Feb 5, 2024 5 min read

The year ahead: Claire O’Neill, A Greener Future

A Greener Future’s Claire O’Neill looks ahead to 2024 in the latest of our series of interviews reviewing key trends and developments in the music business. She discusses the organisation’s evolution, now working with companies across the live sector as they seek to reduce their environmental impact

The year ahead: Claire O’Neill, A Greener Future

Since the start of the year, CMU has been sitting down with key people from across the music industry to discuss their work, key trends and challenges, and what to expect in the year ahead. Today Claire O’Neill, co-founder of A Greener Future, which works with and supports the live sector to improve the sustainability of events, tours, venues and festivals. That includes the AGF Certification scheme which audits and verifies how events and live music companies are reducing their environmental impact. 

What were key projects and developments for A Greener Future in 2023?

We rebranded to A Greener Future after seventeen years as A Greener Festival, which is hugely refreshing. This is to reflect our evolution to support not only festivals but also venues, tours, artists and suppliers. Additionally, our scope has gone beyond music to include sports, ceremonial and all types of cultural events.

Alongside this, we launched AGF membership and the Greener Supplier certification. And also Sustainability Diagnosis, which is a service to support organisations to establish a sustainability policy, strategy, action plan and measuring system, and to start implementing actions to reduce emissions, waste and to increase positive impacts both environmentally and socially.

We also worked with the European Arenas Association to launch the Arena Sustainability Guidelines and - in partnership with YOUROPE, Greener Events Norway and the GO GROUP - we developed the European Green Festival Roadmap 2030. 

We also supported The O2 to produce their Green Rider for touring productions, and are working with the National Arena’s Association who are providing green guidance for their members.

We also completed sustainability assessments, visits and certifications of 53 events and festivals across sixteen countries, and expanded reach to iconic venues including The O2, OVO Arena Wembley and OVO Hydro, and Forest Green Rovers FC achieving AGF’s Greener Arena certification. We provided detailed carbon analysis and strategies for over 26 different events, arenas and stadiums. 

AGFs training and education team provided environmental assessor and bespoke sustainability training for 70+ individuals from across the industry, and we accredited Falmouth University and University Of West Of England for embedding sustainability into the fabric of their curriculum.

What are the biggest challenges for the live sector as it seeks to become more environmentally sustainable? 

The cost of energy and event production as a whole have increased, which - especially for grassroots organisations - has led to a sense of survival rather than transformation. This is a challenge when needing to make any changes requiring resources, be that simply the attention of directors.

The geopolitical climate, and actions of nations and individuals which throw into question the humanity of humans, is probably the biggest challenge of all. This instability brings not only a threat through direct danger to life in conflict zones and market volatility, but also an emotional and psychological challenge for us all. 

On a national level, in the UK - and beyond - there is a culture war being spurred by mogul owned right wing media, and political agendas seeking to encourage division and polarisation with populist narratives.

This makes what is already a difficult task of changing our systems, and our infrastructure, to sustainable cleaner, fairer, greener alternatives even more of a challenge. It wastes time and energy, facilitates poor policy decisions, and spreads misinformation.

What can we expect from 2024?

The good news is that the green transition will ultimately make organisations more resilient and will bring direct cost savings. 

We have been doing investment grade energy audits with venues and finding that most energy saving equipment upgrades pay back within four months to a year and then start to make savings. The icing on the cake, with every kWh of energy saved, not only is money saved but CO2 emissions are reduced.

We’re excited to explore opportunities for the “top” of the sector to support the grassroots through investment into the green transition allowing for cost savings across the board as well as emissions reductions. Watch this space as we will soon announce projects relating to this objective.

We’re full steam ahead to counter division and misinformation and to use the voice of the music, entertainment and cultural communities. The #JustVote24 apolitical campaign is one such vehicle for this as we promote and encourage more diverse voices to use their power in the ballot box. 

There are additional hoops to jump through, and young and marginalised people are being prevented from being able to vote. This campaign will help to guide people through the process and offer competition prizes for those who prove they have registered to vote. 

This month, we are working with The O2, The 1975 and carbon removal specialists CUR8 to host the world's first carbon removed concerts as a pilot. We’ll be discussing how it went at our GEI event in London the following week.

This year we are focused on renewing and expanding our AGF Framework upon which our certifications are based, to reach more events and venues than ever before. 

Working with our partners from multiple organisations, the framework is undergoing detailed alignment work with national, EU and international policy, as well as alongside new and emerging tools and frameworks in the green event space. 2024 will be a year of collaboration, metric and reporting standardisation, and expansion.

You mentioned your GEI event - what is planned for that this year?

Yes, our Green Events & Innovations Conference is on 27 Feb at Royal Lancaster London. It’s a partnership between AGF and ILMC and this is the sixteenth edition of the event. The original conference for sustainability in the live sector, the day is packed with incredible, inspiring speakers and case studies to pour (eco)fuel to the fire of change in the year ahead.

The agenda delves into the challenges of delivering green global events, from music to sports, including transport, energy, food, equality, inclusivity and climate justice, contracts and sponsorship, set design and materials usage for circularity, and more.

We will hear from artists including Brian Eno, Jarvis Cocker, Louis VI, Sam Lee, Fay Milton (MDE), Blaine Harrison (Mystery Jets / AIE) and John Robb.

Also speaking are sustainability pioneers and experts including Dale Vince (Ecotricity), Tori Tsui (activist), Glenn Lyons (UWE), Richard Betts (Met Office), Abena Fairweather (Legacy Events), Luke Howell (Hope Solutions), Farah Ahmed (Julie’s Bicycle), Ellie Kinney (Conflict And Environment Observatory) and Mark Stevenson (CUR8 / The Futurenauts).

Plus we will have key industry figures such as Sam Booth (AEG Europe), Patricia Yagüe (Live Nation), Zarya Vrabcheva (Stufish), Ross Patel (MMU) and Carol Scott (TAIT).

What else is on the horizon?

We released a festival carbon report in 2023 showing that food and drinks can be a third of an event's emissions when taken into account, which brings it up on a par with transport as an important issue to tackle when considering the environmental impact of events. 

Moving to plant-based food from meat can reduce these emissions by a third with huge biodiversity benefits. Our annual festival and event report will be launched at GEI in late February looking at the aggregate results from all of the AGF assessments globally in 2023.

Most exciting for us this month is that we have welcomed David Hopkins as our new General Manager. He has a wealth of experience and comes from the music industry having worked with Live Nation, Time Out, Ticketmaster, AEG Live and many others over the last 20 years. 

David has been a Senior AGF Assessor and is passionate about making a greener live sector, so it couldn’t be a better match. Lucky for us David has returned from Paris to London to be at the helm of our great team.

We’re also very happy to have the trailblazing Miriam Huk, who has joined us to whip our social media and digital marketing into shape. A bright young star indeed, so expect to see and hear more of Miriam in the future.

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