In this guest blog, we speak with Jess Jones, Event & Sustainability Manager at Greenbelt, about her sustainability journey at Greenbelt, gathering data for, and creating Greenbelt’s first impact Sustainability Impact report, plus their plans for next season. Jess has been working in events for over 20 years and she is dedicated to integrating sustainability and inclusivity into the event to create impactful and socially conscious experiences. Greenbelt has been working on sustainability for many years and it was one of the pioneer events that took the Vision: 2025 pledge after its inception in the first Show Must Go On report (2015). They won the Community Action Award at the International AGF Awards 2020, a Highly Commended award from A Greener Festival in 2019 and Commended Award in 2022.
How much is sustainability integrated into your role as Event Manager at Greenbelt?
Greenbelt is 50 this year, and since its inception, the event has had a passion for sustainability, stewardship and for envisioning a better future for the planet and its people. It’s one of the things that has given me so much drive to work here. So, sustainability has been long-embedded in the festival’s ethos and I was excited to pick up that torch for the festival.
What area of sustainability do you feel most strongly about tackling and why?
For us, I’d say travel. It’s an area of impact we have the least amount of control over, but it accounts for over 85% of our emissions. More people are becoming aware of just how damaging single occupancy cars are and we’re seeing it less and less, but I’d like to get to more sustainable solutions for travelling to and from major events.
What are the opportunities or challenges of talking to audiences about sustainability at Greenbelt?
Talking to 10,000 people at once isn’t straightforward. Everyone is at different stages in their sustainability and there’s a lot of myths and misinformation out there. This year we’re putting together a new team of Sustainability Ambassadors whose sole purpose is to go into those crowds and have open, honest conversations with people about sustainability. To dispel any misconceptions or myths and help our audience understand the steps they can take to tackle climate change, not just at the festival but after, too. This isn’t about finger-wagging but education, interaction and encouragement.
Greenbelt was one of the pioneer events that took the Vision: 2025 pledge after its inception in the first Show Must Go On report in 2015. Can you tell us about your journey with following the Vision roadmap for reductions by 50% by 2025 and how you are doing on meeting those targets?
The journey isn’t linear for us, but it’s about consistent commitment to this. There are lots of elements of a festival that you may have less control over. For Greenbelt we don’t own the land we gather on; we use contractors for a lot of the services we provide; and, therefore, the journey can be just as much about influencing others and putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to selecting the teams that help build this amazing event. We’re proud of the data that comes out of our collection each year, but we’re also hungry to ensure that we don’t become complacent. We keep it alive by challenging ourselves in meetings, with volunteers and contractors and striving for the best we can be each year. We still have our eyes set on the future and what we can do next. We’re confident that we can meet the target by changing the way we power and supply our festival.
Headlines from the 2022 impact report:
– 0 tents left anywhere
– 0.89kg of waste pppd (national average 2.1kg)
Many of your initiatives focus on tackling waste. Can you tell us more about what has worked well – and where the challenge/learning points have been?
We’re fortunate to have an engaged audience when it comes to sustainability. Through messaging, volunteers and a good relationship with contractors we’ve managed to reduce our waste on site significantly, and if you come, you’ll see very little/no litter left on the ground – during or after our festival. We also think very carefully about what comes onto site. Having a robust sustainability policy banning single-use plastics etc and enforcing that with caterers, traders etc has meant that the waste doesn’t get onto site in the first place. We still have some way to go with waste – and we’re still learning – but it’s headed in the right direction. We’re confident we’ll see further improvements in this year’s festival.
Measuring waste emissions is a challenge for many event organisers. What are your top tips for gathering data consistently year on year?
Getting the right contractor who is committed to the same cause as you is paramount. This means that they will support you with data collection, and sorting on-site, and may even be able to advise you on what goes into landfill (some things may surprise you). This way you can have constant, open communication about what is happening in your waste system. Knowledge is power. We’ve also had a group of volunteers called the ‘Bin Fairies’ who help engage, educate and entertain our audience by encouraging them to recycle onsite in funky fancy dress. Walking entertainment with a sustainable message – double win.
What have you found is the best way to work with contractors to get the data you need?
At the point of forming a new contractor relationship, it’s best to be clear about what your expectations are as a festival and what you’ll need from them. That way they can also be clear about what they can provide. Don’t assume that because another contractor can provide the info, they all will.
We also ensure that there’s a formal debrief with contractors after the festival to talk about what went well and what we’d like to do differently next year. In years gone by we had more of an education piece on our hands to talk to contractors about our vision for a better world. More and more now contractors understand the desire for their services to be sustainable and can use our festival as case studies for their marketing materials to get similar contracts with other festivals. We’re proud of the work our contractors do to make our amazing event.
Are there any areas of data collection you are still finding a challenge?
Always. CO2 measurement is a challenge and some data is harder to collect than others. We’ve struggled to get super accurate data on the build phase of our festival for a while, which we’re hoping to improve this year. Because that part of the festival is ‘all go’ – blink and you might miss important information. We’ve needed to carefully plan to ensure this year we’re collecting valuable data in that build period. We also need to improve our channels of communication for our audience to tell US what they’d like to see – a two-way conversation. That’s why this year we’ve launched our hashtag #Greenerbelt for our audience to tell us what they’d like to see to make the festival more sustainable.
Headlines from the 2022 impact report:
– 10% of output is Solar
– 0.22 L fuel used pppd
You have made great progress in reducing your carbon footprint from powering the event. What has been the key to reductions?
Data is key to knowing what power you’re using and when. We carefully review our generator layout each year with the data collected onsite by volunteers to ensure that we’re being as efficient as we can be – powering down generators when not in use and only buying a generator for the size we need for that area. It’s a delicate balance but has led us to reduce our reliance on petrol/diesel by half since 2014.
What do you hope to implement in 2023 to further improve?
We’ve been wanting to make the switch to HVO and are hoping to do that this year. This comes with a cost increase so the more folks that buy our tickets the more sustainable we can be (shameless plug).
Travel & Transport
Headlines from the 2022 impact report:
– Travel equivalent of 85% of our CO2 output as an event
– 53% of audience travel was offset using ecolibrium – 105 Tonnes
You’ve been working with ecolibrium since 2019 to tackle travel emissions – can you let us know about your initiatives to encourage festival-goers out of cars and onto more sustainable forms of transport?
Last year we made our shuttle bus from the train station free to all and we saw the number of folks that use it double from 2019 (the last time we had a fully-fledged festival) which was awesome to see. We advertise lift-share websites where public transport isn’t possible and encourage people to think about their travel through our social media sites.
How do you measure emissions from crew, artists and suppliers and how do you plan to tackle emissions in these areas?
During arrival folks are asked how they’ve travelled, and by what method. From this, we measure our CO2 emissions. It’s a big data piece post-festival. Tackling these areas happens at the point of booking. We favour local suppliers, artists, and crew where possible. We also promote lift sharing and our sustainability policy through pre-festival messaging.
Do you have any new measures planned for 2023?
We’re improving our bike parking this year, releasing walking routes to the festival for the first time and also putting on more shuttle bus journeys. In years to come I’d love to start arranging coach travel from major cities nearby and also start incentivising sustainable travel through free perks once you get to the festival as our way of saying thank you.
Food and catering
Headlines from the 2022 impact report:
– 5389 reusable cups sold
– 26% of stalls are fully meat-free
– 97% offering vegetarian and vegan options
What are the main challenges of making your food offerings more sustainable?
We favour smaller, independent, and sustainable catering options where we can. Each of these catering options will be on a slightly different journey with their sustainability. Ensuring that sustainability is standardised across all these companies can be tricky but it starts with very clear expectations being written into our Terms and Conditions when they join the team. We also ensure these T&Cs are enforced onsite through the catering manager. Most of the caterers you’ll meet onsite are already well into that journey
What are your top tips for getting traders on board with your initiatives?
Again, this is about who you’re selecting in the first place. There are always lots of amazing local people who can provide excellent food at loads of price points. Advertise what you’re looking for, set up clear T&Cs about your expectations and ‘do your homework’ as it were. Your food will be better, your audience will be happier, and your emissions will be lower. Win-win-win.
Do you have a plan for food waste?
Yes, we try to minimise food waste on-site by communicating openly about food waste at the festival and informing our food vendors about not giving overly-large portion sizes. For them to consider cutting back the cost per person and providing smaller portions where applicable. We also select some caterers that have smaller portion sizes as standard to ensure people can get the right size meal for their hunger. Artist and crew catering is done by orders (numbers provided pre-festival) to ensure that extra food is not made unnecessarily. We also advertise and arrange a collection of leftover food by the local Food Bank post-festival to ensure food doesn’t go to waste. Food waste bins are provided so that leftover food can be composted off-site post-festival with our waste contractors.
What are your new plans for food sustainability this year?
We’re doing a huge survey this year of our audience to see whether they would be responsive to cutting out some more things on site – namely: meat and dairy. This could help inform us what caterers provide in the future and what steps folks are wanting to take. We’re also preparing for disposable coffee cups to be phased out fully by 2024 and will start our campaign this year.
What are your top tips for measuring food waste?
Start with the right waste contractor who can provide clear waste bins, both front and back of the house. Ensure they can measure, process, and compost the food waste (and disposable food packaging if you use it).
How are you tackling water consumption and the associated waste?
We use water sourced from the mains on site, and our biggest consumer is the showers. Our shower volunteers encourage folks to keep their showers short and sweet and the temperature of the water is set a little cooler than you might have it at home to discourage people wishing to spend large periods of time under them. This also saves a lot of energy. Water taps in the campsite only dispense a specific volume of water before stopping, meaning they cannot be accidentally left on. During our training, we remind volunteers and crew to remain vigilant and use as little power, water etc as necessary.
Do the toilets you use have a water-saving element – if so please let us know which you use and why?
Yes, we’re hugely increasing the number of composting toilets this year that are waterless, and we’re also introducing urinals that can use less. There will be both traditional urinals and squatting urinals for use by womxn. We’re hopeful both these will reduce wait times, and make a more positive experience for our festival goers.
What is your top tip for other event profs to engage the whole team in the sustainability strategy and supporting initiatives?
I feel so blessed to be surrounded by a team of really talented, committed and passionate people. It’s not a ‘hard sell’ at Team Greenbelt to get involved with these strategies, it’s part of who we are. Greenbelt built up incredible relationships with contractors, artists over the years and so I guess my advice would be to take folks with you on the journey and surround yourself with others who are committed to a better future. As an industry, we have a lot of buying power and so, through demanding better, we can change the tide on sustainability in our industry.
Follow Jess Jones on Linkedin
This article originally appeared in our July 2023 Vision: 2025 newsletter. Sign up to receive monthly event sustainability news, case studies and guest blogs direct to your inbox.