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Vision 2025’s Chris Johnson: Time to get carbon literate

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Do you have a firm understanding of sustainability terminology? Having a grasp on the terminology will be a helpful part of your journey in reducing your emissions. Chris Johnson, chair of Vision: 2025, reveals all…


Last month, independent festival organisers gathered in Bristol for the Association of Independent Festivals’ Festival Congress. Vision:2025 coordinated and hosted a roundtable session on sustainability, with guests ecolibrium, A Greener Festival and Julie’s Bicycle. The packed sessions demonstrated a real appetitive for the build back greener agenda, and revealed what festivals are struggling with. Carbon footprinting, and the language around it, is a key area where there is still a lack of clarity and confidence. In this month’s column we attempt to clarify key aspects of carbon literacy, and practical solutions.

Net Zero and scopes

Events are still finding the idea of “net zero” daunting. Put very simply, what we are talking about is reducing emissions, and then offsetting unavoidable emissions. That’s it. The credible way of doing this, i.e., not “greenwashing”, is to actively reduce emissions as much as possible, and only offset genuinely unavoidable emissions whilst on that journey.

The point at which the balance of the actual emissions and the offset equals zero, is “net zero”. If an organisation reduces their emissions by 90 per cent and chooses to balance the remaining 10 per cent, they have achieved net zero. A net zero plan (or roadmap, or pathway) outlines the targets for emissions reductions year by year and identifies a date at which net zero is aimed to be achieved. Globally, we are aiming for 90 per cent by 2050 (UNFCCC target), but that will likely be too late, and so we should be aiming for “as much as possible as soon as possible”.

Many events are also unclear about what the term “scopes” means in relation to carbon emissions. It refers to a standard way in which emissions are grouped by type and who is responsible. Scope one and two are the direct responsibility of the business, and scope three activities are third party.

Typically for a greenfield event, 80 per cent or more of emissions are from audience, artist, and supplier travel. This being scope three, it is effectively the responsibility of those third parties, but importantly, it is something that events can, and should, significantly influence. This brings into focus the remaining 20 per cent, which is the responsibility of the event promoter, and this figure can be reduced through generator fuel reductions, waste reduction and better travel decisions. The measures that organisers can take is set out in detail in the free to access Show Must Go On report.

Carbon literacy

There is a great deal of interest in carbon literacy currently, but there’s also a sense that many don’t understand what it is. It’s having a basic understanding of climate science, the current climate crisis, how it has arisen, how to understand our businesses impacts, terminology, and what we can do to reduce our emissions to help tackle it. I’m pleased to say that I road-tested the one-day Climate EQ Carbon Literacy course recently, as part of a Shambala Festival team training session, and found it very useful. We were taken on a journey that brought into sharp focus the urgency of the current situation, and what we can do to take practical action on a personal and company level. The course ended with pledges that helped all the team to take a role. What feels hugely valuable is the entire team being on the same page in their understanding on this topic, with everyone engaged. I cannot recommend enough that everyone in the industry become carbon literate. It’s like having GCSE maths – I bet hardly any festival promoters have advanced maths qualifications in order to manage their businesses, but we do all share a basic literacy from our education.

Julie’s Bicycle has a comprehensive guide – The Price of Carbon. Their Creative Industry Green Tools also offer organisers a free tool to measure their carbon footprint and see the breakdown. These tools are used by thousands of organisations that are funded by Arts Council England.

I think it’s now vital that all organisers start to measure and understand their emissions footprint. It’s the only robust way to know and report your impacts. We only have a few years to make dramatic and meaningful changes. Let’s embrace the knowledge and tools to enable this.