For novices, events can be an easy entry point to the great outdoors. The pros, meanwhile, can use them to reach out to bigger audiences. But how can organizers bring larger numbers of people outdoors – with smaller ecological footprints?

Cast your eye around the festival “basecamp” at the mountain film festival at Kendal, in Cumbria, England, and you’ll see a lot of beer being drunk. It is, after all, one of the most popular social events on the adventure film calendar; a chance for outdoor enthusiasts from all over to assemble together. There’s also the fact that this northwest corner of England has a reputation for brewing good ale – and lots of it.

What you’ll also notice at the festival is that all of the beer is served in reusable cups. Pay an extra £1 with your pint and, when your thirst is suitably quenched, you can claim that back when you return the cup. There’s also food from the local area – all served without single-use plastics too – and water refill stations are easy to find throughout the festival.

This is nothing new or extraordinary of course. Arguably, you could say it’s the norm now; you’ll find exactly the same at football matches and music festivals across Europe. But look a bit closer into Kendal Mountain Festival’s sustainability efforts and you’ll find things run a lot deeper than just reusable pint glasses.

Steve Scott, the festival’s director, says that the organization works hard on all levels to ensure the event doesn’t compromise future generations and future resources.

“It’s constant analysis and constant development, and we’re not just looking at the micro footprint but the macro footprint as well.”

Panel discussion at Kendal Mountain Film Festival.

Event sustainability toolkit on its way

In recent years, the festival has implemented travel share schemes in partnership with booking platform Trainline. E-bikes have been introduced to help staff travel between the festival sites located across the town and electric cars are used in the cases when road travel is required.

Over the last few years, Kendal Mountain Festival has been developing a code of practice that will completely guide its approach to sustainability from top to bottom in the future. Initially co-funded by the University of Cumbria, the ‘sustainability toolkit’, which is close to being finalized, will set in stone the festival’s approach to measuring its impact, scrutinizing its approaches and setting procedures to ensure change gets enacted when it is required.

“We were keen on this because we felt that there wasn’t really anything that we could adhere to. There wasn’t anything that gave us stringent guidance as an event,” says Steve Scott.

Once completed, this guidance wouldn’t just be kept as a point of reference within the organization. The intention is to make it widely available.

“It would be open source,” explains Steve Scott, and continues:

“We’d share with other events companies – anyone looking at the best practices and responsible approaches to running big events.”

Photo: Globetrotter / Franziska Consolati

Solutions through systemization

In Germany, the large outdoor retailer Globetrotter is taking a similar approach to Kendal Mountain Festival across its events network. Maja Dornhecker, who works in the sustainability team, explains that the company also has a methodology that is in the process of being formulated; one that will set out to measure, manage and ultimately aim to prevent any impacts born from event travel, waste, resource and energy management, while also taking welfare and social aspects into careful consideration.

“The first version has already been shared with the event managers and at our European Championship meeting, while last week a workshop was held to work out concrete measures and to-dos,” says Maja Dornhecker.

“The goal this year is to record even more extensive environmental indicators and to get the project rolling further internally.”

The initiative, she explains, all apparently started with a customer consultation process.

“Using a customer journey workshop, we tried to reflect on what is going well/badly. Building on this, we collected feedback from visitors on the topic of sustainability in the open air via and created an internal forms survey for the event managers. This has resulted in concrete areas of action that we want to work on significantly.”

The goal this year, she continues, is to record even more extensive environmental indicators and to get the project rolling further internally. It will then be shared with customers in order to ensure more transparency around their events processes.

Race winner Robyn Cassidy in the Dragon’s Back Race. (Photo: No Limits Photography)

Sharing event best-practices

One company that is already firing on all cylinders in its sustainability methodology is Ourea Events. It runs a series of trail running races across the UK, most notably the Dragon’s Back race, a 380-kilometer traverse along the mountainous spine of Wales. Attend one of Ourea’s events and you’ll see vegan and vegetarian meals served on reusable or compostable plates, signage tied with reusable cable ties and vehicles and generators powered by hydrotreated vegetable oil. On top of this, their own ecologist regularly completes pre and post event race assessments.

According to Lucy Scrase, Chief Operations Officer at Ourea Events, these efforts all stem from the introduction of a systemized approach to sustainability born from the introduction of a Sustainability Annual Report that was introduced in 2020.

“Measuring our impacts was one of our first objectives,” says Lucy Scrase.

“We had a clear idea of what we wanted to measure at our events and our business operations. The key steps were to establish our carbon footprint, identify key challenges, implement a reduction plan and then to consider climate investment opportunities.”

The founder of Ourea Events, Shane Ohly, is also the person responsible for the foundation of the annual Adventure Sports Events Conference. The main aim of this, as explained by Lucy Scrase, is to bring the outdoor events industry to tackle issues together:

“We have shared our sustainability journey at this conference, and we also hear about best practice from others in the industry, which informs our own approach.”

The Fjällräven Classic, a 112km hike through northern Sweden. (Photo: Anette Andersson)

Collaboration thinking

Three different outdoor event organizers, three individually developed approaches, three forms of sustainability standards as a result – with each organization open to sharing these on to others as well. Look across the outdoor events industry and this is replicated all over. It’s a well-intentioned wild west. So, are we missing something? Some form of overall standardization or certification perhaps?

Steve Scott at Kendal Mountain Festival thinks so.

“One hundred percent. we’re actually going out looking for these providers that can help us. In a way, we’re creating our own standards, aren’t we? And you know, that comes under scrutiny.”

There are some examples of standardization across the wider events industry. The ISO 20121, for instance, defines a sustainable management system for events that can lead to environmental certification. There are also examples of consultancy companies that offer certification, including A Greener Future, Global Green Events and Greentime, which Swedish outdoor brand Fjällräven uses to assess the impact of its trekking event series (more on that in our case study below).

For UK events companies, the Vision2025 code also lays out uniform guidelines that event organizers can pledge to follow, with numerous free resources available from the not-for-profit organization too.

Selective in sponsorship

Damian Hall, the record-breaking runner and author of We Can’t Run Away From This, has become one of the leading advocates for better practice within the world of trail and ultra-running events. Participant travel, he says, is one of the biggest issues for event companies to address. Then there’s “sportwashing,” where sports teams and events are used to improve or enhance an organization’s public image, often to divert attention from negative actions.

“High-carbon industries may offer money, but they are not our friends,” says Damian Hall.

“They are doing great harm but are using sport and the implied health and adventure imagery to make themselves look caring while they burn and flood the planet.”

It’s an interesting point. It might be all well and good when event organizers strive to hit their own climate targets, reach carbon neutrality, and gain some form of sustainable certification. But they can also be judged by the clients and sponsors they partner with, too. In other words, they should be mindful of the company they keep.

 

Event Standards

ISO 20121

Originally inspired by The London 2012 Olympic Games, with a revision intended for the Games in Paris in 2024, ISO 20121 is an international standard to enable sustainability to be considered at every decision point in the planning of an event. It was devised by the International Organisation for Standardization as part of a collaboration between governmental and non-governmental organizations across the world.

Green Events Code of Practice

The Green Events Code of Practice is being developed by the UK festival and event industry’s green forum. It is intended to establish a common understanding of best practice between event organizers, local authorities, and supply chain, and provide clear and robust minimum standards that can be assessed. The first draft version was released in 2022, and results of this test period and new recommendations will be published in December 2024.

 

Greentime standard

The Swedish event company Greentime has developed their own certificate for sustainable events, used by for instance Fjällräven. To be approved, an event needs to meet a number of mandatory requirements found in Greentime’s planning tool. The mandatory requirements are verifiable, and the answers must be reviewed by an independent auditor for an event to be entitled to display the Certified Sustainable Event logo.

 

Lead Photo: Globetrotter / Franziska Consolati

Will Renwick
info@norragency.com
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