Désirée Messmer manages the staff and volunteers at OpenAir St. Gallen and SummerDays Festivals in Switzerland, which are part of Gadget abc Entertainment Group; the largest concert and festival promoter and leading full-service agency in the Swiss music and event industry. Désirée is part of the project team for sustainability program, “Green Gadget”, introduced by the Gadget Group in 2021 with the goal of reducing the environmental footprint of events. OpenAir St Gallen was founded in 1977, and is one of Switzerland’s biggest and longest-running open air festivals, attended by more than 110,000 people each year; they have recently been featured in the Future Festival Tools Green Festival Stories series for encouraging low carbon travel by subsidising train tickets.
1. What is the proudest sustainability achievement or moment of your career?
In 2019 I started to measure the OpenAir St.Gallen in terms of CO2 emissions. These figures help us now to implement appropriate measures.
2. What was your worst ever sustainability-related decision, project or initiative and why?
When I asked the team whether the crew catering could be exclusively vegetarian for at least one day. That led to the worst argument I’ve had since I started working here!
3. What were you excited about implementing last year?
Our goal is still that all visitors can arrive by public transport to the festivals free of charge. We already have a 50% discount on the public transportation ticket. Our vision is 100%.
4. Which environmental issue do you most care about?
Rising sea level.
5. What sustainable change have you made in your personal life that you are most proud of?
I have never owned a car and have no intention of buying one.
6. What do you read to stay in touch with green issues?
I keep getting interesting articles from friends and colleagues. Also, lots of interesting and inspiring articles on LinkedIn posts.
7. What is the most memorable live performance in your life?
Imagine Dragons in Paris 2018.
8. Was there a moment you committed to taking action on climate change?
My job got me into the whole topic and since I’ve been dealing with sustainability more and more, I have been reconsidering my own actions again and again.
9. What are the most important issues to tackle at your event?
Food sustainability: This year we are trying to ensure that all food stands have to offer at least one vegetarian and one vegan menu.
10. What do you think is the most significant challenge for the events industry becoming more sustainable?
For commercial festivals like us, how the artists arrive and depart from and to the festival.
11. Can you share something sustainable from another artist or event or company that inspired you to make a change?
Every organisation that drives a change in thinking within and outside the organisation inspires me.
12. What is the secret to your sustainable success?
Step by step, every year something new.
13. Tell us something you feel positive about right now that relates to the environment?
I think it is wonderful that the entire event industry supports each other when it comes to sustainability. It is a cooperation and not a competition.
14. Tell us a book, film or recent article about positive change you feel others should watch or read and why?
David Attenborough’s “A Life on Our Planet”. We must protect our nature at all costs.
15. Can you give people new to sustainability in events a top tip?
Just do it and do not be discouraged. In the beginning it feels like a huge thing, but it isn’t when you take the next step.
16. What is the favourite festival moment of your career?
Leoniden at OpenAir St.Gallen 2019. They were one of the first bands to open the festival Thursday. Hundreds of people sang along and knowing I was part of the whole organisation moved me to tears.
17. What habit or practice has helped you most in your personal journey in life?
Knowing that you do not have to do anything, but you can, if you want to.
18. Is there anything new or exciting you are planning or changing for the future that you can tell us about? Even a hint!
Even though I am not into Hip-Hop, I am looking forward to our new festival “Spex”, which will take place in July.
19. Will we save the world?
Hopefully! There are still too many bands I want to see and festivals to explore.
20. What would your sustainable superpower be?
A spell that all people no longer want to eat meat.
Follow Désirée Messmer on Linkedin
Visit the OpenAir St Gallen website
Visit the SummerDays Festival website
Read the OpenAir St Gallen Future Festival Tools Green Stories case study
This Q&A originally appeared in our March 2023 Vision: 2025 newsletter. Sign up to receive monthly event sustainability news, case studies and guest blogs direct to your inbox.