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Trends: Should green festivals shout about it more?

By | Published on Sunday 15 March 2015

Boom Festival

Earlier this month the Green Events & Innovations Conference took place alongside the live industry’s annual ILMC gathering in Kensington, with event producers and promoters coming together to discuss how they can make their events ever more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

As Claire O’Neill from the Greener Festival organisation, which produces GEI, recently noted: “After eight consecutive years of delivering our Greener Festival Awards globally, we have really noticed how event sustainability has matured and moved into the mainstream. The fact that audiences want environmentally conscious events – and that sustainable practices are often money saving – means that the sustainable events industry has really grown up”.

Of course, there’s still plenty to be done, and some festivals are much, much better than others at running their shows in as eco-friendly a way as possible. But the leaders in this space – many of which were in attendance at GEI this month – are becoming very skilled indeed at staging truly green events.

But are they telling enough people about it? That was the question posed by the panel I moderated at GEI, after Teresa Moore of Bucks New University – and an organiser of the conference – asked her students to research the green policies of a number of festivals, including many that she knew were doing good work in this domain, only to discover that many weren’t communicating their endeavours in any obvious way.

Now, providing that green policies are being developed and delivered by festivals, does it actually matter if they brag about that work in public? And if it does, what form should the bragging take?

There are various reasons why green festivals might want to communicate their environmentally friendly approaches to staging large-scale events.

First, it’s simply an opportunity to brag. If you’re doing a good thing, why not tell the world about it? Big companies with green policies do this all the time, and while it can often feel like you’re labouring the point to repeat your eco-friendly credentials time and again, it’s the drip, drip, drip feed of such messaging that makes the outside world finally take notice. And that then enhances your brand, not least with licensing authorities.

And second, being green can differentiate your event in a very crowded festival market place. Obviously, how much green things matter to your target ticket-buyers depends very much on the demographic your festival is skewed towards. For those drawn to the two festivals represented on my GEI panel – Portugal’s Boom and America’s Burning Man – the events’ eco-friendly philosophies are a key part of the attraction.

For other audiences, it might be a ‘nice to have’. And for others still, it might not really register. But when you are trying to stand out in such a busy festival calendar, good green messages can make the difference. And maybe get you press beyond the music magazines and websites which are being PRed by countless festival promoters every day of the week.

Thirdly, there is an internal communications element to all this, ie ensuring that the team that makes a festival happen knows what green initiatives are under way, and why. On the ground it may well be these team members – many of whom will be temporary staff or volunteers – who have to do the legwork to make eco-friendly projects work, and those people will be much more motivated if they understand the rationale behind the initiative, and see the world at large being told about their collective achievements.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, green festivals shouting about their environmental endeavours might encourage festival-goers to do their bit too. We all know that some of the environmental damage a festival will cause can only be tackled by ticket-buyers themselves: how they travel to the festival site, what they do with their litter once they’re there, and whether or not they leave their trashed bargain-basement tent in a field for someone else to deal with. Truly green festivals need green festival-goers, which is ultimately a communications challenge.

And finally, assuming green festivals are in no small part motivated by the common good to be gained by environmentally sustainable events, by being more vocal about their own work, more pressure will fall onto those festival promoters yet to embrace a more environmentally friendly approach.

Given that there are several reasons for green festivals to shout, why are so many so quiet about it all? The panel cited a number of reasons, with simple resource issues possibly the single biggest factor. Many festivals having small PR and communication teams already swamped with things to do.

Events may also fear being seen to be ‘greenwashing’, overstating green credentials for easy PR gain. Or maybe they feel they’re setting themselves up for criticism, ie you brag about one sustainable programme only to have journalists or social networkers hone in on areas where you are not so strong in being green.

Some felt that festivals may also be nervous of being seen to be to preachy when it comes to green measures. Or perhaps they feel festival-goers are getting bored of being told about environmental projects, and find all green talk a turn off.

But given we’ve ascertained that there is much to be gained from festivals shouting about their eco-friendly policies, these are all challenges worth tackling.

So, how should it be done? Well, three key points: don’t come across as preachy or too much like a tree-hugging hippy, send out green messages through existing channels, and try to make all communication as fun and engaging as possible.

Most festivals operate multiple social media channels these days, not to mention email lists, a website and their own on-site media. All of these can utilised to tell a festival’s green stories – and doing so provides a nice alternative to the more conventional kinds of content that fill the social networks and email bulletins of festival brands. We know people love stats, photos, infographics and quirky stories, and environmental initiatives often lend themselves to all these things. Boom festival’s compost toilet infographics are proof of that!

The real secret to all this is involving the comms and social media teams in a festival’s environmental initiatives from the very start, charging them with the task of looking for ways to create great content and stories around key projects. Programming teams could get involved too, to consider stunts and happenings that could occur during the festival that would tell a good green story, both onsite and beyond through online channels.

For events like Boom and Burning Man the mission goes even further. They want to change the behaviours of their audiences not just while at the festival, but for life. Which is a bold but inspiring ambition. And one that can only be achieved if each great green venture is accompanied by some great communications.

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