Festivals, DJ club nights, football tournaments – all cultural events have an environmental footprint. Linnéa Svensson has worked to advance sustainability in cultural life for nearly 20 years. She talks about what it takes to create greener events.
When goth legends the Cure hit the stage at Øyafestivalen in Oslo on 7 August 2019, it was as a headliner at one of Northern Europe’s – and the world’s – greenest festivals.
At Øyafestivalen, all the construction equipment used to set up the festival site is fossil-free, and all the electricity powering the shows comes from the grid – as opposed to polluting generators used by most other festivals. Nearly all the food served is organic, and 40 per cent is vegan. Over two-thirds of all waste is recycled.
To address the pressing problem of microplastics in the ocean, the festival has eliminated single-use plastics. Food is served on biodegradable plates and drink in reusable glasses that can be returned to the bar. These glasses can be washed and reused up to 100 times before they have to be disposed of. This reduces plastic waste as well as greenhouse gas emissions from producing the glasses.
Øyafestivalen is just one example of a trend where Norwegian organisers of cultural events are placing priority on sustainability. Linnéa Svensson is a pioneer here. She launched the sustainability activities at Øyafestivalen in 2002, and worked there for 10 years. Now, under the Greener Events Foundation and via her own company, Konglomerat, she works full time on making Norwegian cultural life and events greener.
“In a nutshell, I help organisers to understand what they can do better and how to implement and document sustainability measures.”
According to Svensson, two things are critical to arranging greener events. First of all, it is imperative to use innovative technology, materials and equipment that are less energy intensive. The most important sustainability measure, however, is knowledge and the motivation to make changes in practice.
“This primarily involves understanding what can be improved. For example, a European research project I participated in showed that nightclubs could cut electricity consumption by 20 per cent just by a change in attitudes. This can include routines, beverage storage, using the right equipment for the right task, proper stage rigging and equipment maintenance,” she says.
“Once routines and behaviours are in place, we found that small investments to increase energy efficiency yielded additional cuts of 10 to 20 per cent,” she adds.
According to Svensson, festivals have an extremely important role to play because they demand and implement new solutions and can thus serve as test labs.
"In cultural life, it is often festivals that drive advances by stipulating requirements or ordering the development of specific solutions.”
“Suppliers of equipment and materials seldom take the initiative to devise new solutions – these are often the result of collaboration between suppliers and organisers,” she adds.
She points to the washable, reusable glasses introduced at the 2019 Øyafestivalen as an example of developing a solution to meet the festival’s demands. She hopes that this type of proactiveness will spread – not just to other festivals, but to all kinds of events.
“I’d like to see washable cups everywhere, for example in coffee bars to eliminate single-use coffee cups. Think about all the coffee cups that you take a sip or two from and then set aside,” she says.
In addition to influencing the events industry, she believes festivals can be a catalyst for change in attitudes and behaviour among the audience itself.
“I have an education in consumer behaviour, and we know that behaviours can change attitudes. When you go to a festival and eat eco-friendly food, you can be inspired to make a change in your own life. I have friends that began filling their shopping baskets with organic food after experiencing that it’s possible at a festival. Now many more are buying organic,” she says.
Culture is more than music festivals, nightclubs and concerts. Svensson is working to make Norwegian sporting events greener as well.
“There is a lot that can be done when it comes to sports. This includes transport, food served at concession stands and promotion of the sponsors. The latter often involves non-environment-friendly PVC banners or free giveaways that end up in the trash – or nature,” she explains.
Svensson says that encouraging the willingness to change in grassroots sports is a challenge.
“Sports clubs and sporting events are often very traditional. Many like to do what they have always done, and perceive change as expensive or difficult.”
That is why she and Greener Events are working to help organisers to see how easy it is to introduce sustainability measures at sporting events.
“We are collaborating with the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports on a green sports project, with support from the Savings Bank Foundation DNB. Under the project we have developed a sustainability manual and an email course for sports clubs that identifies concrete measures that can be implemented and helps them to develop a sustainability strategy,” she explains.
She praises Norway Cup, the world’s largest football tournament for children, where some 2 000 teams from around the globe compete and forge ties across national borders.
“Norway Cup has more or less dropped the use of generators. They are also thinking very sensibly when it comes to modernising operations and making the event more energy efficient,” she says.
Regardless of whether we are talking about a large-scale rock festival, a DJ club night or a football tournament: motivation is crucial.
“When I began working with sustainability at Øyafestivalen, we didn’t know what we were doing,” Svensson admits.
The festival is proof of what can be achieved when there is a willingness to go green. It now serves as an inspiration for large and small cultural events in Norway and internationally.