Giulia Alonzo and Oliviero Ponte di Pino
“Econazis!” One of the most famous Italian pop stars, Jovanotti, dismissed with this insult those who tried to expose the environmental impact of his mega-concerts on beaches throughout Italy. Soon the debate that animated the summer was reduced to a confrontation between those who were in favor and those who were against concerts on beaches. It was not easy even for those who really care about
nature. On a national level, Legambiente, the most prominent and widespread environmental association in Italy, supported the initiative, while there was no lack of complaints and dissociations from the local federations of Legambiente itself.
Many local administrators have greeted with enthusiasm the arrival of the Jova Beach Party caravan, with its economic (hotels, bars and restaurants, etc.) and reputational spin-offs, with articles in newspapers, radio and TV reports, and posts on social networks. For others, the arrival of tens of thousands of people for one night brings all the disadvantages of hit-and-run tourism.
As we have learned in these years of pandemics and forced closures, tourism - with all its annexes - is one of the engines of the Italian economy. Public administrators and entrepreneurs appreciate an event or demonstration that turns media’s attention on a village or an area, even if only for one day a year. The impacts are immediate and can easily be turned into political benefits, while environmental impacts can easily be overshadowed. The mayor of an Italian town collects more likes with an Instagram Story featuring a famous singer than by posting a photo while recycling.
It does not take an expert in environmental disasters to discover that a gathering of thirty thousand people in a stretch of beach has a strong impact on the local environment: and this impact must be foreseen and minimized. In the summer of 2022 we should have discussed this: were the measures undertaken in order to limit environmental damage effective? Could and should more have been done?
Or should those mega-events simply have been hosted in locations that looked perhaps less “magic” and natural, but better equipped and less vulnerable?
The issue of the impact of cultural events needs to be addressed on its merits, and not just in interviews where pop stars reiterate their love for the beauty of an unspoiled nature. Even the United Nations has reiterated that the cultural world must commit itself to reducing its environmental footprint: a cultural event must be “designed, planned and implemented in a way that minimizes negative impacts
on the environment and leaves a positive legacy for the host community.”
For a sustainable cultural planning Italy is one of the few European countries that has already adopted a specific action plan for the public sector, the Green Public Procurement (GPP), some 15 years ago. It is still the only country in Europe to provide for 100 percent mandatory GPP. For some specific product categories - a ministerial decree sets the minimum environmental requirements. The decree currently covers eighteen product categories, covering primarily the construction sector, public lighting, waste management, furniture, catering and textiles.
But fifteen years after the introduction of GPP, there are still no plans to include in the cultural sector the Minimum Environmental Criteria (CAMs - Criteri Ambientali Minimi -, which determine how to achieve GPP goals), even though the environmental footprint of cultural events may be significant.
Thanks to NRRP investments, in recent months the Draghi government’s Mini stry of Ecological Transition has expressed the need to introduce CAMs for exhibitions, festivals, and conferences organized by public entities as well.
The guidelines state that cultural events that involve public administration, at least in some aspect, will have to achieve near-zero environmental impact. The reform does not only concern the communication and promotional part of events, but also states that the concept of eco-sustainability must be included into the design
and the development phase of the project. To do so, it is necessary to take into consideration the “supply chain” of an event, adopting the right procedures and tools, and inviting to rethink the entire production chain: tenders focused on an ecological discount, not just economic advantage, and suppliers that have a low impact on the environment, as well as on public spending. Among the directions,
a minimum impact on the location; the use of recycled and recyclable materials in all stages of event production; the use of low-consumption transportation; and the encouragement of recycling.
Implementing sustainable events also contributes to the achievement of several of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the UN, and would help their implementation in an interdisciplinary perspective, increasing the vision capacity of local institutions.
The TrovaFestival Day of December 1st 2022
It is not enough to declare ourselves nature lovers, that write books and set up shows that enhance the beauty of the environment and perhaps give us precious advice for a greener life. The nature of festivals is festive and ephemeral, often characterized by waste, ostentation, and disposability. But cultural production also needs to become more sustainable.
We need to rethink and redesign cultural events in different ways, that have a lower environmental impact and that also help change people’s attitudes through their experience at the event.
For this reason, with the TrovaFestival Association, which has been mapping and studying Italian cultural festivals since 2016, in collaboration with the BBS-Lombard studio, is planning the second edition of TrovaFestival Day, an in-depth conference dedicated to those who work in the festival sector: organizers, curators, directors, as well as public administrators and the audience. The theme of the 2022 edition is the relationship between culture and green, with a focus on the world of festivals and cultural events.
Something is moving
What does it mean to be a “sustainable” festival today t? What goals should be pursued?
What good practices can we adopt? Do new technologies and new materials really help us reducing our environmental impact?
The international standards organization, which includes the national standardization organizations of 162 countries (ISO), drafted a model within which the organizers of an event and their suppliers can develop a system to manage sustainable events, setting an international standard. The Sustainable Management Systems
for Events (SGSE) identifies three levels of sustainability: economic, social and environmental.
The model is aimed at events, organizers, suppliers, venues, corporate
event area. (For info: https://www.iso.org/iso-20121-sustainable-events.html)
Back in 2013, the project “ZEN - Zero impact cultural heritage event network” started within the framework of a European Interreg funding. The goal was to link good practices at the local level and to give advice on how cultural events can become more sustainable, from the organization to the communication process, passing through the involvement of the audience. (For info: http://zen-project.eu/new/)
In 2015, as part of the “Innovation and Capacity Building 2015” project, funded by the Cariplo Foundation, the Italian National Institute of Urban Planning designed a manual to promote and disseminate within its partners design skills aimed at organizing sustainable events. (For info: https://www.inu.it/news/eventi-sostenibili-ecco-il-manuale-dal-progetto-quot-innovazione-e-capacity-building-quot/)
The key concept of these procedures is that the new environmental sensitivity must have an impact in the production of events. Recently, several initiatives and projects have begun to move in this direction.
In 2019 Umbria Jazz launched the “Wake Up! Music will save the planet!” project, or eight points to be achieved by 2023 – to celebrate the event’s 50th anniversary.
These goals have been identified as: reducing the use of plastic; recycling; activities and training for children to raise awareness on the issue; the use of renewable energy; car sharing for organizers and audiences; digitization; fighting food waste; and an active request to artists to join the project. (For info: https://www.umbriajazz.it/info-utili/uj-per-la-difesa-dellambiente/) Also in the field of music, in 2021 “Jazz Takes the Green” was born: the network of environmentally sustainable jazz festivals, the first Italian experience of cultural
events aggregation that take care of the green cause. Among the promoters Time in Jazz, the festival founded and directed by musician Paolo Fresu in the heart of Sardinia. (For info:(https://timeinjazz.it/associazione/green-jazz/)
In February 2022, AFIC (Italian Film Festival Association) launched the “Festival Green” project, identifying ten thematic areas, that should be the basis for “implementing good environmental practices in the organization of film events.” They range from sustainable mobility to reducing energy consumption; from digitization to set-up, via waste management and gadget production; from guest management to food sustainability; from environmental culture and social sustainability to
communication. (For info: https://www.aficfestival.it/2022/02/25/afic-guida-festival-
In the theatrical field, little is moving in Italy, although several events proudly proclaim themselves green and many festivals are already implementing “best practices” of environmental sustainability. In June 2022 Fienile Fluò in Bologna hosted an interesting debate on the scene-nature relationship (for info: http://www.
In Europe, among the different circular economy festivals and projects, GEX - Green Europe Experience, is a network of music festivals and a three-year Living Lab.
Funded by Creative Europe in 2019, the project has the aim of creating, testing, and evaluating a blueprint for sustainable and replicable production, and monitoring practices for European music festivals through offline and online actions and strategies.
In England in the fall of 2022, the “Theatre Green Book” was unveiled, starting with a survey showing that 77 percent of theatergoers expect theaters to address sustainability issues on and off stage. The project, in collaboration with the engineering firm Buro Happold, helps us to rethink the world of theater from a greener perspective, from buildings to artists’ and operators’ designs (for info: https://theatregreenbook.
com/). Changing course Sustainable festivals are in some ways a paradox. The word “festival” implies the concept of celebration, with its temporary and ephemeral nature, which often provides for, and encourages, the possibility of waste. An example is stage sets, which
are typically used for a single performance. Another feature of festivals is that they encourage encounters, exchange, and discovery of the Other, including fostering the mobility of artists, critics, and audiences. Novelty coming from abroad is one of the strengths of any cultural event. The demand of foreign guests contrasts with the need to reduce the impact of travel, especially by plane.
These are just two examples that hint at the complexity of a transition to a (more) sustainable forms of cultural design. A new awareness must transform a cultural event in its entirety, and in all its phases, from conception and design to implementation, from the choice of the suppliers and of the location to communication and marketing. Recycled and recyclable materials can be used more often.
A key asset is the management of the audience, including food and beverage. It is not only a matter of staging an environmentally friendly event, but also of educating the audience about an equally environmentally friendly behavior. The same goes for those involved in the realization of the event: they all must be aware of the goals (it is an “eco” event!) and the methods used to achieve them.
It is therefore necessary to train appropriate professional figures, empowering all those who contribute to the event, giving them the basis for proper knowledge of
the various issues involved in this transition.
It is also appropriate to develop appropriate self-assessment tools that clarify the goals to be achieved in the different stages of work: this is also the goal of TrovaFestival Day on December 1st, 2022.
Only a profound paradigm shift, supported by appropriate cultural policies, can lead to a culture that can deal with the challenges of the present time. Is it not enough to proclaim our love for nature and to declare ourselves environmentally friendly. We all have to act responsibly during the creative stage of the project, working in its production, and in establishing a new relationship with the audience.
We need to raise our awareness and change our behavior, and it is easier (and necessary) to begin with the circumscribed space-time of a cultural event.
Giulia Alonzo writes about theater and art; she is cofounder and editor of the Trovafestival platform and of the Bolzano29 cultural space in Milan.
Oliviero Ponte di Pino is a writer, lecturer in Brera and host of the Piazza Verdi program on Radio3. He curates cultural projects such as ateatro.it and BookCity Milano