Green events – Making cultural events sustainable

A cultural event – be it an art exhibition, theatre production, film event or concert – is a place to meet people, exchange opinions, learn and hang out. They have a tremendous appeal for people and provide the opportunity to break the mould – also in the case of sustainability. On the one hand the event organisers can and should consider how they can manage their own events in a way that saves more energy and water, avoid rubbish and reduce greenhouse gases.

Large-scale events in particular have significant, negative impacts on the climate and the environment, use valuable resources and leave waste material behind. To adopt concrete measures and address the right issues, it is first of all necessary to review the business practices of such events and their impacts on nature and the environment. On this basis a plan can then be developed, which stipulates specific measures for avoiding and reducing harmful effects.

On the other hand both large- and small-scale cultural events provide the opportunity to raise the awareness of visitors regarding environmental protection issues. Many people interested in culture already attach importance to keeping their own visit to a concert or art exhibition as environmentally friendly as possible – whether by taking public transport to get to the event or by consuming organic food and drink in reusable crockery when they are there. Unfortunately the organisers of cultural and artistic events are still lagging behind in terms of sustainability. This doesn’t have to stay that way; there are a number of positive examples, first initiatives and collected experiences from which others can profit.

Sustainable cinema: the example of the Berlin International Film Festival

Each year in February the Berlin International Film Festival (BIFF) shows films from all over the world. Contemporary works of cinematic art, retrospectives, young cinema and much more – for a number of years the festival has been considered one of the most important events in the international film calendar. But not only artistic standards are high. In future the BIFF will also avoid giving rise to harmful greenhouse gases as far as possible. Since 2010 Öko-Institut (Institute for Applied Ecology) has been determining the annual carbon footprint of the Berlin International Film Festival on behalf of the energy supplier ENTEGA.

Now the experts are developing strategies and measures for how long-term, far-reaching emission reductions can be achieved. The example of the Berlin International Film Festival shows that in particular the journey to and from the event by the artists, film-makers and visitors causes a lot of CO2 emissions. But electricity and heat consumption, printed matter and logistical transport for the festival also give rise to emissions. When the curtain falls next on 7 February 2013 the film festival will, in a first step, have switched to eco-electricity in its offices and be offering, in a co-operation with Deutsche Bahn, a BIFF ticket which promotes environmental-friendly travelling. Last but not least the BIFF also takes care to offer predominately vegetarian catering during the festival.

Environmental programme for environmental festival

In 2011 the ÜBER LEBENSKUNST festival ventured to make a “double strike” in sustainability terms. First of all, people involved in cultural events all over the world wanted to creatively consider the question of “Do we want to live (sustainably) in future?”. Secondly, it was important for the five-day event itself to be designed as sustainably as possible, i.e. to cause as few greenhouse gases and waste, and use as little energy and water as possible. To fulfil this second goal, Öko-Institut (Institute for Applied Ecology) provided expert support for ÜBER LEBENSKUNST in the implementation of its environmental programme. In doing so, the experts developed an extensive set of measures for energy and resource conservation which cover all aspects – from the use of building materials, via a mobility strategy geared to local public transport, to catering with regionally produced organic products. As a result, the use of video conferences for artistic performances and conference contributions instead of air travel, for example, saved 177 tons of greenhouse gases. And the reduction in flights taken decreased the emission balance by approx. 40 per cent, from 458 to 281 tons of CO2.

Convincing, changing, improving

Learning from experience. The ÜBER LEBENSKUNST Festival organisers didn’t just want that for themselves – a key goal was also to pass on the acquired experiences to others and support others in developing and realising environmentally friendly events. Supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation and with expert support provided by Öko-Institut, the festival organisers produced a guide which provides tips for sustainable operation in all project phases of culture events.

From concept and planning, via the realization of the event, to the project report – in the guide event organisers can find specific measures for all project phases, along with explanations and effects for the areas of mobility, procurement and services, catering, communication and waste management.

Sustainable cultural events are not simply a matter of saving energy or separating and recycling waste – as important as these two areas are in terms of environmental and climate protection and resource conservation. In future social and economic aspects also have to play an increasingly significant role in sustainability concepts. This means, for example, that solutions have to found to make the often insecure forms of employment of temporary events more secure. Additionally, financial pressures and the small budgets of many events run counter to the organisers’ desire to make the events more environmentally friendly.

Yet just a few steps help to make events more sustainable and frequently save money in the long run, too. For example, the interiors of exhibitions or trade fairs can, with the help of creative ideas, be used again, thereby reducing waste and perhaps even creating revenue.