Festival Republic: Reading, Leeds and Latitude Festivals

A financial and ethical commitment to greener practices is key to Festival Republic’s approach, leading to three star Creative Industry Green ratings for Leeds, Reading and Latitude festivals.

Image Credit: Latitude 2015, Photographer: Dan Medhurst, courtesy of Festival Republic

Festival Republic is a leading UK music events producer with a portfolio of seven music festivals across Europe, including Reading and Leeds Festivals, Latitude Festival, Electric Picnic, and Lollapalooza Berlin. More than half a million people attend the festivals they own and co-produce each year.

Journey to Sustainability: Reading, Leeds and Latitude Festivals

When Festival Republic began addressing sustainability and environmental awareness focusing initially on their flagship Leeds, Reading and Latitude festivals in 2007, they could not have predicted the challenges and rewards they would meet on the way. At times, this has meant decoupling environmental action from financial gain, and focusing on integrating the cost and commitment of green practices. Festival Republic sees environmental sustainability as both an ethical imperative and an investment for the future.

Managing Director Melvin Benn has shown leadership, perseverance and financial commitment in his dedication to reducing the emissions, energy and water use, and waste of the festivals, which have become examples for sustainability in the industry. Festival Republic employs a full time Sustainability Coordinator, responsible for overseeing environmental action at Reading, Leeds and Latitude, and each event has a dedicated environmental budget.

Operational decisions with an environmental impact are weighed up according to their financial and environmental costs and benefits to strike the balance necessary for a sustainable business.

Since 2009, Leeds and Reading festivals have reduced their total carbon emissions significantly, by more than 20% per audience day. In 2012, Latitude was awarded a Creative Industry Green rating of three stars as well an A Greener Festival Award.

Leeds and Reading also won A Greener Festival Award that year, and have both achieved an IG rating of three stars since 2013. Through working with suppliers, promoting innovation, and creating incentives, Festival Republic has begun to move toward a new, greener standard for outdoor music festivals, providing a creative platform to share and spread their forward-thinking approach, leveraging their position as industry leader to help scale up change across the sector.

Powering the Show

Energy use is one of the largest onsite sources of carbon emissions at outdoor events. Festival Republic has shown commitment to reducing emissions from energy use - using more waste vegetable oil biodiesel to power generators for their festivals. Festival Republic was able to increase the amount of biodiesel at Leeds from 18.5% in 2010 to 24.5% in 2011. Reading also used 18.2% in 2012, up from 12.5% in 2010. These increases were achieved despite challenges including limited supply in parts of the country, unpredictable price fluctuations, and a higher cost for sustainable biodiesel in comparison to regular diesel.

Festival Republic also requires their energy contractor to monitor generators. Research suggests the oversizing of generators is a widespread issue in the festival industry, leading to significant fuel waste, but large-scale monitoring projects are still comparatively rare. Based on the data collected, FR is working to reduce the size and/or number of generators to better match their energy needs and be more efficient about their fuel use. In 2014, they managed to reduce the overall size of the generators at all festivals compared to 2013. This was achieved despite an increase in festival infrastructures and stages.

2015 is the third year of data they have collected.

Reading Festival: Fuel/Energy Comparison 2013/14

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Festival Republic have added obligations into energy supplier contracts to integrate alternative and new energy technologies such as hybrid generators and solar power since 2014. They have hired solar powered batteries that can be linked to generators to reduce the generator run-time. Combining the two different technologies has at times been challenging and has required training for and dedication from the engineers on the field. The initiative is not yet financially viable, but Festival Republic continue to invest to support this kind of knowledge exchange between solar power and generator companies. After a first trial at Latitude, one of the power contractors has invested in a number of these batteries tailored to their technical needs to add to their own fleet – showing that Festival Republic’s dedication is indirectly supporting fuel efficiency in the broader events industry.

Festival Republic are also working with their contractors to reduce energy demand through specifying more energy efficient technologies. For example, in 2012, Colour Sound Experiment, one of their lighting and visuals rental companies, invested in 1.5 km of LED festoon lighting in response to demand from Reading Festival. t technical production team is currently working with their audio, video, and sound companies to improve communication around power specs and energy requirements for these technologies to encourage broader industry conversation about ‘what’s actually needed’.

Festival Republic is committed to pursuing innovation and sharing their knowledge to drive forward change across the industry. Along with Julie’s Bicycle, they are one of the founding members of Powerful Thinking, a think-do tank that brings together festivals, suppliers, production professionals, and environmental organisations to explore ways to reduce the costs and carbon of festival energy provision through efficiencies and alternative technologies. Powerful Thinking draws together industry knowledge to provide clear guidance and resources on sustainable energy management to festival organisers.

At Latitude, the audience has been engaged around the topic of energy and sustainability through a partnership with De Montfort University’s “Face your Elephant” project. Led by young engineers, Face Your Elephant creates an onsite forum for attendees to speak to their peers about everyday environmental impacts, how to reduce them, and future energy technologies.

The audience was also physically acquainted with energy awareness through cycle-powered phone charging stations to promote renewable energy in a creative way.

Dealing with Waste...and Unloved Tents

Through audience engagement and incentives for recycling, Festival Republic has reduced the waste produced at all three festivals and seen increases in recycling rates at all three festivals compared to 2009.

A three-bin system for different waste streams (dry mixed recyclables, food waste and compostable packaging, and general waste) onsite are clearly marked to encourage recycling. Green Messenger volunteers are recruited to engage audience members at recycling points and help them understand what goes in which bin. At Latitude, audience members also received recycling packs to help them sort their waste throughout their stay.

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Incentives such as ticket prizes, free drinks, etc. for separating and taking recyclables to the recycling points helped to engage the public in the initiative to recycle. Latitude Festival also uses deposit scheme to encourage the return of reusable cups, which eliminates plastic cup waste. Reading Festival featured a sculpture that was filled with empty cans over the course of the festival and a prize was given for guessing closest to the correct amount of cans. This brought a creative and artistic approach to recycling, serving to raise public awareness while integrating with the artistic programme.

Abandoned camping gear is a significant problem at many outdoor festivals. Approximately 45,000 tents are annually brought to Reading Festival alone. A survey conducted by Festival Republic found that 30% of Reading Festival attendees leave their tents and camping equipment, with 79% saying they were ‘too tired’ post festival, whilst 59% viewed tents and camping equipment as ‘cheap and easily replaceable.’ This means potentially 13,500 tents are abandoned every year - if the average cost of a tent is £40, then the approximate cost to audiences of equipment left behind is over £500,000.

Each year, volunteers scour campsites recovering tents, sleeping bags, and camping equipment left behind at the end of the festival. In 2013, 20 tonnes of reusable items were rescued from Reading Festival campsites and in 2014, 19 tonnes were salvaged. Festival Republic has also partnered with the Love Your Tent initiative to encourage audience members to take home camping equipment.

Getting Suppliers on Side

One challenge of integrating greener behaviour for outdoor festivals can be engaging with such a diverse line-up of suppliers and contractors – from giant infrastructure rental companies, to small catering traders. Due to the temporary nature of events, contractors are ‘in and out’ very quickly and in the past have had few incentives for changing their practices.

Festival Republic provides Green Information Packs to suppliers and environmental performance targets are set. Financial penalties are included in some key contracts for non-compliance. This has resulted in consideration by suppliers of the products they offer and the way in which these are produced. The influence of these strategies can be seen in many areas, such as caterers providing FSC certified compostable cutlery.

The festivals also work with the caterers and suppliers to make sure that what they are being asked to comply with environmentally is clearly explained and possible on site. For example, caterers are provided with a waste management process to follow, and waste oil is collected from them.

Data is King: Measuring and Monitoring

Festival Republic is dedicated to measuring and monitoring its environmental impacts. Through data, they have been able to establish baselines, create strategies and plan investment, against which they can measure progress. In an industry where this type of benchmarking is not yet part of the day-to-day process, one of their great challenges (and successes) when working with suppliers has been to clarify expectations about what information they expect to receive. This includes information on fuel usage, waste volumes, and recycling rates, but also the transport impacts of the suppliers thought to have the highest impacts (such as power and infrastructure) as well as water and sewage figures.

Greener Audience Travel

When measuring carbon emissions, Festival Republic and Julie’s Bicycle found that the largest source of emissions for each of the three festivals came from audience travel to the event. Festival Republic encourages its audiences to travel more sustainably in a number of ways.

To increase the use of public transportation, they ensure that there are local bus and coach options to and from the festivals.

In 2012 Festival Republic introduced a Priority Car Park for those who shared car rides to/from their festivals. These car parks are in prime locations, very close to the campsites and exclusive to those who used Festival Republic’s car sharing partner, which for drivers and passengers means no time wasted looking for a space and less walking distance to their camping space. In the last four years, Festival Republic has also awarded the Priority Car Park users with more than 30 free tickets to festivals, merchandise bundles and exclusive backstage tours and that has had a reflection on the car sharing numbers, which have gone from 57 rides in 2012 to 2,267 rides offered in 2015. Car sharing not only substantially reduces the audience travel footprint, but also the traffic congestion, which consequently increases festival goers’ safety on the road and their overall satisfaction on arrival. And if this wasn’t enough, from the stories Festival Republic have heard over the last four years, car sharing also improves the festival experience as festival goers get to meet like-minded people on the road, making long lasting friends and saving money in the process.

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They currently have a partnership with BlaBlaCar, the largest car sharing website in Europe, through their website and social media. BlaBlaCar has also been invited to help further engage audience members on site at Latitude, where they had a tent with activities such as face painting to help spread the word about ride sharing.

Latitude festival has also encouraged cycling though partnering with Sustrans, a leading UK charity promoting sustainable transportation, and organising group bicycle rides to the festivals, like the successful Tour de Picnic in Ireland.

The combined impact of ride sharing and public transportation use also helps to create better relationships with the surrounding community by reducing the increase in traffic to the area. Festival Republic is now working to capture better information about audience travel through the use of surveys to address this area in the future.

Challenges and Opportunities

These successes have not been without challenges. The nature of a temporary event implemented in such a short time period means that key interventions for reducing impact such as investment in permanent infrastructure are often not feasible. Instead, supplier relationships are key. 

It is also not always easy to reach audiences. The Festival Republic events portfolio is diverse in terms of branding, programme, and audience profile. This means that sustainability strategies that are successful at one event will not necessarily hit the spot at another.

Festival Republic has created bespoke communication strategies for Latitude and Reading/Leeds to best involve (and respect) their unique audiences – learning more about their relationship to these audiences and their audience’s attitudes on the way.

Scale can be another challenge: newer, more environmentally sustainable solutions, products, and technologies are often not yet available at the scale required for an event such as Reading Festival with over 150,000 attendees.

However, the size of the events also has allowed Festival Republic to affect the market and suppliers for outdoor music festivals and similar events through strategies such as pushing for investment in new technologies. Their adoption of environmental sustainability sends a clear and visible message to others in their industry.

Through leveraging their position in the industry to make investments that will have positive effects industry-wide, Festival Republic has been able to establish itself as a sector pioneer, creating a leading strategy toward sustainability that should inspire other events to make the same commitment.

Latitude 2015, Photographer: Sam Neill, Courtesy of Festival Republic

Sustaining Creativity