Eurosonic Puts Focus On Greening of European Live Sector: 'We Need to Act Now'

Claire O’Neill, Holger Jan Schmidt and Xander Kotvis
Mark Bennett

A Greener Festival Directors Claire O’Neill and GO Groups Holger Jan Schmidt present an Outstanding award to DGTL Festival (NL), represented by Xander Kotvis (middle). 

GRONINGEN, Netherlands — Music industry players at Eurosonic Noorderslag called on the European live music market to take a more aggressive role in tackling climate change.

Known as a launch pad for emerging artists, the Dutch conference and music showcase last weekend featured a handful of well-attended panels focused on environmental issues in the festival scene, a topic of rising importance in Europe.

Even with more festivals in both Europe and the U.S. exploring how to reduce waste and emissions, some at Eurosonic expressed frustration about the slow pace of change.  

“At the moment everything we do towards an environmentally friendly event is on a volunteer basis,” said Holger Jan Schmidt, who leads the pan-European think-tank GO Group (Green Operations Europe). “But the time for creating guidelines, handbooks and having panels like this is over. We need to act now so that our industry can help Europe meet the Paris agreement targets.”

Schmidt took part on a panel titled, “Is the Music Industry Declaring Climate Emergency? Or in Other Words: Let's Get Our F**king Shit Together!” He was joined by Chris Tofu, one of the directors of Shangri-La, a space for pushing messages of radical intervention at UK’s Glastonbury festival.

"Stormzy made a big fuss about politics for the youth and getting kids to register to vote, and the next day 350,000 signed up," Tofu said. "You are not going to get a politician to do that. Music is not just part of the answer. We really are the answer."

Despite the frustration, conference participants highlighted the progress being made in Europe. On Friday, A Greener Festival, an international not-for-profit organization, handed out prizes to the 37 greenest festivals in 2019. Among those receiving an Outstanding award were Cambridge Folk Festival (UK), DGTL Festival (Netherlands), Green Gathering (UK), Øya Festival (Norway), Paradise City (Belguim) and We Love Green (France).

One session at Eurosonic looked at the Green Deal Circular Festivals initiative, which was signed at the Amsterdam Dance Event in 2019. Seventeen leading European festivals signed the pledge to collaborate on circularity for the next five years (until 2025) through re-designing supply chains and developing circular solutions around food, water, energy, travel, transport and materials.

"Our main goal is to become a circular and climate neutral festival," said Tijl Couzij, project manager at Lab Vlieland of Into The Great Wide Open, a festival that takes place on the Dutch island of Vlieland and a participating festival in the Green Deal Circular Festivals.

Among the festival’s recent initiatives is a 5-euro supplement on each ticket sold which festivalgoers get back in the form of a discount when they travel fossil-free to and from the venue. The surcharge on those who don't is then used to make the entire journey of all those visiting the festival climate neutral.

"The biggest chunk of our carbon footprint comes from our visitors, with 66% of our visitors traveling by car and about 33% traveling by fossil-free means," explained Couzij. Like many of the panelists, he said changing the behavior of audiences is one of the most important ways that music festivals can play a part in reducing carbon emissions.

Other industry officials pointed to moves by individual artists to set a greener example. Marta Pallarès, international press and PR manager at Primavera Sound, pointed to the decision by the British act, Massive Attack, to tour Europe by train as a way to help reduce their carbon emissions. “If a band like that sets the example, a lot of fans will follow them and travel to festivals using trains,” she said.

Pallarès is also the spokesperson for the Barcelona festival’s The New Normal initiative, which implemented a gender-balanced lineup at the 2019 event. She says that experience shows that the live music industry can respond rapidly to issues, including climate breakdown, in ways that go beyond simply banning straws or removing single-use plastic cups.

Aside from Eurosonic, climate action is also on the agenda of the upcoming European Forum on Music taking place in Bonn from June 4-7. A project of the European Music Council (EMC), the forum’s theme is "Climate Action: Music as a Driver for Change." It fits into the European Parliament’s recent decision to declare a climate emergency as a way of putting pressure on its member states to take urgent action.

"I am very convinced that music can make a real difference here," said Ruth Jakobi, Secretary General of the EMC. "We do need political action, lobbying and advocacy work and that is something we are going to be launching at the June forum."

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