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Green Leader Q&A #43: Tanya Steinhauser, Co-Creative Director of Festival of Thrift

Tanya is the Co-Creative Director of Festival of Thrift & has worked in the wider performing arts sector for over 20 years. Since 2012, Festival of Thrift has led the national festival of sustainable living, attracting up to 30,000 – 50,000 people each year. The festival is peripatetic, moving around the Tees Valley in the North East, and now taking place in Billingham, Stockton on Tees. Having joined the National Portfolio of Organisations funded by Arts Council in 2023, Festival of Thrift is transitioning into a vibrant and multi-faceted arts & sustainability organisation with a year-round programme of projects & events impacting positively on people’s lives. Clearly sustainability is front and centre of Festival of Thrift’s programme and in this Q&A Tanya shares her personal and professional journey in Sustainable Events.

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

We engaged 4,640 participants on one day of our festival last year (the second day was sadly cancelled due to high winds) during 121 free workshops teaching people new sustainable living skills to practice at home and in their communities year-round. We used to have a paid model of workshops and we were determined to make them free and accessible to all. We had success in finding a sponsor who is working with us over three years to bring creative and sustainability workshops to thousands of people for free.

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

In my previous place of work one wall of the old industrial building was basically covered in windows. We thought we could use it like a greenhouse and grow some salad and veg and built growing containers from scrap wood, filled them with peat free soil and started planting… until we had a huge infestation of tiny flies in the office that summer.

3 What are you excited about implementing this year?

Festival of Thrift moved last year from a greenfield to an urban site. We were able to really push the transport issue and encourage people to come to the festival by foot, bike and public transport. It reduced travel by car from 90% to 55% which was brilliant to see and we intend to improve on it this year.

4 Which environmental issue do you most care about?

It’s all connected, I care about seeing our leaders & politicians act and finally treating the issue as the crisis it is!

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

Becoming vegetarian aged 13 set me up on a life long journey of learning and staying engaged with the issue of climate crisis and to continuously adjusts on what else I can do in my personal life to reduce my impact and take others on a journey with me.

6 What do you read, listen to or watch to stay in touch with green issues?

I enjoy listening to Emma Newman’s podcast with Friends of the Earth, ‘Imagining Tomorrow’ for its uplifting and hopeful examples of some of the brilliant things people currently do to create & act change. I regularly re-visit chapters of ‘The Climate Book’ created by Greta Thunberg. Wicked Leeks on food, farming & justice.

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

Oh wow, there’s LOADS, for so many different reasons and experiences… this is why I work in the arts! I can’t possibly single out just the one…

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

Learning at school in Germany about the negative human impact on the world’s climate and the ozone layer in the late 80’s. I came home aged 13 announcing that I would become a vegetarian and still am to this day.

9 What is most important issue to tackle at your events?

Impacting behaviour change.

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

Large scale events create carbon output by their very nature. More sustainable solutions are often more expensive, so financial means can be a real challenge.

11 Can you share something sustainable about/from another artists or event or company that inspired you to make a change?

The gentle yet powerful act of reclamation and activism, Calling Tree by artists Rosemary Lee & Simon Whitehead.  The work is designed to encourage us to look up and be attentive to ourselves and our environment; reframing our relationship with the natural world. The tree acts as a catalyst to bring people together, celebrating the rich diversity of the area. 

12 What is the secret to your sustainable success?

Connecting, sharing, seeking peer support/ learning from others & communicating with peers, your team and your audiences. We are all on this journey together.

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

A movement of people who care & take it seriously and who are keen to make their voices heard and influence people in power to take the actions we want to see.

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

I adore Rob Hopkin’s podcast series ‘From What If To What Next?’ where he talks to cutting edge thinkers about bold, imaginative and visionary and imaginative ideas to reimagine and visualise a new future on topics from ‘What if education took place in nature?’ to ‘What if we shifted to a not-for-profit economy?’.

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

Talk to other organisers, learn from what they are doing. You won’t be able to do everything at once, tackle one new change at a time. Evaluate, learn and grow, often making change is a journey.

16 What is the favourite festival moment of your career?

Last year at our first Festival of Thrift in our new home Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees, the pure joy and empowerment as we celebrated the thrifty, creative, imaginative outfits our ‘Best In Show’ festival goers showed off on the catwalk in ‘Slow Fashion Alley’ compared by our co-founder and trustee Wayne Hemingway.

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

Educating myself and seeking out examples and stories of hopeful climate change action and brilliant people acting & making change!

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

We don’t have a choice and owe it to our children and future generations.

19 Will we save the world?

We don’t have a choice and owe it to our children and future generations.

20 What would your sustainable super-power be?


Follow Festival of Thrift

Twitter: @ThriftFest

LinkedIn: Festival of Thrift

Facebook: festivalofthrift

Instagram: festivalofthrift

This Q&A originally appeared in our June 2024 Vision: 2025 newsletter. Sign up to receive monthly event sustainability news, case studies and guest blogs direct to your inbox.