 83% of festivalgoers expect organisers to tackle the environmental impact of their events.

Mitchell told Insights: “This research highlights that sustainability is clearly an issue of increasing importance to festivalgoers, to the extent that it is even factored in during the decision making process of which festivals to visit.

“The journey to cut emissions that many festival operators, organisers and suppliers have been embarking is not only proving environmentally sensible, but also commercially savvy. Festivalgoers are prioritising spend based on sustainability credentials and festivals that meet this need are positioning themselves for sustainable and long-term success.”

The show’s ‘Future of Food’ panel’ looked at food waste, provenance, zero packaging and the practicalities of implementing policies onsite, and Chris Johnson, organiser of Shambala Festival, commented on the event’s decision to go meat and fish-free in 2016. “Even people that were [initially] cross with us decided that going for four days without meat and fish wasn’t so bad.” Half of meat and / or fish eaters at the festival said afterwards that they had drastically reduced their intake as a result, and seven months later three quarters of them had sustained the change, he said. “That says to me that it is worth all of our festivals making these kind of bold moves.”

The Showman’s Show also gathered experts to discuss how events can implement effective waste strategies and engage audiences, and showcased the latest developments in power management, monitoring and efficiency. Three exhibitors shortlisted for the Green Supplier & Innovation Award, co-founded by Powerful Thinking and The Showman’s Show, presented their sustainable products and services to event organisers in a Dragon’s Den-style format.