Catriona Patterson: Festivals have role to play to help hit climate targets

Festivals play a key role in the life of Edinburgh and Scotland, and contribute significantly to the social and economic wealth of the country, yet their environmental impact is often more difficult to understand. Scotland has some of the most ambitious climate change targets in the world - aims which must be addressed by all parts of society, government and commerce if we are to build a more sustainable Scotland.

Both performers and audiences at the Edinburgh festival can take measures to reduce the environmental impact of such a huge gathering, writes Catriona Patterson.
Both performers and audiences at the Edinburgh festival can take measures to reduce the environmental impact of such a huge gathering, writes Catriona Patterson.

There are many ways that both those attending, and those involved in the summer festivals can green their participation in these ways:

Travel: Although often one of the less visible aspects of sustainability, the environmental impact of travel to summer festivals is significant, with the pollution produced by audience and performer flights a big part of any cultural event’s carbon footprint. Taking flights only when it’s the sole method of transport available, travelling by train and coach when coming from the other home countries or Northern Europe, and walking, using bikes or public transport when in the local area is the key. Less traffic improves air quality and personal fitness.

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Being sustainable in the city: A phenomenon frequently observed at festivals is that people, outside of their normal routines, will typically abandon their ‘pro-environmental behaviour’ for less sustainable ways of living. However, it’s possible for anyone coming to the summer festivals to be more sustainable. For example, filling up reusable water bottle (including at the drinking water points at the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s site) is a simple way to reduce the waste caused by excess plastic bottles. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe also runs a reuse initiative (the Fringe Swap Shop) at the end of August, encouraging performing companies to donate props and costumes for other participants or the public to take them home for a new lease of life.

Flyers and Printing: Bright posters and flyers are synonymous with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and a traditional form of show marketing that attracts audiences, but also creates a lot of very visible waste. Changing this needs both performing companies and audience members to help reduce demand for wasted printing. Companies can request carbon-neutral printing, request recycled paper from their suppliers to reduce the environmental impact of their print at its source, or think about running online campaigns. They can try flashmobs, preview sketches, raffle prizes for flyers brought back to the show, and audience members can maximise the impact of promotional print materials and encourage shows to transition to entirely digital or in-person promotion. Why not take a photo of a show’s flyer on your phone? You get the details in an easily found format, and you give the flyer back to the company to use again.

Environmental Sustainability in show subject

Greater still are the artistic opportunities that the festivals provide, which can drive positive environmental change. Arts events are occasions where people come together to have their lives reflected back at them, so when festival shows directly address environmental concerns, they bring these issues to the surface.

The Edinburgh Fringe Sustainable Practice Award celebrates the Fringe shows that best address sustainability in either practical production or content – whether that’s imagining what a world with climate change might look like, or how characters’ stories may be affected.

Audiences can support these sustainable shows by supporting sustainability programming when they see it! Examples this year range from the Edinburgh Art Festival’s theming around ‘Think Global, Act Local’ pioneer, Sir Patrick Geddes, to the Edinburgh International Festival’s opening event ‘Bloom’.

But sustainability is not just for the season. There are also lots of year-round art and sustainability activities that take place outside the summer season: check Creative Carbon Scotland and the Green Arts Initiative to learn more.

Catriona Patterson is Green Arts Manager of charity Creative Carbon Scotland, which encourages sustainability in the cultural sector.