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Interview with Steve Heap (Towersey Festival, AFO, EIF): Events, Covid and Sustainability.

Steve Heap is Director of the Association of Festival Organisers, Chairman of the Events Industry Forum and was Director of Towersey festival for 45 years – he champions and promotes sustainability practices in all his roles. 

How has Covid-19 affected sustainability at events in your view?

With the devastating effect of COVID-19 destroying the 2020 festival season it does give organisers an opportunity to reflect on how they will recover in 2021, and at the same time re-think our sustainability policies.  ‘The world will never be the same again’ is a phrase I hear often describing this crisis, but I believe it has been like that for some time: If we don’t do something about preventing harm to our environment then the world will certainly ‘never be the same again’.

What is the Association of Festival Organisers’ approach to sustainability?

AFO is committed to supporting its members to help them set targets for the future.  With this long run into the 2021 festival season we have plenty of opportunity to plan better how our festivals are organised, managed and how waste is disposed.  We strongly recommend to our membership that reading the 2nd edition of the Show Must Go On report is a good starting point.  Look into the online tools available at Julie’s Bicycle and Powerful Thinking.

Prior to the Coronavirus hitting we had two workshops planned, both focussed on sustainability issues.  These will now be rescheduled.  We are planning to run these workshops online via Zoom.  If readers wish to join in, we need to know. The date has yet to be set but mid-July is likely. For more details email:

What are you advising events to do as part of their sustainability plans?

 It is now up to you, the organisers, to think about everything; sustainable coffee cups, beer vessels, straws, water use, food supply chains and trading standards in general.  Learn how customers travel to the festival and why, and explore options to reduce emissions.  If you have the issue of left tents, develop a new campaign such as ‘leave no tent’. Work more closely with contractors on their own transport plans (no half empty loads please).

What does 2021 look like?

There may be Covid-related rules that are still in place in summer 2021, but that gives us no excuse as events, and as an industry, for ignoring this opportunity to embed sustainability. Next year could be the start of the ‘new normal’ in the festival world, in a number of ways, and sustainability must be one of them if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. 

This interview first appeared in our July 2020 newsletter – sign up to the newsletter using the form below for more blogs, interviews, case studies and monthly event sustainability news.