Sustainability is becoming a key factor in event management. Meegan Jones works as a sustainability consultant for various events and has many years of practical experience with music festivals like Reading, Leeds and Glastonbury. To protect resources and the environment in the long run is her main objective.
Jones turned her expertise into a book, “Sustainable Event Management”, published in 2009. To Tina Friedrich she talked about her working methods, why she would recommend Green Surgery, and what makes Radiohead special.
When do you get involved in a project?
My preferred method of working is to build capacity, that is to work with the organizing team from the very start. With an annual event, this is about seven to ten months in advance. I am trying to train them and alert them to the issues they need to consider in their decision making. I like that because you are passing on the knowledge and they continue to go with it.
Sustainability needs to be embedded into the hearts and minds of the people that are running events. It cannot be relied on an add-on consultant.
The second way is to almost work like a green agency, that is how I usually work. I do some kick-off meetings, go through all the areas and call what they should do. Then I am available on a weekly or monthly basis to bounce things off and give opinions.
The third option is to be very hands on. You would be running projects, doing direct research and facilitating various initiatives at the event. Obviously, that is very time intensive.
So after your initial work, the planning team has to do research and find partners and you evaluate the results?
Yes. With Live Earth for example, one of the directors came and asked if they could offset their website by planting trees. That is of course not the way to do it, so I just told them that that is not a priority at all. I said, lets talk about how you are going to manage your waste and not about planting trees for your clicks.
One of the first things you would do is what you call “Green Surgery”. Could you explain that concept?
In Australia we have the term “legal surgery”. If you have a situation in a business, you throw everything on the table and investigate all the possible outcome options and consequences. It is a big analysis of the situation.
Green Surgery is a similar process. You take an event, pick it apart and have a look at all the areas that could have environmental impact. Then you analyse strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and ask what could be done to reduce that impact. This is done at the very beginning of the planning process.
Could you give examples?
At the moment I am working with Brighton Pride, a festival in August.
In the area of transport for example, my interests are: How do you organize the transport? Where is public transport? How do people usually get there? If so, how are we going to measure the transport? We could reduce the impact of the transport of audience by doing a certain campaign. Maybe we need to talk to bus lines or railways for extra services.
In the area of power, questions include: Where is the main line? Are there going to be generators? How many stages are we going to have? Can we reduce size or number of generators? Have we looked at zero emission options? Of course, with all of this, the budget needs to be kept in mind.
One of your approaches is called Smart Power Planning. How does that work?
Smart Power Planning is all about generator placement and site layout.
Most generators need to be run on a certain load to work efficiently. Otherwise they are burning the fuel off. For example a generator that is run at only 40% of its capacity will lead to burning off fuel. Try to cluster those with power needs and have them run off the same generator rather than putting in two generators running at a lower capacity.
Another example is the main stage. Often the generators are put there to cater for that one moment when all equipment is being used. That moment is specified by the band. The maximum power required is the minimum power that has to be available. In practice, that means that you have to keep running huge generators idling and waiting for that one moment. With proper management, you could daisy chain the generators and have them turned on and off when needed. Manual manipulation can be put in place.
The only solution is to reduce the size or number of generators in order to reduce the amount of fuel and therefore emissions of an event that is run on generator power.
Does the event get more expensive as soon as you try to make it more sustainable?
Some things are going to be marginally more expensive. For your waste mangement to be as green as possible you need to prevent anything from going to landfill and that can mean a lot of staff and therefore a high labour cost. Depending on the size of the event, it could be volunteer driven. A smaller event has the opportunity to be more effective than a larger event in the details, because they often run off the passion of volunteers.
But you do need technology like solar panels.
Yes, some technology is going to be a little more expensive. In the United Kingdom, you can get really nice mobile solar set ups. They could be up to about 30% more expensive than normal generators to hire.
It is a matter of supply and demand. Hopefully green technology will become more competitive, but at the moment it is certainly a very relevant commercial decision in this area. You have to weigh up all of the possible scenarios, not only the green or the financial ones. Practical and operational things have to be kept in mind, too.
If you keep working with the event in continuing years, what can be skipped after a year, what has to be done again?
The most important thing is to have a green champion within the team. This should be an existing member like the production coordinator or the communications officer. He or she works as a constant pressure point, championing the green message during all the meetings. We do that with the London Marathon for example.
With the Reading and Leeds festivals I gave myself three years. At some point you have to see if it runs by itself. With Brighton Pride it will probably be a two years process because we are trying things out this year to take it to the next level next year. It depends on if an event just wants to get its house in order or whether it wants to push the envelope.
An event does not only depend on its organizers. How far down the supply chain do you go when planning sustainability?
I go as far as I can, both ways up and down. Certainly greening the supply chain is a major part of making the industry sustainable. It is primarily run through products and services provided by contractors and subcontractors. Getting those entities and stakeholders greened up is the solution.
Take the recycling of plastic bottles for example. If an event is appropriately located close to these facilities, we try to get them to collect all the bottles seperately, get them compacted on site and sent directly to the reprocessor.
Economically the next step would be to find out which beverage brands actually buy your bottles. Selling this brand on your event is truly closing the loop. That is the sort of detail you could get into when you really think about it.
There has been a debate about artists promoting a green image but then touring with big trucks. What is your experience?
Unfortunately there is little that bands could do to reduce their transport impact of freighting and transporting people apart from the obvious. They can however, ask about the event or venue’s environmental initiatives so that they can participate in them when they arrive. The more pressure on organisers there is the better.
Of course, an up and coming band has no power to tell anyone what to do. It does come down to the big players. For example Radiohead, who are pioneering in green touring and doing all kinds of projects. There are a lot of big names such as Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow or Alanis Morrissette.
What is missing at the moment?
There is no one to report to on achievements or impacts. Certification which calls the industry to action is really important as are regulations and financial penalties. For example, increasing landfill tonnage fees or penalties if an event doesn’t meet a certain diversion from landfill. That will force events to manage their waste properly.
I think certification and regulation is the next step, but education and building awareness, understanding and skills in the industry is important too.
Is there a future for green events?
If university enquiries, internships and dissertations show anything, then I would say absolutely. Students are taking on this issue with a great passion which can only bode well for the industry’s future direction.
It comes down to individuals. This industry is based on people’s skills and knowledge. It is all about decisions that people make rather than specific technical recipes. There is a huge increase from events that are starting to mention sustainability.