The Show Must Go On: Environmental Impact Report and Vision for the UK Festival Industry banner

The Show Must Go On: Environmental Impact Report and Vision for the UK Festival Industry

Executive Summary

Powerful Thinking was established in 2010 as a not-for-profit industry group focused on tackling energy-related issues at festivals. It has provided a forum to support research, explore issues, and develop solutions, and has developed free-to-use resources which support festivals to reduce their environmental impacts. The release of this report recognises a broader aspiration in the group to tackle other sustainability-related issues the industry shares. The group had representation from over 250 festivals through membership organizations.

The Show Must Go On report was conceived as an industry response to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris, 2015.

The report aims to:

•Outline the environmental impacts of the UK festival industry in an accessible format.

•Provide a robust basis for an industry-wide approach to reducing environmental impacts.

•Promote action.

With a view to meeting the UK national target of a 50% reduction in green house gas (GHG) emissions by 2025, the report brings together all known UK research and analyses the most comprehensive datasets available on the environmental impact of festivals. It  explores individual precedents and considers industry-wide scenarios for reductions. 

The report, based on 279 UK summer music festivals, finds that the industry is responsible for approximately:

•20 kilotonnes of C02e annually (onsite emissions).

•100 kilotonnes C02e annually, including audience travel.

•23,500 tonnes waste.

•5 million litres of diesel consumption.

Also that:

•Environmental responsibility is important to festivalgoers (according to audience survey data).

•5% of UK festivals are formally engaged with an environmental certification scheme. 

•Typical recycling rates are likely to be lower than 32%.

•Energy is typically 65% of a festival's onsite C02e footprint.

•Waste is typically 35% of a festival’s onsite C02e footprint.

•When including audience travel, onsite emissions are typically 20% of total festival-related emissions and audience travel accounts for up to 80%.

•There are significant blind spots for data on contractor and artist travel.

80% of festival organisers participating in the Industry Green Manifesto Survey (May 2015) stated that, ‘they are committed to improving performance,’ and that, 'the industry should work together towards shared standards.’ 

The top five priorities put forward by UK festival organisers, in order of priority are:

1 Sustainable approaches to energy. 

2 Standard approach to serve-ware and packaging. 

3 Use of reusable cups. 

4 A standard approach to waste management systems. 

5 Sustainable travel policies. 

Through modelling carbon impact scenarios for different reduction measures, and exploring precedents, the report finds that the industry can realistically reduce its annual global GHG emissions by 50% within 10 years through incremental changes to:

•Reduce diesel consumption by 50%, through efficiency and alternatives.

•Achieve 55%  recycling rates.

•Increase car occupancy and shared transport options.

Fear of increased costs, lack of internal resources and the time to make changes, along with lack of expertise in sustainable approaches are the three most common reasons for festivals not adopting sustainable practices. When asked what support would help festivals organisers to make changes, the three areas of focus put forward were: 

•Training for the management team.

•Opportunities to share and exchange knowledge with other organisers.

•Case studies showing how practices have improved sustainability.

Festival Vision:2025 aims to galvanise the existing commitment in the festival industry to act together on climate change by setting out clear aims and the beginnings of a roadmap for action.

Festivals can reduce their environmental impacts and play a valuable and inspiring role in shaping a positive future. This will be made much easier, more cost-effective and successful if we work together as an industry, and begin to resource an industry body which can support and guide this process through:

•Research, development and coordination of free-to-use resources — including support and partnerships with existing industry initiatives.

•The provision of objective and qualified advice and training to the industry on a not-for-profit basis.

•Annual industry reports to track progress.

•Nurturing the collective aspiration.

The Festival Vision:2025 Pledge aims to bring together those festivals who wish to take action. Please consider joining the growing number of committed festival organisers by signing the Festival Vision:2025 Pledge at: 

This report and vision initiative was included in a briefing on international creative responses to climate change, submitted along with a letter signed by cultural leaders and artists, to Christiana Figeuras, Executive Secretary at the UNFCCC, at COP 21 in Paris 2015. 

To read the full report, click HERE

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Powerful Thinking

December 1, 2015
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