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Greener Festivals Go Mainstream

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The Youth Lab at THINKHOUSE, The Youth Marketing Company, explores the significant role sustainability plays in the future of festivals and what that means for brands

Greener Festivals Go Mainstream

Back in April, we got excited about the upcoming summer of big festival energy, with young people across the world hungrier than ever for a chance to let loose and get back into these otherworldly collective experiences. Now with the end of summer in sight one clear trend that exploded into mainstream festival activations and culture this year is that of the ‘greener festival.’ There ain’t no party without it being a sustainably thought-through party! We’re no strangers to this at THINKHOUSE - back in 2019 our innocent goodstock activation at All Together Now festival was a sustainably-led immersive space where everything used was either rented, recycled, recovered or rechargeable (and powered with solar!). More and more festivals are making steps in this direction now as greener festival partying and planning goes mainstream. The ultimate summer events serve attendees more than just epic music experiences - socially and environmentally conscious experiences that inspire even happier revellers. For 52INSIGHTS this week, we’re looking at the stories and transformative work shaping the future of festivals. 

The New Festival Mainstream Is Green

“I personally would feel really uncomfortable with being at a festival or any music event if they weren’t contributing to positive action. The ownership is on the brands and the venues to supply the right things for people to be able to behave responsibly and do their best - like by having water-filling stations for reusable bottles. I want to party in the same way I travel and live - in places that are green and try to leave as little trace as possible. The more that big brand events and companies promote sustainable messaging the more familiar people get with it - then it’s strange when it doesn’t happen.” Aimee, 30.

It’s been a summer of festival fun but things have changed. Sustainability initiatives such as refill stations and eco-information areas at festivals just make sense - as endorsed on TikTok. Where in the past a sustainability focus was expected at smaller ‘hippy’ events or iconic counter-culture festivals (like Burning Man), now more and more bigger festivals are putting sustainability centre stage and including immersive experiences highlighting the climate crisis. For example, Glastonbury have brought to light issues like the importance of protecting bees through a multi-sensory installation and this year saw the celebrated return of The Greenpeace Field in collaboration with Greenpeace. At the centre of the space is the infamous Giant Rave Tree, a gathering place for partying. Increasing numbers of people are re-evaluating meat consumption in response to the climate crisis, meaning festivals now need to provide more plant-based options - this year Coachella offered more plant-based food than ever to meet this demand. At Primavera Sound, vegan food brand Heüra served festival goers from a stand equipped with a Co2 emission saving metre

Fans Demanding Respect

After a period of re-evaluation away from festivals, people expect greater respect from brands and festival experiences in general. For festival and music fans, it goes without saying that expectations around safety and operations are higher than ever. Netflix’s latest documentary hit ‘Trainwreck: Woodstock 99’ highlights just how dangerous it is to take anything lightly when it comes to large scale music events. Crucial at these large-scale events is a focus nurturing a culture of respect and empathy - for one another and the environment people are temporarily occupying. An overwhelmingly positive festival energy and experience can’t be taken for granted. 

Community and connectedness is at the heart of a positive experience and creating greener festival productions elevates the event, bringing fans even closer to music: “For festival goers a greener activation is creating a new experience. Even looking at the trending aesthetics of festivals and how these are influenced by sustainability  translates to the production. Stages are getting lower, artists are coming closer to the audience, and there is a greater sense of community. It's less them and us -instead it's more inclusive.” - Dave McCabe, production manager at THINKHOUSE

Exciting and Challenging Road Ahead

“We believe festivals offer a unique platform to effect positive change both nationally and globally. With plans to become carbon-neutral by 2027, Body & Soul delivers on sustainable objectives, guided by the principles of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The circular economy model is our inspiration and supports us to be accountable and bring our audience alongside us as change makers and collaborators. It’s starting to percolate world wide and is an exciting time to pioneer fresh perspectives and practices within  the festival landscape.” Avril Stanley, founder, Body & Soul

Unsurprisingly, rising costs due to inflation are impacting the festival industry. This, in conjunction with rebuilding infrastructures post-COVID, is making space for reinvention and innovation. Coldplay are committed to having the most sustainable global tour yet (powered by renewable energy, creating the first-ever mobile, rechargeable show battery made from recycled BMW batteries). It’s an enormous undertaking which by no means solves all the impact challenges that come with a global tour, but it’s a significantly important transformation from business as usual. Fernando Zabala Alfonso, founder of Sold Out, and one of Spain's most experienced major festival promoters, is aware of the challenges ahead but is reinforcing the message that it’s important to start somewhere. “This means hiring low-consumption equipment, using recyclable materials throughout the venue, reusing the audience's glasses and collecting the different rubbish. It may not be enough and little by little we have to improve, but today this is what we are doing.” Shambala Festival, one of Europe's most pioneering festivals in the world of sustainability and circularity, has a site-wide ban on single-use plastics - it’s a BYO-Refillable Bottle and Cup kinda affair. 

To make these changes scalable for more festivals as it becomes more mainstream, festival organisers are calling for support in making greener productions. The Vision:2025 report outlines what needs to be done - Across Europe there are initiatives, like the European Festival Association YOUROPE Future-Fit Festivals project and Circular Festivals, bringing together organisers, offering resources, and creating a space for collaboration and best practice sharing. Irish festival Body & Soul is a part of the Circular Festival program, and have achieved an average of 17.5% decrease in their use of fossil fuels each year since 2017, using bio-fuels and renewable energy sources. Denmark’s Roskilde festival goal is also going circular, offering tent rentals to minimise single-use waste. For the next generation, they have created a youth-led innovation lab, using the festival as a testing laboratory to explore new green solutions. 

Brand Takeouts

Measure Your Impact - As with all communications around sustainability and in creating experiences that deliver on impact, brands can be ambitious with goals, but they need to be measurable. Invest in setting your benchmarks and in tracking so that you can tell a compelling and credible sustainability story that reflects the real impact you are making. 

Supporting the 'Brew a Better World' global sustainability initiative, Heineken Ireland just announced their The Greener Bar at this year’s Electric Picnic festival. The Greener Bar, which THINKHOUSE is proud to work with Heineken Ireland to bring to life, is created with circular thinking, reuse-led design values and powered by sustainable production innovation, meaning a lower emission production (without compromising on world-class lighting and sound). The approach sees Heineken aim to save an estimated 23,646kg of Co2 emissions by reducing waste and energy use - that’s equal to the annual electricity of 4,600 homes or the equivalent savings to the carbon sequestered by over 390,000 tree seedlings grown for 10 years.

“We wanted our festival comeback to be ambitious and to reflect who we have become as a company. As part of 'Brew a Better World' we’re working on brewing our beer here in Ireland with zero emissions by 2030. Festival activations like The Heineken Greener Bar demonstrates how our sustainability commitments are being delivered impactfully through our brand activities. It’s taken a lot of unlearning and reworking how we do things - the effort has been enormous and now that we’re festival-ready; we can’t wait to welcome revellers to the Heineken Greener Bar where they can experience our great beer (including Heineken® 0.0); our passion for sustainability and the stellar line up we have planned for the weekend.” Ronan McCormack, marketing manager, Heineken Ireland

“Heineken has been the official beer of Electric Picnic for many years, a long term partner who has brought a stellar experience to Electric Picnic year after year. We work hard to deliver the most sustainable experience to festival goers and we’re delighted to see how Heineken has innovated and created an exceptional experience for this year’s festival.” Melvin Benn, MD, Festival Republic

Collaborate At Every Opportunity - Partnerships and collaborations that can facilitate knowledge exchanges are going to be key to moving the dial forward with sustainable productions. For brands looking to activate in the festival space, it’s an amazing chance to step up while connecting with huge audiences in a physical space by collaborating with festival organisers. 

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THINKHOUSE, Fri, 26 Aug 2022 16:04:48 GMT