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Q&A: Ben Challis, A Greener Festival

By | Published on Wednesday 14 March 2012

Ben Challis

Launched six years ago, A Greener Festival is a not-for-profit organisation aimed at helping festivals and other events around the world to become more environmentally friendly. It has also established an awards scheme to make festival goers aware of which festivals have the best green credentials.

Last year, in conjunction with Bucks New University and the Association Of Independent Festivals, AGF launched the Green Events & Innovations Conference. The day long event brings together speakers and delegates from across the industry to discuss and debate the key issues on environmental friendliness at festivals.

The second outing of the conference takes place this Friday at the Southbank Centre in London. Ahead of that, CMU’s Andy Malt spoke to A Greener Festival co-founder Ben Challis about the conference, the organisation as a whole, and what festival goers themselves can do to help the environment.

AM: When and why did you launch A Greener Festival?
BC: We launched the organisation in 2006 because there was nothing else ‘out there’ providing easily accessible information on reducing the environmental impact of festivals and other events. Actually, our information was originally just based on a research dissertation by Claire O’Neill, one of the co-founders – but the venture proved too popular for its own good! Since then we have launched our Greener Festival Awards scheme (in 2007), our Great Big Green Ideas competition, the Green Events Conference, a DVD, have undertaken audience research and have built a very well used website. We also work with Green Events Europe and Julie’s Bicycle in key areas.

AM: What motivated you to launch the Green Events & Innovations Conference? Who comes to it?
BC: We started this three years ago, in 2010, to bring together like minded people, experts and even scientists to make a real and PRACTICAL difference. At AGF we are all volunteers (the organisation is not-for-profit) and we all work in the music industry, so we are looking for real workable solutions. The conference is meant to do that. Attendees include festivals, other events, production managers, environmental managers, our award scheme environmental auditors, suppliers (eg power, water, food, travel), academics and event management students.

AM: What will be the key topics for discussion at the conference this Friday?
BC: Food at festivals, sustainable power, new green innovations (eg on-site sewage treatment!), water, what’s going on in the TV world (the BBC are coming!), and the economics of green.

AM: What is the biggest thing a festival can do to improve its green credentials?
BC: Introduce a travel plan for the audience and prioritise public transport – audience travel (eg in cars) makes up to 75%+ of a non-urban event’s CO2 footprint.

AM: Is there a real desire amongst festivals to be more eco-friendly? Where does the festival industry stand in comparison to other industries?
BC: It’s a leader – a real leader – but it has been very home grown. Although now more and more it’s co-ordinated with our work here, in Europe, in the USA and Australia, and with the work of Julie’s Bicycle here, a new initiative from Green Events Europe on the continent and Reverb in the USA. Some festivals simply base their whole ethos on low impact.

AM: Do you think there should be new laws enacted to force festivals to be more green?
BC: Why pick on festivals?! Not really – but laws WILL be enacted on a domestic and pan-European level. We keep telling festivals to keep ahead of the game – it saves money now and in the long term. There are sound business reasons for going green – have you recently looked at the cost of disposing of waste to landfill or diesel?!

AM: How green is the music industry as a whole, and what can it do to improve?
BC: I think it has made significant changes but there is much to be done – particularly with the audience.

AM: Do ticket buyers respond to environmentally conscious efforts made by festivals? Do you think it’s something that could affect their choice of which events to attend in such a crowded market?
BC: We did research on this in 2008 with Bucks New Uni surveying 1500 people here, in Finland, Holland and Germany. A significant proportion (30%+) look for green events, and a smaller but significant minority (15%) couldn’t care less! Most other people would like to see recycling, cleaner, greener events but are less concerned than the committed. Just like society in general.

AM: Do you think festival-goers would be will to pay an extra fee on top of their ticket price to fund improved environmental friendliness?
BC: SOME will, some might, some will resist!

AM: What can festival goers themselves do to make festivals more environmentally friendly?
BC: Use the coach, train or car share, reduce what you bring, recycle on site AND TAKE YOUR TENT HOME! Love Your Tent! What the audience do is as important as what festivals can do – here are AGF’s ten top tips:

1. Use public transport if possible – coach travel is best – if you have to use a car – lift share and get at least four people in your car!
2. Look out for new travel schemes including cycling.
3. Reduce what you bring, re-use what you can, recycle everything else.
4. Please don’t leave tents and other camping gear behind.
5. Turn off taps!
6. Avoid buying over-packaged goods and individual portion packs.
7. Buy durable products, returnable bottles and containers that can be re-filled.
8. Get a wind up torch – and a wind up radio!
9. Buy fair-trade and organic food, drinks and products at stalls if possible.
10. Please don’t set off Chinese lanterns.