This month's theme is 'easy ways to know my event is sustainable.' We asked Claire O'Neill, co-founder and director of A Greener Festival, to discuss this theme further. Exploring the Greener Festival Award assessment criteria, the detailed structure offers event professionals insightful and useful tools they can use to implement. 


At A Greener Festival, we have been assessing and guiding events based on their environmental actions and sustainability management for the last 10 years, and currently assess all event types for the Award globally. This has resulted in a detailed insight into best practice, challenges, and the importance of sharing experiences as the industry has evolved from strength to strength.

In the last decade the event sector has moved leaps and bounds from seeking bolt on seen to be green actions, and now organisers are weaving sustainability into their event planning, delivery and review. This is not just the ethical choice, it is good business sense for smart, efficiently run events with longevity.

To help illustrate what practical evidence organisers should see to know their event is sustainable, I will use the Greener Festival Award assessment criteria as a useful structure. This is not by any means exhaustive, but hopefully a useful insight.


Where does your event take place? If it is an indoor venue, does their sustainability policy align with your own? There are a number of certifications that buildings can attain, such as BREEAM, LEED, and Green Tourism. They may have attained relevant ISO’s such as ISO50001 for energy, or even ISO20121 for sustainable event management if they are an event specific venue. Even without Certification, you can engage with your chosen venue to find out whether they have an ethical procurements policy. Do they have low energy lighting systems, where is their food sourced and what is the procedure for food waste to name but a few. The key is to engage in the conversation and seek to work together to raise the bar where it is needed. Aim for your event to leave a positive legacy wherever it goes, and to continually learn from any good processes and procedures you encounter.

If you are in an outdoor space, be it greenfield or urban, you may require a Biodiversity Impact Assessment. This can identify high-risk areas and provide guidance to minimise any potential negative impacts of the event taking place. There have been many instances of events altering the location of stages and event dates of events owing to nesting cycles for example.

It is important that the event understands the site that they are working with. In many instances, it is advisable to know the Site Drainage Plan, showing where drains are located, whether they lead to rivers or sewerage, and where potential contaminants are positioned in location to this. The event should have a plan for managing spillages, potentially as part of a broader pollution incident response plan. It is important to note that substances such as dairy and beer –as well as the more obvious oils, fuels and solvents - can be damaging to delicate ecosystems.

Has the local community been engaged with the event, not only in gaining permissions for licensing, but also as participant, contributors, and with feedback surveys post event? The local community will know best how the event can impact the area both positively and negatively so an open dialogue is key – especially in temporary event spaces. Whether the community are happy with your event taking place is a very good indicator of your local area impact.


Clearly, if the event is implementing a successful travel and transport plan which prioritises low carbon movement of audience, production and artists/exhibitors/talent, the results can be seen in how people arrive at the site. Do you monitor the modes of transport for each of these groups? This can be done by use of surveys both onsite and post event. Ticket data can be utilised, as well as artist liaison records for example.

Are local suppliers and artists sought where possible to minimise mileage associated with the event? On site is low carbon transport utilised (e.g. bikes, electric buggies, walking!). Are lift share schemes promoted and have locations been chosen for their good public transport links? If public transport is poor what provisions have the event or venue made to help (e.g. shuttles from nearest train stations/cities). How are the audiences or participants incentivised to use public transport?


Has your overall power use and if relevant fuel usage been monitored, including peak and average use in KW. We have found in recent years that many generators are being run at less than 30% capacity. This means a huge amount of fuel and hence money is burned and wasted. Powerful Thinking has released a Smart Energy for Festival and Outdoor Events Guide which gives the latest actions for improving this issue. DGTL festival with ZAP Concepts in the Netherlands is a great example of a Smart power plan that was implemented to result in an 80% cost saving on fuel and a 98% saving on CO2 emissions in 2016!

Even if you are using mains power are you using a green tariff provider, are you monitoring usage and seeing where savings can be made – and is it reducing each year? There are a number of events who have been running on 100% renewable energy for quite some time. They have become experts in finding the most energy efficient equipment to deliver their shows without compromising the artistic integrity.

If using generators or other temporary power sources correct specification of exact power needs is key, to avoid waste and save money.


Events have such a power in purchasing choices they make. Through the temporary environments we create we are able to design inputs for greener outputs. This is a significant influence and responsibility. We must consider the ethical, social and environmental impact of any purchases made. Does the event use materials from reclaimed and recycled sources to avoid extraction of virgin materials? Are durable resources used that will be reused following the event, and are procedures in place to ensure this happens? Where virgin materials are used they should be certified as ethical sources (e.g. FSC timber) and a plan made for their reuse. Events have the potential to be highly wasteful places, and it is in the organiser's hands to recreate this.

Suppliers and caterers can be asked to complete a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ), or to adhere to the events procurement policy and code of conduct, for example, to not engage with any company or product that contributes to deforestation, human rights abuses, or pollution to land and water. Is food local, organic, fair trade or otherwise ethically sourced, and are containers & cutlery reusable, recyclable or (facilities permitting) compostable? Provision of reusable bottles/cups and drinking water to avoid plastic bottles is highly advised.


The event has a policy for reusing or recycling materials used by the event. The use of non-recyclable containers for either food or drink is a clear sign to anyone attending that no steps have been taken to minimise environmental impact. A waste management plan should be a collaboration between all vendors, organisers, venue and waste contractor taking into account all inputs and hence the process and destination for final outputs.

Organisers should seek a waste transfer note and/or weighbridge ticket from the waste contractor post event, or if in a venue with collections from the Local Authority seek information about the events waste figures. Understand where the waste goes, and what this really means for your recycling. For example, if 80% of the event waste is taken to a facility for recycling, this does not mean that 80% is recycled. If it is taken to a Mechanical Refuse Facility, for example, it might have an average recycling rate of 20% with remainder incinerated for energy with organic waste anaerobically digested. The waste hierarchy should be applied to all waste management plans. This is a legal requirement in the UK – Prevention, Preparation for Reuse, Recycling, Other recovery, then disposal.

Where provisions are made for separating waste streams at source (the best way for quality outputs with higher recycling rates), bins should be very clearly marked, and always stationed in groups (e.g. recycling with general waste – not stand alone).


To understand the impact of water usage of the event first we need to know where the water is coming from on how it is supplied to the event site. Is it mains water in a venue or driven in tankers for a temporary event for example. If water is abstracted specifically for the event, has a permit been provided by the Environment Agency or equivalent regulatory body, and has an impact of abstraction of water on the local environment been considered and monitored?

Whilst some event know their overall water use, monitors can also be used to help understand more precisely where water is being used and hence where savings can be made. Does the venue or contractor provide water efficient taps and showers for example, and is grey water reused. If the venue is in a country with regular rainfall and has rainwater capture, that is used within the building this is a huge win. 


Is there a sustainable drainage system in place which reuses greywater, or cleans the water of pathogens using biological methods in situ? This is the area that most events participating in the Greener Festival Award score lowest. What we seek are waste water and sewage plans that prioritise methods that retain nutrients and support biodiverse ecosystems. Similar to the case with solid waste and recycling, separation of waste water and sewage streams can result in valuable resources being retained instead of low-quality waste which required energy-intensive processing elsewhere.

Compost toilets are a great example of a system which harnesses the nutrients of sewage which is essential for the health of our soils and ecosystems. Furthermore, if urine can be separated it provides a valuable source of phosphates, essential in food growth and fertiliser. Globally, laws and regulations have been adapted in recent years, and these methods are becoming not only commonplace but essential.

Again, monitoring of volumes of waste water is key to identifying whether actions to minimise it are being successful.


The event should have a Sustainability Policy that extends to all areas of operation and to all staff and contractors, which is endorsed by the organisers at board level, and backed up by an action plan to ensure that it is implemented in practice on the ground. There should be a clear chain of responsibility to ensure that the policies are actioned and reviewed and those with a position for driving this should have the authority to effectively do so.

Those in a position of upholding the events sustainability policies should also be suitably trained and informed about the latest actions, issues and best practice within the relevant field. Importantly resources should be applied to this. Whilst being a well managed green event will save money in many areas in both the short and long term, it is important that the suitable resources are put behind it through staffing and training to ensure it is effective, and to avoid all talk and no action.


This is such an important part of why events are so crucial to the movement of society to a position of sustainability. The external reach and potential for behavioural and cultural change is high. Is your event seeking to achieve this shift through it's programming, messaging, and setting the example? Roskilde Festival are experiencing an excellent example of audience behavioural change by influencing the culture, through the Clean Out Loud campsite initiative. By engaging audiences in advance and creating a community with a common goal and shared perspective to leave the campsites clean, there is a highly visible and measured change in the waste left behind on that part of the event site.

Does the organisation have wider industry involvement through shared information, workshops and engagement outside of the event, or local projects and education for example. The event may involve and promote charities with environmental or social objectives. It is also important for the event to shout about their sustainability aspirations including both the successes and the challenges. It is only through open and honest dialogue that we will achieve the changes that we desperately need to happen quickly.


In order to monitor the above in a quantitative way, it is useful for the event to monitor and measure its CO2e emissions. This will help set and internal benchmark for the event itself, but will also help provide industry benchmarking if it is shared. It is important to be aware of the methodology to see where figures are comparable. Organisations such as Julies Bicycle, Event Impacts, Green Tourism, HCMI provide online tools in the UK. Many events also take in-depth CO2 analysis studies in-house or with environmental consultants.

This is a brief insight into some of the actions and indicators to see whether your event is achieving it’s sustainability aspirations. It is not exhaustive, but it is also not necessary to achieve everything all at once. If there are areas that your event simply cannot change, focus on where you can have a positive and meaningful impact. There is not a one size fits all and we are learning all the time.

To find out more about the Greener Festival Award or too get involved, get in touch!