Festivals are fun, but what about the carbon footprint?

Net Results: The Galway Jazz Festival is hoping to become a blueprint for other major events

Discarded camping equipment at an Electric Picnic campsite on the Monday after this year’s festival. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Discarded camping equipment at an Electric Picnic campsite on the Monday after this year’s festival. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

Whether the focus is music, literature, art, politics, technology, or economics, Ireland loves its festivals and arts events.

But such events have a problem: the carbon and waste footprint. Abandoned tents, bins overflowing with discarded plastic drinks bottles, snarled traffic — all have featured in post-festival negative publicity.

Yet there’s even more carbon-creating waste associated with such events, things most of us never think about. The electricity drain from exchanges of emails, texts, and other messages. Video-streaming. Posting photos. The “merch”, often T-shirts shipped from halfway around the world, dyed and printed with non-green inks. Plastic souvenirs. Paper programmes and more ink. Transport. Lighting. Catering.

In the past, green countermeasures by organisers have tended to be audience-focused and obvious – encouraging attendees to refill water bottles, or to carry home that cheap, one-off tent. Less attention goes towards minimising the impact of the overall event.

The Galway Jazz Festival, a city fixture which takes place October 2nd-6th, decided that this year, it could do more – a lot more – with the help of the Ryan Institute at NUIG.

The motivation came in the form of a devastating report that made headlines around the world in 2018.

“The debrief we did after last year’s festival was just after the release of the IPCC [the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report on global warming and species loss,” says festival general manager Ciarán Ryan. He recalls the shock the report created with its sobering analysis.

“You don’t have to be a tree hugger to feel that loss. We decided that we didn’t want to be part of the problem.”

Ryan and the festival director, veteran RTÉ Lyric FM broadcaster Ellen Cranitch, considered how the festival might be reshaped to transition towards greater sustainability and a lower carbon footprint. And, as the organisers searched in vain for any sustainability guidelines for national events, they thought perhaps the jazz festival might come to serve as a helpful blueprint for other arts events.

Proper measurements

Organisers quickly realised they wanted proper measurements. “You start looking at reducing this and that, and addressing transportation and so on, but the more you look at it, the more you realise you need a metric” for assessing consumption, reduction and actual impacts, Ryan says.

“Having a number, and understanding what that number means – it makes the issues real and people understand things better than simply being encouraged to behave in a certain way.”

They decided to approach NUIG’s Ryan Institute to figure out the best ways to gather data, crunch numbers and analyse the results for every action by the organisers that generated any sort of carbon footprint.

They’ll also try to assess the carbon impact of the audience to have a full picture of the whole event, Ryan says, but he acknowledges this will involve some guesswork as they cannot precisely measure all the activities of attendees.

To get figures, the festival will utilise carbon calculators that are available to download online from organisations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, as well as some from bespoke industry sites.

“It’s about looking at every single activity,” says Ryan. They’ll be tracking tiny individual actions such as each use of a printer (based on its kilowatt usage per hour), to more obvious energy outputs such as transport and electricity consumption at each venue. The festival includes live jazz performances, of course, but also a range of other offerings, such as films and talks.

“NUIG will be making sure what we’re doing is accurate, that we’re assigning the correct values, and that our methodology is correct,” he says.

Change in approach

Ryan says that, once they started on the project, they became far more aware of their own energy use and changed the way they worked together. For example, rather than emailing large, evolving documents back and forth, they instead opted to use cloud-based storage, editing documents such as the festival programme via shared access in the cloud.

Their end goal is to produce overall results for this year’s festival and use it as a carbon offset for next year’s festival. They’ll also look for ways to reduce the festival’s carbon profile even further next year.

Perhaps most significantly, they will start to fill the gap they initially encountered themselves, by producing a report about their methods and results. They’ll present it to the Arts Council and to Galway City Council’s arts office, and offer it as a download from the festival website for anyone who wants it.

“Working with the Institute, we’ll have a pretty reliable piece of research within the arts,” Ryan says.

Perfect timing. The Arts Council published its new threeY-year Pplan last month, in which it promises to “develop a climate change and environmental sustainability policy for the Arts Council, and support arts organisations in working towards a sustainable, environmentally friendly society”.

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