Events and the Environment: Our Thoughts
As COP26 draws to a close Mark Denbigh, our Head of Production and Programme, reflects on his recent involvement in tackling climate change in the events sector, Norfolk & Norwich Festival’s approach to environmental sustainability over the past five years, and what want to achieve at future festivals.
The past two weeks have been a fascinating time to feel the change in conversation around environmental sustainability at a global and political level and notice the differences in conversation and actions at a local level.
As a group of organisers of cultural events, we have a collective influence and a responsibility that comes with it
This week I was at the fantastic 101 Outdoor Arts Creation Space in Newbury, co-hosting the second Green Production Lab with Bettina Linstrum from Arts Agenda, with the support of Without Walls. We worked with a wonderful group of 15 outdoor arts production managers to think about the changes we could make to our practice in relation to environmental sustainability and began to recognise how intertwined social sustainability is too. We were able to think about the UN Sustainable Development Goals and look at how a framework like this could be useful in our own local and regional work, as well as thinking about what is involved in influencing and actioning change. These are huge questions that have no simple or straightforward answer.
As a group of organisers of cultural events, we have a collective influence and a responsibility that comes with it. Market forces have begun to influence change and innovation in most sectors and ours is no different. A few weeks ago, I was at the Showman’s Show to see the latest ideas and products on offer to the events industry in the UK. It was clear to see that suppliers are responding to the demand from event organisers to become more sustainably minded. From power to toilets to the materials used to make flags, the industry is moving to reduce its impact on the environment. And organisers in turn are increasingly responding to the demand from their audiences to be transparent about the impact of their work and how they aim to tackle it.
We have renewed our commitment to not only reducing our own environmental impact, but to using the platforms available to us to educate and influence the actions of others. We’re dedicated to measuring and reducing our environmental impacts, and through our artistic and learning programme we will work with artists, partners, networks, and our audiences to encourage dialogue and inspire change. This week we signed up to Culture Declares Emergency, alongside other organisations and individuals who work in the cultural sector, to publicly recognise our commitment.
There is some incredibly useful and inspirational information and resources readily available to our sector, and it’s through conversation and collaboration that we can work efficiently to reduce the impact of our events. Norfolk & Norwich Festival is an active member of Vision2025 and Powerful Thinking, whose knowledge and guidance from the green field sector is available for any event organiser to use. It’s this kind of belief and generosity to share information and best practice which we’re finding so inspiring to see.
There’s a significant amount of work to be done and over the coming months you’ll see more about what we are doing to reduce our environmental impact
Over the past few months, it’s been useful to reflect on our approach to environmental sustainability over the past five years, and to think ahead to what we want the next five years to look like. We’ve been working with Norwich City Council to install the mains power required in Chapelfield Gardens, replacing the diesel generators that we currently use. With the city already powered from a renewable source, this will see a significant step forward in the reduction of emissions for all events that take place in this city centre park. Chapelfield Gardens has also been connected to the mains water supply so that we can provide safe drinking water on site, further reducing our waste as we eliminate the need for plastic cups and bottles on site.
As a member of the Julie’s Bicycle and Arts Council England’s Accelerator scheme, I see first-hand how important connectivity and collaboration is for our organisation. Its inspiring to see the changes that other organisations are making, and the significance that this work is having for them, their partners, and their audiences.
We plan to share our learning and knowledge from participating in the programme through a series of blogs and behind the scenes insights that will focus on the breadth of opportunities for change within our sphere of influence as we approach this as one organisation.
There’s a significant amount of work to be done and over the coming months you’ll see more about what we are doing to reduce our environmental impact, but also how we’re working with our networks, artists, collaborators, suppliers, audiences, and volunteers to do our bit to protect where we live. We look forward to sharing more with you soon!