Geplaatst op: 26-11-2018

Festivals are joining the green movement

Sustainability at leisure and events

Festivals are joining the green movement
Sustainability is a challenge across many sectors, and the leisure sector is no exception. According to a recent study, by Vaugeois et al (2017), there is a need to:
  • Make more explicit the link with sustainability
  • Determine how sustainable the sector is
  • Come up with new models and tools

Regarding sustainability efforts in leisure, events and festivals are doing relatively well. The events industry in the Netherlands has a ticket turnover of about 180 million Euros, with a total of about 26 million visitors per year. Both the number of festivals and the number of visitors are increasing every year. Festivals have thus major socio-economic impacts. Notwithstanding, festivals have potentially negative environmental effects, of which waste is the most visible one.

Fortunately, several festivals have been working on sustainability for several years. Good examples of European festivals recognized by its sustainability efforts are: Boom Festival (Portugal), Roskilde Festival (Denmark) and Glastonbury Festival (UK). Meanwhile, more and more events are joining the green movement. While reducing their environmental impact, events become exemplary for millions of visitors, mostly young people, as well as for companies in other (leisure) areas.

Dit artikel is eerder verschenen in Uncover waar docenten en onderzoekers van de Breda University of Applied Sciences in twintig verschillende bijdragen de festivalisering van de samenleving beschouwen. De diversiteit in de eventssector wordt steeds vanuit een ander perspectief aangevlogen zoals events & meaningful experiences, events & placemaking, events & wetgeving, events & change en events & international network. Uncover is voor slechts € 10 (ex. BTW en verzendkosten) te bestellen via de webshop van NRIT Media.

Green Events Nederland: making more explicit the link with sustainability

The festival sector in the Netherlands has decided to work together to tackle this challenge. A platform was established in 2014, Green Events Nederland, where about 10 leading festivals and green organizations work towards a competitive and green festival sector.

In 2015, Green Events Nederland and Stichting Nederland Clean joined forces to put together a Green Deal between festivals and the Dutch government. Green Deals are agreements to help the implementation of sustainability goals. In this case: 'The main goal of the Green Deal is to reduce the quantity of waste per visitor through collaboration at festivals, to separate waste and to recycle more and better” ( 
In 2015, eight festivals committed with explicit targets towards mitigating waste: Amsterdam Open Air, DGTL, Extrema Outdoor, Into The Great Wide Open, Mysteryland, Solar Weekend, Welcome to the Village and the Black Cross. The focal areas have been: reducing campsite waste, mitigating overall littering, and composting of biodegradable waste (

Paul Schurink from Green Events Nederland stated:"With the Green Deal Waste-free festivals, we have created an atmosphere where organizers feel free to share knowledge. Sharing knowledge at this scale is very special and very valuable."

Green Deal: some concrete outcomes

DGTL festival, a two-day electronic dance music (EDM) festival, taking place in Amsterdam and attracting about 40,000 people is at the forefront of sustainability in the Netherlands when it comes to festivals. Besides the choice to offer only vegetarian food at the festival and implementing reusable hard-cups, DGTL decided to strive to become the first circular event in the world ( This ambition goes beyond the objectives of the Green Deal, going from waste-free to fully circular, viewing waste as a rich resource.

Another valuable lesson relates to the deployment of personnel. The Camping mayors on the Black Cross and Camping Guardians on Mysteryland have shown that peer to peer communication makes an important contribution when it comes to behavioral change among visitors.

The Vierdaagsefeesten, a festival of celebrations around the annual 4-days marches event around Nijmegen, has joined the Green Deal in 2017. This festival has more than 600 performances, with free access, attracting 1.5 million visitors throughout a week.  "Every event has many experiences in the field of waste collection, post-separation, recycling and processing. Sharing these experiences and possible solutions together means that together we can take quicker steps towards waste-free events. Four-day celebrations are proud to contribute to this," Teddy Vrijmoet, director of The Vierdaagsefeesten ( Joining the Green Deal is part of a consistent sustainability strategy of the city of Nijmegen for the region, which led to been awarded as European Green Capital in 2018.

Research and Practice coming together: how sustainable can the sector be?

Between 2015 and 2017, Green Events and the municipality of Leeuwarden (currently hosting the Leeuwarden 2018 Cultural Capital) partnered with the Center of Expertise for Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality (CELTH) commissioning a large research project to: 1) assess strategies to tackle specific waste problems; 2) understand the impact of the festival visitors, and 3) provide instruments for festivals. The research consisted of two phases using a mixed-method approach: exploratory and experimental. The second phase focused on two types of waste: hard-cups and cigarette butts. This resulted in a research report by
De Brito and Cavagnaro (2016) on strategies for sustainable events.

In addition, in the last four years, various other pilot projects were conducted by Green Events in the search for effective

solutions to prevent, separate, or valorize waste into useful raw materials. The projects included composting organic waste and reducing camping waste and litter.

Tools to enhance sustainability

Festivals like DGTL are using the material-flow analysis, to create insights into the waste streams. An important conclusion is that most waste is not produced on the public side, but it is backstage – so more effort needs to go into that.
There are also specialized consultant companies which offer services powered by specific sustainability tools, which can be of help for festivals. To mention a few: Julies Bicycle in the UK offers support to organizations striving to be carbon neutral and Metabolic in the Netherlands strives to help festivals, and other organizations, to become circular. Nadine Galle, Consultant at Metabolic, said: "When we look at the material flows surrounding the organization of a festival, various waste streams can be identified... The first step... is to understand the source of the waste... as well as the final destination of the waste (...) Only then can you ... move towards becoming sustainable.” (

Green Certifications

A Greener Festival (AGF) has been auditing European festivals for their sustainability efforts, for more than 10 years. There are several award levels, rewarding progress, for both festivals and business events. This award scheme can be used by festivals to ‘tell about’ their efforts, and how they are recognized as valuable by independent parties. In addition, it is also a means to get feedback and tips on how to improve further. Therefore such certification scheme can be seen as an instrument to develop the green events & festivals community and to spread innovation.

Claire O’Neill, Co Founder, A Greener Festival, said: "There are very tangible opportunities for events and venues to save resources and money through actions that benefit the environment. There is an expressed interest ... that events want to ... share best practice. That is where we can help” (

Looking ahead

Green Events Nederland aims to further share the acquired knowledge in the longer term with the overall Dutch events sector, and not only with its signed members. A toolkit is being developed so festivals can improve the prevention of waste and/or recycling opportunities. In addition, topics such as behavioral change and communication are also being included for further inclusion in the toolkit.

Many other events are organized in nearby countries such as Great Britain and Germany, making the international industry increasingly competitive. The Dutch sector wants to improve competitiveness and become more sustainable. Fortunately, the sector is prepared to work together for that. Hopefully this will also inspire other leisure organizations in taking the sustainability path.

Laura van der Voort, co-founder Green Events, is optimistic: "Dutch festivals are expanding their leadership position with sustainable applications and work on the circularization of festivals. Festivals serve as the perfect testing ground for our society. The Netherlands wants to be circular in 2050 and can learn a lot from the festival and event sector in this way.”


About the author

Dr. Marisa P. de Brito is senior lecturer & researcher Events & Placemaking at Breda University of Applied Sciences. She is conducting applied research in relation to strategy, decision-making, sustainability and performance.

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