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Green Leader Q&A #24: Chris Johnson, Sustainability Lead, Shambala Festival

Chris has been a climate activist in the festival space for over a decade. He is co-founder and Sustainability Lead of Shambala festival, Chair of Vision :2025 – the environmental steering group for the UK outdoor event industry, co-founding member of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), co-founder and CEO of sustainable travel charity ecolibrium, columnist, and speaker. Read his answers to our 20 Green Leader Questions:

1. What is the proudest sustainability achievement or moment of your career?

Going meat and fish free at Shambala, because of the impact it had on inspiring conversations and action – 50% of meat and fish eaters changed their diet!

2.  What was your worst ever sustainability-related decision, project or initiative and why?

In lockdown we launched a campaign called 25×25 – attempting to inspire people to take 25,000 climate actions. Without the momentum of the festival it flopped – I think about 100 people did it!

3.  What are you excited about implementing this year?

We’re working on an ambitious 5-year strategy that brings together our well-established environmental initiatives and social justice – essential really.

4.  Which environmental issue do you most care about?

The climate crisis (eclipses and affects everything).

5.  What sustainable change have you made in your personal life that you are most proud of?

We don’t own a car as a family. It’s (mostly) easy enough, except summer holidays.

6.  What do you read to stay in touch with green issues?

I mostly find interesting stuff through LinkedIn posts, follow activists such as George Monbiot, and keep an eye on the Guardian and other newsletters such as Vision: 2025.

 7.  What is the most memorable live performance in your life?

Taraf de Haidouks (Romanian traditional band) in the Ballroom at Lost Vagueness, Glastonbury, about 2004. Electric atmosphere.

8.  Was there a moment you committed to taking action on climate change?

I actually don’t remember. Shambala started as a friends party, had grown somewhat, and along the way we all became focused on environmental issues. I was at protest marches as a kid, so I think it’s in my bones.

9.  What are the most important issues to tackle at your event?

We’re struggling to find a way to roll out reusable plates.

10. What do you think is the most significant challenge for the events industry becoming more sustainable?

The temporary nature of events, pressure on staff time (busyness) and cost pressures. Most people give a shit, but can’t find the time to fundamentally change things.

11. Can you share something sustainable from another artist or event or company that inspired you to make a change?

Tollwood festival, a German city-based arts and food market attracting 1m people across two shows annually went meat and fish free. If they can do it, anyone can – the Bavarians LOVE sausages!

12. What is the secret to your sustainable success?

The whole team are committed, including founder-shareholders. We are prepared to take risks and not prioritise profit.

13. Tell us something you feel positive about right now that relates to the environment

Tricky at the moment with the US Supreme court etc, but there is real momentum to take action in the UK live industry – that feels good.

14. Tell us a book, film or recent article you feel others should watch/read and why about positive change?

Brading Sweet Grass [book] by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a biologist of Native American decent. It’s a beautiful treatise on the relationship between humans and our land / nature.

15. Can you give people new to sustainability in events a top tip?

Just go for it. Get skilled up and do it – the information is out there and it’s not rocket science.

16. What is the favourite festival moment of your career?

There was a moment when an artist released 20 huge (tethered) helium balloons with pulsing colours at Shambala. It was surreal and beautiful. And a talk by Tony Benn months before he passed.

17. What habit or practice has helped you most in your personal journey in life?

I just keep going. And listening.

18. Is there anything new or exciting you are planning or changing for the future that you can tell us about? Even a hint!

This year at Shambala We’re introducing climate impact food labelling, so you’ll be able to see the environmental impact of some of your festival meals. It’s a step toward food footprinting.

19. Will we save the world?

“If I knew the world were to end tomorrow, I’d still plant my apple tree.” Martin Luther

20. What would your sustainable superpower be?

A spell that forces people to only make decisions that do not harm in any way for 7 generations to come (the principle of the Children’s Fire tradition).


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This Q&A originally appeared in our July 2022 Vision: 2025 newsletter. Sign up to receive monthly event sustainability news, case studies and guest blogs direct to your inbox.