Approaches For Sustainable Events

Festivals are places of celebration, community, inspiration and innovation. Sport events help to create a bond between the host country and guests. However, regardless of the size, location and purpose, an event can have serious implication on the environment and the damage it can potentially cause within the community and outside it.

Due to the major implications that events have on the planet, the concept of sustainability in getting in the game to help the organisations deliver events in a way that causes minimal damage to the environment but also using the existing resources, avoiding to create additional waste.

The concept of sustainability is one of the most successful ideas in tourism and event studies. It has also becoming part of the lexicon of events, especially with respect to the policy context within they operate and how events contribute towards sustainability. Sustainable development has become increasingly integrated into the objectives of hosting mega-events (Hall, 2012).  

In essence, the idea of a sustainable event, highlights the requirements of organisations that strive to meet their desired objectives is a sustainable manner via the application of physical and human resources. A definition of what being sustainable means argues that: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Henderson, 2011).

 Academia notes the different interpretations and the vagueness of the concept. For example, an event may claim sustainable credentials for its use of locally sourced food and drink event thought this represents only a partial consideration of the overall event activity. Whilst some might consider this a notable progress, others may consider that more dramatic change needs to the created (Laing and Frost, 2010).

Mega events are known for wasting all kinds of food, energy and materials. Many argue that event sustainability is easy to embrace when you find a venue that is already responsibility-minded. In the past, event organisers concerned and focused on the concept of sustainability would have been satisfied if the venue specs confirmed that ‘recycling happens’. Nowadays, the expectations are evolving, with many positive and ambitious examples around for what it means to deliver leadership in event sustainability (Mckinley, 2018).  

Glastonbury waste, The Times 2018

A good example serves the Travel trade show ITB Asia reduced its carbon footprint by 5% in 2014 by implementing a range of energy and waste saving measures. The event took place at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre in Singapore, the event made use of in-room motion sensors at the venue, ensuring lights were turned off when meeting spaces were not in use.

A second example in terms of sustainable venue was set by The Croissant Neuf Summer Party (family festival) where everything from the site lighting and sound equipment were powered by renewable energy, provided by solar panels and wind turbines. Furthermore, the event used the latest LED tech insuring the main stage lighting system uses less energy than an average hairdryer (Classicvenuesolutions, 2019).

There is no doubt that in order for one to attend an event it is necessary to travel to the location. According to a study (Powerful Thinking, 2019) the total annual fuel consumption for UK music festivals is 4.96 million litres furthermore, UK festival industry emissions excluding travel is 19,778 tonnes CO2 per year. The transportation to an event creates some big opportunities to cut down on the carbon footprint. A good approach suggested across the industry is to encourage the use of car share, use of public transportation, promoting the use of sustainable travel options such as cycling, free shuttle buses, implanting parking fees in order to discourage car users etc.

Held in US each year, Coachella, offers in addition to shuttles has implemented a program called Carpoolchella, which enters people that ride in cars with four or more people into a giveaway where they can win backstage passes, meals, merchandise, and even VIP tickets for life.

Carpoolchella caption, Twitter 2017

Furthermore, a good example of a sustainable event is the Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow in 2014. These were the first Games to secure the ISO 20121 sustainability standard, ensuring that all competition venues were car-free with no parking nowhere near. In addition, all ticket-holders for the event had access to free public transport. Extra trains have been requested for stations near venues – although many would consider these actions as great measures in the name of sustainability, some have argued that this is a bit too ambitious for the Glasgow’s public transport networks which are not as comprehensive as the ones in London (similar actions have been taken for London 2012 Olympic Games) (Brocklehurst, 2013).   

The subject of waste is a strong symbol of environmentally impactful human behaviour. In the UK, household recycling saves about 18 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year which is equivalent of taking approximately 5 million cars off the road. 23, 500 tonnes of waste are created at UK music festivals annually. Some festivals have begun to address the waste issues by controlling how much waste is created in the first place through the use of reusable cup system/ hire on or use volunteers to collect items that are recyclable.

Since 2004, Glastonbury festival has required food and drink vendors to adhere to a strict packaging policy of wood and paper only – making it easy to process and recycle. Furthermore, they are providing a reusable, 100% stainless steel water bottle for visitors in order to control de waste is produced at the event.  Festivals like, Shambala, Coachella, Reading, Leeds and Bestival are gamifying the waster game by charging deposits for cups and bottles. Collect enough discarded empties and bring them back, and you could get some merch or a fresh beer (Wicker, n.d).

A recent report conducted for Bristol Festival Forum, highlighted that the main environmental impact associated with temporary toilets come from the transportation of human waste – CO2 emissions from diesel engines in waste tankers and the movement of the toilet cubicles themselves. The other impacts are: the way the waste is treated, and the chemicals used in the flush. The two areas which require a closer look is minimising the transport and making the right choice about how the waste is processed. Glastonbury ‘poo reservoir’ onsite are a good example of minimising transport. Both portaloos and compost toilets use less water than flushing toilets and compost toilets use the use of blue flush chemicals. Compost toilets or long-drops represent the best environmental option provide the waste can be stored, composted and used on the land locally.

Other simple measures to deliver a sustainable event is by going paperless, by using online platform to register, creating e-tickets – offering the possibility to attendees to use their smartphones. Small change like this can create a massive impact if collectively each organisation embraces them. The article has offered a short introspection in the sustainability concept, explaining how music festivals, sport events and conferences choose to embrace and protect the environment.


Brocklehurst, S. (2013). Commonwealth Games: How ready is Glasgow?. [online] BBC News. Available at: [Accessed 5 Mar. 2019].

Campaign (2014). [image] Available at: [Accessed 13 Mar. 2019].

Classicvenuesolutions. (2019). Going Green: 5 Best Practice Sustainable Events. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Mar. 2019].

GlobalCoin Report (2018). [image] Available at: [Accessed 13 Mar. 2019].

Hall, C. (2012). SuStainable Mega-eventS: beyond the Myth of balanced approacheS to Mega-event SuStainability. Event Management, 16(2), pp.119-131.

Laing, J. and Frost, W. (2010). How green was my festival: Exploring challenges and opportunities associated with staging green events. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 29(2), pp.261-267.

MCKINLEY, S. (2018). 10 Venues Embracing Sustainability. [online] Event Manager Blog. Available at: [Accessed 6 Mar. 2019].

Powerful Thinking. (2019). The Show Must Go On Report – Powerful Thinking. Available at: [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019].

The Times (2018). [image] Available at: [Accessed 13 Mar. 2019].

7 thoughts on “Approaches For Sustainable Events

    1. Hi Laura, thank you for your comment. Experts argue that the biggest challenge for this WC is for the host country to make football games feasible in hot climate. Therefore, the Qatar had embraced this sustainable technology which consist in the use of canopy roof which will act as a cooling shade and climate control system (The canopy roof rotates, in 14-and-a-half minutes, to provide cooling shade within the building and insulated against the hot sun in summer). Furthermore, Arup Associates’ design for 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar Showcase is the world’s most sustainable stadium, a radical piece of environmental architecture that was a major driver in Qatar’s sustainability plan and World Cup bid. The 500-seat zero-carbon exemplar stadium is a football stadium like no other.

    1. Hi there, events tend to use vast amounts of paper – from guest lists to schedules to brochure and tickets. Not only is printing expensive, much of the paper used gets lost or thrown away. Using a simple tool such as a mobile phone can help sign guests in with digital guest lists; Display seating charts; Utilize a simple event app that attendees download to their smartphones – rather than handing out countless paper schedules; Provide digital copies of their brochures to customers via email

      Replacing paper with digital tools not only saves trees, it also makes your events more seamless and smooth, cuts confusion and minimizes the risk of mistakes.

    1. Hi, there are many ways in which organisations can influence customers in embracing sustainability. One of them is by providing transport to the location or encouraging the use of public transport or bicycles. Furthermore, organisations can deliver a saving energy event using solar panels, LED tech etc. Further to the concept of events sustainability organisations provide a good environment for proper recycling, it is argued that PVC will be phased out and more bio-materials, eco-substrates and new modular display systems will be used. Food waste unfortunately looks set to increase as the economy gets stronger, however some organisers and local governments may find more creative ways of donating food to local charities and food banks.

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