Author: Isabel Roudsarabi
Photo Credit: Sascha Krautz
“Ten years from now, sustainability won’t be an option. It will be a must-have”, member of the European Parliament Dr. Christian Ehler said recently in a panel at Eurosonic Noorderslag 2021. Festivals that didn’t comply to the future standards in mobility, energy or infrastructure, couldn’t take place anymore, so says the politician.
And it’s not just sustainability. It’s inclusion, it’s diversity, it’s innovation, it’s taking a stand for our values and against any kind of discrimination or marginalisation. Just as our society is rapidly changing, the live events we visit will have to change with it and Covid might just have been the trigger, granted us the opportunity, to do so.
By any means, I don’t want to deny that it’s been a rough year for the industry and it will still be in the months to come. People have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, mental illnesses have peaked, not just in the music community. But what I want to focus on, is the wake up call, that is the other side of this pandemic. It’s opened up the “opportunity that we’ve not just been running the treadmill and not just following the same patterns. It’s given uns a chance to step back and look at where we’re heading as well”, says Claire O’Neill, founder of the British sustainability initiative AGF, that is working closely with all kinds of live events, to assess and better their green processes and measures.
In the years before the pandemic, there was a lot of talking. Every panel for the past five years talked about how “inclusion is important”, “we need to act” and so on and so forth. But even though here was a will, most companies or volunteer festival organisations were so stuck in their daily business, that even the smallest changes could take months and years to implement. Of course, there are leaders, festivals that have already accomplished a lot, release a 50/50 line-up every year (Primavera Sound), run on sustainable energy (FUTUR 2 Festival), or make it possible for people with handicaps to move around as freely, as everyone else (Zurück zu den Wurzeln), but there is not more than a handful of festivals that have the privilege to concern themselves with every subject alike. And if they do, they might not have the means to actually set measures into action.
This past year was different. There were less excuses, more time to understand and to reflect. The industry had room to breathe, to figure out how to rebuild a festival future, that looks different from what it used to. “2021 will be even more special, as it is the beginning of a year that will show us the latest on how to restart and renew our industry after these dark months with many worries and emotions”, head of conference and ETEP at ESNS Ruud Berends explains. And what does this restart include exactly?
Festival associations and project teams all around Europe have worked on different solutions for all those processes, that will be inevitable in the future years. The European Union supported Green Europe Experience, a living lab made up of four European festivals and two NGOs, one of which being Claire O’Neill‘s AGF, has for example made a plan on how to make a festivals food offers and scenography more sustainable, circular even.
The project will last three years and work out best practises and guides for other festivals to take up in the future. The Green Music Initiative, which is part of the Program as well, has also been working on another EU-funded endeavor. Everywh2ere produces mobile hydrogen generators which are emission free and pretty much silent and can be used at any kind of large gatherings, such as festivals, to reduce what most of the time causes their CO2 footprint to skyrocket.
In terms of diversity, there have been countless international and national initiatives, such as Keychange or the Berlin agency Misc, that do not only educate music industry players, but also work closely with companies and organisations to establish long-term changes in their hiring processes and overall behavior. Not to mention Take a Stand, a Europe-wide initiative to position your festival or festival-related organisation against racism, sexism, and all other kinds of discrimination. Or Music Support from the UK, who set up a helpline and an app for aiding with mental health issues.
But of course, these changes will come at a short term cost. CO2 reduction in mobility will cause major headliners to be more scarce internationally. Festival ticket prices will increase for sure in the years to come. Open Air visitors might be obliged to pick up every last cigarette butt that they left on the campsite (imagine that !) and organizers and visitors alike will have to adjust their behaviour in order for everyone to feel comfortable.
What is important to note though: Sustainability in every scope comes with restrictions, yes, but these do not stand in any relation to the benefits they create in the long run. As Dr. Ehler says: “We have to create a utopia, rather than a dystopia.” Now is the time to set these processes into place, to grant us a beautiful, including, eco-friendly festival landscape, that might look a bit different, than it did before. But making things more rare or a little less convenient doesn’t necessarily mean making them worse, it might instead make them even more special.
This article was conceived as a result of our first call for contributions that aimed to address the challenges and changes that festivals and cultural entities may face in the future. Thanks to the contributions we received, we were able to create the Future(s) of Festivals feature series, that this article is a part of. We’re open to new proposals for our next call for contributions, available here.
On the Author
Isabel Roudsarabi is co-founder and editor-in-chief of the german festival-magazine Höme – Für Festivals. She is passionate about music and journalism and tries to make women in the industry more visible with her co-founded initiative faemm.