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Tips on how to organise a nature and climate-friendly event

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Why should you organise your event to be nature and climate-friendly?

Events of all sizes require a lot of water, energy, and materials, and generate waste and greenhouse gas emissions. If you plan your event to be nature and climate-friendly, you can reduce its harmful effects! There is no magic formula though for making a festival, conference, sports game, or other event completely harmless to nature and the environment. However, we should try to achieve this whenever we can! Why?

Rapid climate change is a man-made problem that has become the biggest challenge of the 21st century for us all. Greenhouse gases (mostly carbon dioxide, CO2) in the atmosphere block the reflection of solar heat back into space, meaning that the heat remains on Earth, heating it up. This process has an effect on nature (droughts, forest fires, floods, availability of fresh water etc.), creates social challenges (threats to public healthcare, especially for vulnerable groups), threatens various territories, etc.

This means that every nature and climate-conscious action we take is a significant step towards stemming climate change! This also includes the way we plan and organise events: from birthday celebrations with friends to huge public music festivals. From the viewpoint of nature and climate, the event industry holds a special position, because it involves a few activities that produce CO2 emissions. You have to maintain the site of the event, supply power for the lighting, sound, and other needs; you have to provide catering, transport, living accommodations.

Ideas for how to make events nature and climate-friendly have been researched, promoted, and implemented for a good while now. Environmentalist organisations, event organisers, and various businesses are interested in these practices, and they currently enjoy attention in the media space. In view of this, as part of our ‘Game On! Don’t Let Climate Change End the Game’ project we, the Latvian Fund for Nature, have put together a guide for how to organise a nature and climate-friendly event. It is based on our experience and on expert knowledge. We hope that its recommendations serve as motivation to assess all sides of the way events are organised and run, and help pay more attention to changing it!

We created the guide mostly with the needs and effects of open-air festivals in mind. However, many of its recommendations will be useful for other kinds of events, as it touches on many challenges that organisers of concerts, conferences, weddings or sports games have to face. These suggestions will be useful for event producers, as well as various other parties involved: performers, caterers, retailers, cleaning and transport contractors, technical staff, venue owners, communication specialists, sponsors, and municipalities where the events take place.

Improvements in climate performance can take different forms: some people will be more open to reducing the amount of waste, while others could start thinking about how to save electricity. Event organisers could focus on setting up an eco-friendly transport network, and certain open-air event organisers may not only take special care not to leave litter in the area, but also work on acquainting the public with local nature. You can choose an area of your own, or do a bit of everything, and focus on what you can do!

Organising an event is a complex and layered process in which you can distinguish five main aspects that you should consider doing the planning and organising of: catering, waste, energy and water, transport and location. Take a look at each of them to find out why they are important from an environmentalist’s perspective!

The food we consume has a significant effect on the environment. The use of land and water resources is only one example of the impact we create, and we must be aware of the modern food production system, taking measures to effect as little influence on climate and nature as possible. Organisers can offer participants and guests even more eco-friendly options. This is an opportunity to reduce waste as well as the consumption of resources and the CO2 emissions that manufacturing food generates.

The environmental impact of food also has to do with everything that happens to the food before it gets to the event, including the growing of the crops, developing the farmland (which may have previously been a natural area), fertilising it, treating it with pesticides, and transporting and packaging the food itself.

Events generate various kinds of waste. The relative amount of different kinds of waste depends on the type, duration, and location of the event. For example, if the event has multiple stages, setting them up can produce a lot of waste. Waste is very visible, unlike, for example, CO2 emissions that you can’t see. This is one of the reasons why the typical first steps event organisers take towards conducting more eco-friendly events are related to reducing the amount of waste.

The easiest way to curb waste is to address the causes. The less stuff you have, the less waste you make!

Energy and water are two big actors in what pertains to resources and the environment.

During events, you need energy for lighting and sound, as well as cooking, and storing food and drinks. Filming an event, storing the recordings, processing or streaming them takes energy too, so even if guests attend online, it does not preclude energy consumption or CO2 emissions.

On the other hand, you need water to maintain life, for social and economic welfare, to protect and preserve ecosystems. As the global population rises, so too does the consumption of water. There are drier regions in the world where water shortages are becoming more pronounced, and in many places, people already have difficulty accessing clean fresh water. People in Latvia do not feel any lack of water, but its consumption is subject to reducing the impact of various environmental factors.

If your event takes place outdoors, you have to bring water there somehow, which takes energy and work. Depending on the intended use, it must be then handed over for treatment, which is a paid service. You have to heat hot water, both indoors and outdoors, which takes a lot of energy, which is why it is so important not to waste water, a resource that we spend energy and money to provide, ultimately generating more CO2 emissions. There is also a question of ethics: should we be careless using what we currently have in abundance?
We shouldn’t, of course. Moreover, current changes in the climate presage more frequent extreme weather events. While the overall amount of water is likely to remain sufficient, local periods of drought are very possible.

Transport plays a vital role in our society, and its availability and efficiency directly affect the quality of our lives. At the same time, it contributes to climate change, air pollution, and takes up much space.
For example, in 2016, 26% of all greenhouse gases generated in Latvia came from the transport sector. 91.3% of it was from road vehicles.

The golden rule is: the less you travel, the better!

An event begins with an idea that you would like to implement. The usual next step is to understand where it could take place.

From a geographic perspective, an ideal event location can be reached on foot, by bicycle, or public transit, by most of the event’s participants and guests. It is easily reachable by the suppliers and retailers involved in the event. An ideal indoor venue is energy-efficient, where heat does not quickly dissipate into the air, where you can adjust the heating based on your needs, where LED lamps are used for lighting, where Class A energy-efficient equipment sees smart use, where you can open a window for ventilation, and where you have everyday access to containers for sorting waste. Venues where you pay separately for what you consume and generate – water, heat, electricity, waste – instead of having all-inclusive packages, because the prospect of being billed more can encourage all the parties involved to be more frugal.

However, the reality can be that the building is modern and energy-efficient, but is in a place where public transport does not run. The venue could be accessible by train, but be old, and difficult and expensive to heat. And if you have to set up a big event, it can happen that there are just a few locations in the country where it can take place, meaning that all of the other requirements become completely irrelevant, because you simply don’t have any choice.

How to organise your event so that it is nature and climate-friendly

When deciding on holding a nature and climate-friendly event, first figure out who among your team will be in charge of implementing the green principles. One person might be enough to supervise everything as part of a smaller event. In other situations, the duties can be split, assigning one person to be responsible for making sure the catering is green, giving someone else the task of handling the waste management, while another colleague could make sure that there is enough electricity, but none of it is wasted.

During the event, and especially at its end, you should measure and register the amount of resources consumed and waste produced – all notes and estimates will help you make more sustainable choices next time! For example, you can roughly calculate how much CO2 is produced per guest or participant. Approximate CO2 emissions created by events can be calculated here.

Create a checklist for your event as the first step of planning it, making sure it is nature and climate-friendly! Enter the parameters of the event you’re planning to see suggestions to keep in mind in each of the five main aspects of the event. You can also download checklists for each of the aspect. All of the recommendations are also included in the nature and climate-friendly event manual!