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How Will Sustainability Feature in Our Festival and Event Work, Whilst Recovering From COVID-19?

We really must not let the Covid-19 pandemic totally distract us from the responsibility we have to leave an environment that the next generation can live in, play in and one in which to organise and run FESTIVALS.

1. Sustainability comes in many forms and should be clearly identified.

a) Financial sustainability – the job of the company directors and/or financial controller/treasurer for approval.

b) Personnel sustainability – the job of the HR dept. in providing good and safe working conditions, appropriate salaries, health care and a feeling of belonging.

Some of the above at b) can overlap into c)

c) The contribution your organisation makes to:

i) The moral responsibility of what we might call Green Issues and the long-term health of our earth for future generations.

ii) The financial/economic impact on the organisation from recognising and actioning C)i) above.


2. This paper is focussed on C above and aimed at encouraging AFO and its members to recognise and action sustainability as part of their festival organising.



3. ‘THE PLANET EARTH does not belong to us. We simply borrow it from our children who in turn borrow it from theirs’.

It has lasted billions of years, but sadly in the last 400 years more damage has been done to its infrastructure, its atmosphere, and its living nature than the living creatures did in the previous million years.

This was recognised and noted over 250 years ago, but very little action was taken, except by a few, who in more recent times became known as ECO Warriors.

GREENPEACE is perhaps the most famous of these groups.  The activities of GREENPEACE were at first known as “those troublemakers”, “hippies”, even” terrorists”.  That was until UK royalty started talking a similar language.  Then, little by little Greenpeace received donations from establishment, followed by the wealthy end of UK business.  That led to UK wide and then worldwide recognition of Greenpeace’s work.  This culminating in personal, group and financial sympathy when the French Government ordered the sinking of the Greenpeace ship ‘Rainbow Warrior’ off the Australian coast.

Now Greenpeace leads the way worldwide in bringing environmental (and sustainable) issues to the notice of everyone as they always make headline news in press and TV with what used to be called ‘trouble making’. In 21st C Britain of course David Attenborough has become the voice and the face of the crisis, for that is what Climate Change has rapidly become.


4. The Greenpeace story is a demonstration of how, first, recognition of the issues, then the belief that something could and should be done and what the work involved in recruiting others to the cause can achieve at least as a mark on the surface of action.

This is the message that ECO Warriors work with.  Not everyone will believe you, not everyone will recognise the problem, not everyone will understand that it is not for their benefit, it is for future generations.  But those that do will support, help finance, or even join in because they see the ‘green light’.

Human nature is a wonderful thing – some see ‘life’ as for them, now.  Some will care but for a variety of reasons will do nothing.  Some will do what they can.

That leaves ‘The Warriors’ to do more, lead the way, be brave and convincing and accept that at first they may be alone.  Just like the founders of Greenpeace.

There is no doubt that many event organisers and suppliers are carers, even warriors.

It is quite rare for a company director or organiser to genuinely see that sustainability actions in business, manufacturing and even the office, can lead to profitability in future for both the organisation and the planet.  Some do, and when they do  others will follow.

This paper will make suggestions, some informed, others not so, and some probably out of the box.

Putting the actions in some kind of achievable order with target dates is the most honest and productive way forward. Whatever the reader decides, the recommendation is – do something!


5.We at AFO can do more within our own work and encourage our members to take the lead in their organisations. It is quite clear the UK is awake to the problems of global warming and climate change.

The events industry could be a leader and AFO could be a lead ‘warrior’.

In no particular order, here are a few ideas for your festival or organisation. Some are very basic, but a start. Others will have a cost and time commitment.

a. Hold a staff meeting on line to tell EVERYONE what you are doing and intend to do. Use some of this paper to help convince, get doubters on board by getting them to understand it is not for them but for future generations.

b. Build a TEAM that is yours to lead. Work WITH them to help them on board, not just at the festival but year-round. Set aside some time every meeting to review what WE have done and what might be next.

c. In your waste management plan and on your Site Plan, set up collection points for cans, bottles, cardboard, food for compost and genuine real waste – or if your waste collection company deal with MIXED RECYCLING then put it all in one container. Then always apply the same principal to your offices. Be seen to be leading the way.

However, whatever your waste collection company tell you – go and see them do it at their plant. There you will get a better idea of what they are doing with the next stage of your efforts.  Landfill is totally unacceptable.  Separating recyclable waste at their plant and selling the different sorts is best. Burning for fuel is next as long as the waste fumes are filtered, and the fuel is being put to good use. Again, see it at the plant.

d. Don’t set unachievable targets, you will just get disappointed. Start by charting up on the wall/flip chart something you have already done – and cross it off – makes you feel like you are off to a good start.

e. Whilst you are installing these collection systems you may as well cover food waste to compost by either setting up your own compost bin or having it collected by your waste management company. Again, check what they do with it.

f. Finally, on your festival site there may well be a small element of edible food waste. There are food banks in several towns throughout the UK.  (Yes 21st century England has starving children!).

g. Do all the above in your office, lead by example. You are now off to a simple yet effective start.

Waste Not, Want Not!


6. All or any part of the above is a good start and gets your TEAM on board and moving in the same direction as you. It could also spill over into your staff’s home lives and get their families joining in.

Rewards (other than saving the planet) could be put in place. Best Team Recycler of the Month Award?

Monitor how it’s going and teach rather than punish. Sometimes someone will get it wrong or forget. The power of forgiveness is far greater than blame or revenge. (SH)


7. You could start with SINGLE USE PLASTIC. Encourage all staff not to buy or bring any single use plastic onto your site or into your office (water, fruit juice, coke etc). Water is now available in cardboard cartons and you will also find it at the tap.

Offer to provide your staff with an aluminium drinks bottle – with your organisation logo stamped on.


Single use plastic is also common in food packaging like off the shelf sandwiches, fruit, and cooked meats. These are less easy to overcome, so provide boxes for collection of any single use plastic. These collection points need to be in the festival or office staff areas, the workshop, rest rooms and even in delivery vehicles. Then extend the same plan to your customers as they come to site.

The culture of THROW IT AWAY has to be gradually broken.  There is no such thing as AWAY – it has to go somewhere.


8. Next and very achievable in year 1 on your site is power saving (see Powerful Thinking)

Your lights should all be converted to LED.  Get rid of all old-fashioned element lights, tubes etc. This will have a cost implication of course, but in the long term deliver power saving pounds.  A smart system is a must have.


9. Back with your on-site offices and buildings. How are they heated?  Are the buildings insulated or do you heat the fresh air?

a) A common cry in offices is ‘it’s freezing’ so turn up the heating that was off until 7am this morning. By 10am ‘it’s boiling in here’ so open a window and you are heating the air outside.

Often if heating is necessary and is left on timed and low temperature and never off a sensible level can be permanently achieved with experiment. But most of all power it from renewables. Solar, wind or batteries. 

b) In the staff areas, toasters and kettles are a big drain on fuel and a big addition to the fuel bill. i.e. kettles are normally filled, turned on then everyone asked if they want tea or coffee.  A full kettlenormally does four to five mugs.  But if only one mug is needed don’t fill the kettle and boil all that water, save water, save fuel, save money, save CO2 and the planet.

In warm weather don’t run the tap to get the cold water you want, the fridge is on, make ice.

Install PUSH TAPS to cut out waste / grey water. i.e. good clean water going down the drain into the waste tank.

The same applies to toasters – built to toast two sides of two slices – but when you only need one piece it just warms the air with the other side.  Get a toaster that is more adjustable, it will cost but save in the course of time.

c) Microwaves are a source of constant debate – they use loads of power! No, they don’t! Make up your own mind.  Just use 800watts for two minutes as sensibly as you can.  One jacket spud in 800watts = seven minutes. Two spuds will be done in eleven to twelve minutes. Do the maths and share lunch. Turn it off when it’s not in use!

d) Staff travel – encourage public or part public transport wherever possible – hard but not impossible.

Car share – I pick you up this week, you pick me up next week and so on. Those who use bicycles should be rewarded against 3 litre Range Rovers with one person in transit.


10. The answer often given to all the above is...

  1. I don’t have time for this. However, your children will have to have time if you don’t. Start NOW!
  2. No one cares.
  3. It’s too much bother.
  4. The waste company just chuck it down a hole so why care. You must go and see what they actually do.
  5. The hot water I don’t use is there for the next person. No, it isn’t – it either goes cold OR the next user pours it away and starts with fresh.
  6. At the very least use excess water for plants or washing up. DO NOT pour it AWAY – THERE IS NO AWAY!
  7. And the best one I have heard is ‘it is not my job to do any of that’ – WELL, YES, IT IS!


11. I think before looking at the organisations outward focus we should start and conquer your Team’s inward-looking example. You can then say your offices, workshop and meetings are ECO friendly and your staff understand your action as a way of work (life).

Finally, for now a useful phrase borrowed from World War 1 and modified:

When your grandchildren ask, ‘What did you do to try and save our planet?’

You can say – ‘I tried’.



  1. Plan ‘Sustainability’ into your 2022 festival management plan.
  2. Sign up to VISION: 2025 and commit.
  3. Read publications online like SHOW MUST GO ON.
  4. Be proud you did something to save the planet for future festival organisers.

AFO / SH November 2021                                             MCM/AFO/Admin/sustainability proposal

Association of Festival Organisers (AFO): 11th May 2022 08:20:00

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