Sometimes it's just about the loos

Uncategorized Aug 15, 2021

When I was 30 I was given an opportunity to work out how to run a festival sustainably, and I grabbed it with both hands. I had an inkling I'd be able to work it out.

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My first experience with sustainable events came when I took on Cultural Stomp in Newcastle, Australia. And I can tell you, I was just guessing at all this - with a gut feel and passionate optimism. We fumbled through the event testing this and that, but at the end we were really happy with what we achieved. We managed to transition all the serviceware to compostable, and recruit a local community garden to paint a heap of old bins I found and then do a test-compost mound at the gardens - (that's when I found out for sure that PLA DOES NOT compost in home-style compost heaps!).

That job lead to taking on Peats Ridge Festival, then a grand leap to the big ones - Glastonbury, Reading/Leeds. Yes. (thanks A Greener Festival for the recommendation and Melvin Benn for hiring me sight unseen).

That little Cultural Stomp festival in a local park in Newcastle began my first step in what has become a 20 year, around the world journey, implementing sustainable event production into every shape and sized event. 

I could count on one hand the people specialising in this type of work back then. I guess that's why they had to reach out to me to take the role in the UK. I wrote the 'Model Event' on how we did it at Peats Ridge and then ended up stuffing it all into a book.

I'm seeing this field flourish and it's so exciting. I've nearly given it up a few times, but so happy I've persevered.

If you're thinking about taking a swerve into specialising in sustainability and events - DO IT.

Events will be back. We have to #BuildBackBetter. We need people to help this all along. And fast. We're in the decade for action. Come on now. Let's get this going on.

A personal highlight has to be meeting Kenny - the iconic festival loo guy from this film. I got to match him up with our real life loo guy, Dean from A One, put him in a shit truck and have him tour the site. OMG. Fun.


Apart from the perks like sitting side of stage in my PJ's watching the best bands in the world.... (Radiohead, Metallica, Crowded House anyone?) I've had some sustainability wins too:

My Top 3:

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1. Latitude Festival and again with the compost - this time we diverted 95% of arena waste from landfill - after Day 1 everyone was trained up and dutifully put their compost in the right bin and brought their reusable cups back to the bar. The punters are very good at that festival. We managed to test drive compost loos from Australia there in the UK too. Now they're iconic at Glasto. They look like this now... so lovely and proud to have played a part in getting this iconic Australian composting loos by Natural Event into the UK. Nice one Hamish.

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2. The Ocean Race (around the world) was so personally rewarding. We were able to engage the events depts across the race route into implementing new onsite waste systems, do reusable cups for the first time, of course eliminate single use plastic from serviceware systems, and put in smart power plans meaning a reduction of 30% in fuel use in generators.

3. Reading Festival (UK) has the best and the worst examples! (see more on that coming up...) The best was the moment we transitioned from a disposable cup (traditionally in the arena the beer cups would be thick on the floor, like ankle deep). We put in the reusable cup system (one of the first in the country) and instantly changed the landscape - literally. Grass - you could see grass in the arena! 95% redemption rate. Touchdown!

Oh, but let me tell you about my Top 3 horror stories:

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1. Peats Ridge Festival was an early one - apart from some fantastic foundation work in sustainable event systems which were amazing - the horror of the loos. We had every (non compostable) loo shut down because the suck truck was stuck in the congested one way damn vehicle line... Details? You don't need them. Let's just say Fyre Festival Shmyre Festival.

2. OMG, so becoming the first fulltime sustainability manager on music festivals in the UK - two weeks into the job and I'm onsite at Glastonbury Festival. Yep. The big one. Um... remember the year when almost every tent was left in the field and it looked like aliens had come down and evaporated all human beings? Yep, that was my first year as sustainability manager a Glasto. FFS. That was an interesting post-event meeting with Michael Eavis. He wasn't having it that it wasn't my programme. Crikey! I had yet another loo experience at Glasto that year but it was more just about going to them.

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3. Again at Reading Festival... so we're doing the campground left tent recovery programme. My lovingly crafted salvage bays are set up in each campsite, staffed with stewards, bag of cans for a beer token promo going. Great. Sunday night comes. Anyone been to a UK festival for under 19's? Well Sunday night is when you start BLOWING UP TENTS. Monday morning we're not allowed in the campsite as there are still gas canisters set up inside tents on a slow leak with a candle ready to set the bomb off. It's like popcorn. Anyway, once the bang bang pop pop stops, we're good to go. Eager to see my spoils - I'm off to see the contents of the tent salvage point. Um... where is it? IT'S GONE! No herris fencing, no 1100L bins, no tents. CARNAGE. The toilet block next to it had every door ripped off, the whole thing was on a lean, and there was a lonely figure, with a goddamn union jack vest and a perfect mohawk taking a piss. That's burned into my mind actually as quite a spectacular moment in my event sustainability career.

Ha! Those were the days... (And they're not over...every time it's something new. Being prepared for every damn possibility and armed with a toolbox of experience and solutions is the only way to go).

One of the things that I am most grateful for, on this sometimes rocky road, is that I have been lucky enough to build a network of like-minded events peeps that have guided me, as much as I have guided them. 

If we are to meet global climate targets, we cannot be lone-rangers. We MUST come together and work as a collective toward shared goals and visions. 


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