Posted by on Dec 8, 2013 in Green Design

Can festivals be green? What about major sports events and music productions? And do you need a bigger budget to be more sustainable?

A week ago we visited the Green Events Conference in Bonn to find out how festival promoters and event organisers are dealing with the challenge of sustainability. Read about the first day of the conference with topics such as some methodology to help reveal potentials for sustainable practices in business, greener arenas, degrowth and participation and last but not least an alternative sanitation solution to chemical toilets.

The conference is organised by Holger Jan Schmidt, the man behind the now unfortunately discontinued but still well-known Rheinkultur. Rheinkultur used to be an admission-free one-day music festival in Bonn that attracted more than 150.000 people to its grounds every summer. One of its main business principles was sustainability and we learned a lot about how to introduce green practices into event organisation on its example, as it was the topic of the beginner’s workshop that we visited one day before the conference.

The Beginner’s Workshop

Being sustainable has nothing to do with big budgets or money. All you need are a few resources, good ideas, a person in-charge and an exploratory surge.

Holger Jan Schmidt

The workshop started with the assumption above and we were intrigued right from the start.

We learned about various methods such as the SWOT Analysis to become aware of the strengths and weaknesses of an event and the importance of identifying all stakeholders in a festival project.

A few state-of-the-art solutions of the industry were mentioned such as Boom’s STAR Watercleaning System. or Glastonbury’s Green Traveller Initiative, which encourages people to get to the festival via bike or bus.

We also found out more about current initiatives such as Sounds for Nature and A Greener Festival, which help festival promoters to recognize their sustainability potentials and with whom we are looking forward to cooperate in the future.

After a few group exercises with students and event organisers we were able to generate a lot of improvement ideas for the various fields of the festival such as transport, waste management, communication or resource planning. Why not visualize the amount of garbage left behind at the event in a creative way? Or give away experiences instead of stuff goodies and merchandise? It was fun and very encouraging. If ideas are what festival promoters need, we are up for the challenge.

The SWOT analysis helps to identify the internal and external factors that are favorable and unfavorable to achieving a business objective such as sustainability. In other words, it helps to reveal challenges and available potentials.

We used this SWOT diagram to list the factors that influenced the introduction of a sustainable practice at a festival during the first-day workshop:

SWOT Diagram

The Conference

During the conference we attended quite a few interesting presentations that encompassed far more than our familiar field of music festivals. Here are some short summaries of a few with hopefully some interesting take-aways.

Greener Arenas

The first day started with a presentation about sustainability at event arenas. It was depressing to hear how the focus on investment costs as opposed to lifetime costs regularly leads to budget cuts at the cost of sustainable architecture. After all, those who build the arenas are not those who run them afterwards. And to quote the speaker and Arena Consultant Carl A. H. Martin: “Money dictates”.

However, an increased focus on flexibility to improve reusability, temporary structures, such as those built for the London Olympics 2012, and other low-hanging fruits, such as heat-pumps for ice stadium and other investments with a fast rate of return. At the end of the day however, the speakers agreed that international standards and legislation are highly necessary to make mass venues more sustainable, especially in the UK and US, where policies are very liberal. It was indicated that first work at a definition of such standard has begun.

Degrowth and Events

The concept of degrowth is not foreign to us and it was interesting to see two examples of quite large low-budget festivals that are based almost entirely on voluntary work. Mathilde Régnard presented several sustainability policies of the French music festival Le Cabaret Vert which aims at improving the cultural landscape of the relatively poor, post-industrial area of France Les Ardennes.

The festival keeps its entry price affordable, cooperates with local partners, encourages fair-trade and eco-friendly products and despite its sponsorship deals with multinational companies, Le Cabaret Vert allows no advertisement on-site.

Another event that we are looking forward to visit in the future was the German N.A.T.U.R. culture festival that surprised us by its great concept and execution. With its origins in urban gardening and illegal party culture it is formed entirely around civic participation. With over 180 small events that take place all over the city of Bochum it aims at reviving the economically struggling region around it. Since most of its workshops, concerts and performances are organised by and for the citizens we believe that the N.A.T.U.R. festival is a unique platform for creativity, hands-on education and self-reliance in Germany. We are definitely going to check it out next year.

The next-year’s N.A.T.U.R. takes place from September 27th to October 5th. If you are in the area, be sure to check it out and participate if you can. You can also check out their Facebook for a lot of interesting content on upcycling, degrowth and much more.

Down the Loo

By far the most entertaining and at times slightly akward (thanks to the topic, not the speaker) presentation was given by Hamish Skermer, the director of Natural Events and its creative outlet Pootopia, which specialize on the distribution of compost toilets at large events and during humanitarian campaigns.

By being more sustainable, water-free, less stinky, chemical-free and thanks to the creative effort of many participating artists more… err… fun, compost toilets are already used by many events around the world, among them the Glastonbury festival in Great Britain.

After a nice train-ride back to Hamburg we are looking forward to cooperating with Natural Events and Pootopia, because we believe that toilets and sanitation are among the biggest issues at festivals, both from the technical as well as the psychological perspective.


This was just a short recap of all the variety of topics we got introduced to at the Green Events Conference on the first day. We are very happy to have met so many people who are so passionate about music festivals and sustainability. Don’t miss the second part of the article dealing with Avoiding Plastics, Upcycling and Camping at Festivals coming in the next few days.

About the author

Andrej is an interaction designer and art director. He values sustainable practices and holistic approach to design. He recently finished his Master’s degree at the University of the Arts Bremen with the topic of participative design and gamification for festivals. Together with Hendrik he co-founded the ChargedMind collective and is looking forward to fruitful collaborations in the festival space. You can find out more about his work at his portfolio at