Edinburgh Festival Fringe commits to become trailblazer in tackling climate crisis

The organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have vowed to turn the event into a trailblazer in tackling the climate crisis.

The Fringe attracted a record audience of more than three million in 2019. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The Fringe Society has committed to take “radical” action to reduce the event’s impact on the environment as part of a drive to turn Edinburgh in into a net zero carbon city over the next decade.

The festival has joined the city council, Edinburgh University and NHS Lothian in signing a new pledge to show leadership in reducing carbon emissions and becoming more sustainable over the next decade.

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Shona McCathy, the Fringe Society’s chief executive, said the organisation was “hugely passionable” about managing the environmental impact of the event, which attracted a three million-strong audience for the first time in 2019, but was called off this year in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy says her organisation is 'hugely passionate' about cutting the environmental impact of the event. Picture: Greg Macvean

The Fringe, which has been running since 1947, has been promoted for years as the world’s largest arts festival and is said to be the second biggest event of any kind in the world, after the Olympic Games. More than 60 countries were represented on its stages in 2019.

However the impact of the event has been under increasing scrutiny in recent years and was cited as a key factor in Edinburgh being named one of the world’s worst-affected “overtourism” hotspots last year.

At the start of this year the Fringe Society revealed it had made a “conscious effort” to rethink its marketing campaigns, which would be underpinned with a new strategy of “one more show, not two more feet.”

Now the Fringe Society has become one of the first backers of a new “climate compact,” which commits businesses and major employers in the city to take action within their own organisation and sectors to contribute to a green recovery and radically reduce the city’s carbon emissions. It has also been backed by banking giants NatWest and the Robertson construction group.

Key commitments in the pledge, which is described as “a step on the path to a new normal of sustainable business practice in a thriving green city,” include publishing details of current emissions and a reduction action plan, setting out what is being done to promote the importance of tackling climate change and prioritising sustainable travel.

Ms McCarthy said: “Arts and culture can be so powerful in telling the story of our climate emergency and informing and influencing how we make change in an effective and significant way.

"We’re here to take ownership of our actions and help lead Edinburgh to a more sustainable future.

"We are hugely passionate about supporting carbon reduction and managing the Fringe’s environmental impact.

“We’re keen to work in partnership with all those that make the Fringe happen to bring about substantial change. We’re proud to be making this commitment alongside these organisations.”

Council leader Adam McVey said: “Edinburgh’s net zero by 2030 target recognises the climate emergency we are facing and the need for all employers in the city to take urgent action to tackle climate change in order to secure a more sustainable future for the people who live and work here.”

Edinburgh Climate Commission chair Dr Sam Gardner said: “Edinburgh’s key businesses and employers can, and must, show leadership in delivering real progress on the net-zero future of the city."

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