The festival season is in full swing, and with the sun finally shining, the ideal festival experience is upon us: basking outdoors in the sun, sipping on drinks, chilling, and dancing to great tunes. Admittedly, it might pinch the wallet a bit, but the experience is worth every penny.
Beyond an impressive lineup and various amenities, festival organizers are dedicating significant efforts to make their events more sustainable. One remarkable declaration comes from Mojo, the mastermind behind festivals like Lowlands. Mojo envisions achieving circularity and climate neutrality across all its events by 2030. But what lies beyond solar panels and biobased cups in this pursuit?
Das war einmal I'll confess, I'm not much of a festival enthusiast – or at least, not anymore. I still recall a moment at Dance Valley when I, being 22 at the time, struck up a conversation with a woman on the dance floor. Amidst the dancing, she reveals she's 30. My response: 'How great that you're still into festivals at 30!' There was a hint of judgment in my tone. Back then, 30 seemed old, and the notion of attending festivals at that age struck me as, at the very least, unconventional and somewhat dull. Little did I know. The '30' milestone arrived quicker than anticipated, and I never attended another dance festival. I clung to my narrow-minded and, perhaps, not-so-woke perspective.
Nonetheless, from a distance, I've been keeping tabs on the evolving festival landscape, and sustainability has been gaining momentum as a prevalent theme. Where is this trend headed?
Teach Us a Lesson To me, a festival like Lowlands resembles a utopian pop-up city. There are certain rules to abide by, ample food, drinks, restroom facilities, places to sleep, and medical services available. A throng of people gathers, most with a singular purpose: to create countless memorable moments. Brands seize this opportunity for their inventive activations, and organizers strive to continually improve things: making them more beautiful, efficient, and eco-friendly. Can it get any better? Apparently, it can.
Mojo's pledge to render all its festivals and events circular and climate-neutral by 2030 is undeniably lofty. And considering the magnitude of their events – approximately 200 concerts and festivals each year, attracting around 2 million attendees – it's a formidable undertaking. Circular implies achieving zero waste by 2030, while climate-neutral means eliminating CO₂ emissions. Is such an ambition attainable?
Five Pillars Mojo has articulated five pillars that underpin their sustainability initiatives. In a nutshell:
Energy: Replacing 400,000 liters of diesel with electricity at outdoor events. Resources & Materials: Reusing or recycling all (camping) materials, eschewing incineration. Mobility & Transport: Reducing emissions from visitor transportation, suppliers, and on-site machinery to zero. Water: Aspiring to reduce water consumption by 20% (events consumed 22 million liters in 2022). Food & Beverage: Phasing out meals with high and very high climate impacts.
Aim for Maximum Sustainability Mojo's ambition is commendable, albeit daunting. It requires investments, new logistical approaches, and organizational choices. Will festival-goers notice significant changes?
Changes in transportation, accommodation, and sustenance are likely to alter the attendee experience, I imagine:
Personal transportation might be limited to electric vehicles, with public transport or (electric) shuttle buses as alternatives. Bringing your own tent may no longer be feasible, or strict rules for cleanup may be enforced. Currently, 38% of camping waste is left behind annually. Toilets might shift from water-flushing to vacuum systems. Food options could be limited to low-climate-impact products, possibly with reduced or no meat offerings. Collectible, recyclable cups could replace disposable ones.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. It probably won't hinder the dance-filled enjoyment, I suspect.
As participants in initiatives like Green Deal and Plastic Promise, organizers are challenged to devise innovative, sustainable solutions for festivals and events. Festivals are often seen as ideal testing grounds for sustainability initiatives that could eventually extend to urban environments.
Pushing the Boundaries
How far are organizers and sponsors willing to go in the pursuit of greener festivals and events? After all, we remain human, and sustainability has its limitations. Challenges emerge when sustainable choices impact comfort, limit choices, introduce an excess of rules and constraints, jeopardize the (authentic) ambiance, lead to high costs, or eliminate conveniences.
Where lies the tipping point at which the degree of sustainability and enjoyment fall out of balance?
Furthermore, can brands themselves not be part of the solution? At Lowlands, for example, the Hema stand allows attendees to trade in their tents for €5, which Hema then repurposes into bags.
The task for companies like Mojo is to strike a delicate balance between experience and sustainability initiatives, preserving the joy of the festival while operating within a circular and climate-neutral framework. Oh dear, I'm feeling the festival!