Fests versus sustainability tests

Festival goers: fighting more than the mud?

By Michael Morrison

The environmental impact of festivals is disastrous” said Michael Eavis to The Independent in 2008.

If there’s one person who should know the intimate workings of a music festival it’s the self-styled godfather of Glastonbury, Eavis. He went on:

To pretend they’re green is ridiculous. You can recycle like mad, you can bring people on public transport, which we do. Overall, though…the greenest thing to do is not to run the event.”

A harsh home truth perhaps, but it’s a ripple that quickly made waves across the whole backbone of the UK music festival scene. Graeme Merrifield, who runs Wychwood at Cheltenham Racecourse, shares the feeling:

Festivals who call themselves green actually go to a greenfield site in the middle of nowhere. They have to bring infrastructure in, and there’s no public transport – cars are easily festivals’ biggest environmental cost.

Okay, so far it all looks rather doom and gloom doesn’t it? Well let’s explore how music festivals started to come round to the idea of sustainability and what’s been happening since.

In 2008, when Eavis invited the hyper-environmentally-conscious Radiohead to headline, they refused on the grounds that Glastonbury lacked a ‘public transport infrastructure’. Simple as that. Sure, not very rock ‘n’ roll, but the undernourished tastemakers paved the way and soon the whole circuit woke up to just how un-green festivals seemed to be.

Now, four years on, a different picture is starting to emerge as a result. Glastonbury itself reportedly recycled 49% of its waste in 2010, and launched the Green Traveller package in 2011 – an incentivised travel package that gives perks such as solar-powered showers to revellers who arrive by public transport.

Latitude has gone even further with this year’s Tour de Latitude initiative; which encourages festival goers to arrive by bicycle to raise money for the Kenyan Orphan Project, get reduced ticket prices and, perhaps best of all at a festival, gain free food from Marks & Spencers.

If cutting back on travel carbon emissions is key to swaying change though, surely Bestival takes the biscuit: hardy festival fiends can brave the treacherous 6km Solent and swim to the Isle of Wight event!

Along with the now tried-tested-and-much-loved novelty of giving punters a free beer for every sack of paper cups they recycle (which is surely a parental quadruple-whammy: keep kids occupied by sending them to find cups, whilst educating them of the perils of binge drinking, whilst earning green points, whilst smugly relaxing in the sun with your free, carbon-neutral beer?), a lot has now started to go on behind the scenes too.

The not-for-Profit company A Greener Festival is doing some good work in changing the way things work in this field – pardon the pun – including a ‘Festival Wood’ in Dundreggan, Scotland, which other festivals can donate to – not just an off-set scheme but an actual, physical woodland!

Melvin Benn, who is managing director of Festival Nation (promoters of Reading, Leeds, Latitude and Download amongst others) is a bit more pragmatic though and suggests that tackling sustainability has to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

For example, Latitude’s £2 reusable beer cups may not go down so well at Reading festival (where the crowd is typically young and hell-raising) so Benn suggests not bothering and, instead, finding something that will work with the audience– or alternatively keeping the bigger picture in mind.

“I have 70,000 young people camping at Reading. Not one has a TV, record-player, hair-dryer or lights. At home they’d be burning electricity. At festivals their carbon footprint is near-zero. And they’re seeing 30 – 50 bands at one go.”

An interesting argument and one which suggests that the potentially high-carbon emitting cost of a festival could actually be worth it when compared to the carbon produced by music fans going to several other gigs in its place.

As we head towards a typically busy August Bank Holiday of established and newer events involving tents, the question remains: can festivals be sustainable? Like every other industry, it looks like the answer is yes…if they want to be.

Data and the energy-efficient auctioneer

You’d be forgiven, after reading our recent Powering the Nation report, to only be thinking about the power your computer’s sucking out of the plug socket when you’re online.

But the internet’s really big players are facing up to their responsibilities when it comes to a much larger cause of carbon emissions – the enormous data centres that power the search-engines, social networks and websites so familiar to us.

We’ve previously blogged on this subject – looking at Facebook’s attempts to cool their servers via simple geography – placing them towards the Arctic Circle, no less, as well as other company’s employment of abundant coastal hydroelectricity to power their servers, at least in part.

We’ll return to the most famous of the social networks in a sec, but the most recent server-related development is auction behemoth Ebay massively increasing their  investment in Bloom Energy’s fuel cells, which create electricity from organic waste.

Ebay has already used the services of Bloom, considered a fast-rising star in Silicon Valley, for a smaller bank of cells at their HQ, but the 30 installed at their new data centre in Utah should mean grid electricity is only ever a backup option.

So back to Facebook – and proof that a sustained campaign can actually bring change at the top. Greenpeace have been on the company’s back for a while on the issue of data centres, and more specifically, coal-powering them (the social media campaign on Facebook was a big success).

Now, after talks, a truce has been agreed in which the two will collaborate. Tzeporah Berman, Co-director of Greenpeace’s International Climate and Energy Program, says:

“Greenpeace and Facebook will now work together to encourage major energy producers to move away from coal and instead invest in renewable energy. This move sets an example for the industry to follow.” 

It’s clear that there is a shift in the industry afoot. Making sustainable change is a responsibility that falls to both massive companies like these changing the way they bring services to the public, and the way we use what we’re offered behind closed doors. So just because the big brands are cleaning up their act a bit, it’s no reason to assume a passive role.

If you haven’t already, get a Home Energy Check, and if you must buy that new appliance or gadget, make it best in class for energy efficiency.

Electric cars in firms: more than a fleeting interest

EVs in fleets: the dream scenario

Whether you’re in the business of making sure ports or airports run smoothly, putting out fires or stocking shelves, there’s never been a better time to consider the importance of fleet running costs and carbon emissions.

These business areas, it probably won’t be a surprise to learn, were not selected randomly.

We recently announced the 20 organisations working with us and EDF Energy to make practical plans for electric vehicle uptake, as part of our Department for Transport-sponsored Plugged-in Fleets initiative, and we’ve got the likes of the Association of British Ports, London Fire Brigade and Wm Morrison PLC on board.

The initiative was open to all UK-based fleets and judging was based on strict criteria. We looked for commitment at a high level: a pledge signed by senior management within the company.

The latest announcement follows the publication of our joint report with Climate Group and Cenex last year, which made a powerful case for the potential of early adoption of EVs into organisations to reap major benefits.

Transport Minister Norman Baker had this to say:

“The number of electric vehicles on the market is growing all the time and fleets are already leading the way with adoption of these new technologies – this scheme will make that easier by giving fleet managers the information they need to pick the right vehicle for their business.”

There’s some other big names amongst the group: Boots UK Ltd,Network Rail and the University of Cumbria to name but a few. Big or small, long-term thinking when it comes to low-emission vehicles can help any firm.

This is not the only good news to report as far as Plugged-in Fleets goes. In additional to EDF, we’ve recently brought Gateshead-based Route Monkey into the team supporting the Plugged-in firms every step of the way.

They’re providing software which will help firms get the best out of electric vehicles – looking at factors like payload, average speed, ambient temperature, route topography and driver style to go a long way to destroying that ‘range anxiety’ that still bothers some people.

You can see the full list of those taking part here.

Popping a cork to renewables

Reducing wine’s carbon stain…

At the risk of making us sound like a permanently pickled bunch here at the Energy Saving Trust blog, we were happy to see another branch of the alcohol-making world making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint recently.

A winery on the Wiston Estate in East Sussex has installed a 200-panel, 50kWp PV array, in addition to its existing two biomass boilers. It’s planning another one of the latter and possibly a wind turbine as it steps up its efforts to mitigate what can be an energy-intensive business.

With a new sparkling wine from the estate hitting the shelves, it’s a good time to be making such strident efforts to clean up the production process, obviously with the added boon of reduced overheads.

Of course, sparkling wine is best served chilled. With that in mind, all lovers of a tipple can take heart from a new German/ Dutch study which suggests that renewable cooling could provide between 50-100 per cent of Europe’s cooling demand by 2050. Of course this is more to do with space-cooling than wine-cooling, but you don’t want to bring your bubbles out of your (Energy Saving Trust Recommended) fridge to a sweltering room, do you?

The report cites a raft of promising cooling approaches: solar air conditioning, direct cooling with water or snow and cooling with ground water, and heat pumps operating in reverse mode – and suggests cross-European policy to include renewable cooling more centrally.

But going back to our initial topic, and indeed our initial disclaimer, we have covered Champagne’s thinning glass, a whiskey/ electric car connection, and most recently, sustainability in beer brewing, so maybe it is high time we researched the soft drink industry’s sustainability policies for the next beverage-related blog…

Passiv impressive

We know a bit about sort out the best of the best from just the, well, best. The Energy Saving Trust Recommended scheme does this, skimming off the top percentile in energy performance and awarding the blue logo.

But how do you judge the best of the best of the best? This was the conundrum facing the judges of the first ever Passivhaus Awards. This is not just the upper percentile; there are only 30,000 or so Passivhaus buildings on earth at this point.

It’s all about highly stringent building energy standards involving extreme airtightness, thermal performance and mechanical ventilation to the point that some buildings built this way only cite a heated towel rail as their means of conventional heating (thanks to Passivhaus.org.uk for that killer final point.)

The awards were judged on criteria above on beyond the obvious really high energy efficiency and heat recovery. Cost per metre squared, the narrative of producing the building, and most importantly, feedback from the people living in or using them were considered in the judging.

So who scooped the prizes? Well, of most interest to the domestic energy efficiency sector, the architects Parsons + Whittley were victorious for a 14-house, £1.7million project in Wimbish, Essex. Clearly Passivhaus is the only way if you want to do things properly…

Back to sober and serious, you can view a presentation on the finer detail of this project right here.

The other winners were a school in Wolverhampton designed by Architype and an ambitious project by Bere Architects that took on the retrofit of the 120 year-old Mayville Community Centre to Passivhaus standard through extensive fabric improvements and triple-glazing.

Architects, often being forward-thinking times seeing the next curve in developments concerning the places we live, work and play, certainly seem to be seeing Passivhaus as a logical area of investment. There are scores of members signed up to the Passivhaus Trust – the guys who run these awards. You can imagine they’re all scheming on how to produce the best of the best of the best just in time for 2013’s ceremonials.

Green is all black and white

This is by no means the first football-related blog on here – and we hope there’s enough going on in the game as regards sustainability for it not to be the last.

We’ve done the oh-so controversial plastic pitch/ water efficiency debate, football’s fleets and plenty more. Now it’s the turn of the mighty magpies, Newcastle United.

It comes as no surprise that –arguably – the North East’s major football force has stepped up its green game. The region is the UK’s first Low Carbon Economic Area, with plans to boost renewables, electric car take-up and more.

But back to the footy. The club’s doing well for itself in terms of both carbon emissions reduction and tightening its belt to boot: it’s reached Carbon Trust Standard, and saved £200k on its energy bills, probably paying for at least two players’ weekly wages.

All joking aside, the savings are particularly encouraging, as they seem to show that smart energy management technology, as installed at the club’s training centre and academy, can deliver the real tangible benefits they’re going to need to as they become more ubiquitous in this country over the next few years.

There’s more innovation on show, including a 177-metre deep borehole for pitch irrigation, no less. But there’s no hint of resting on laurels, at least as far as Eddie Rutherford, Newcastle United facilities manager goes:

“Even though we have noticed huge savings over the last few years, there is still a lot of work to do, and I would urge all football clubs to look at how much they are using and ways they can cut down.”

It’s all very promising. But As Newcastle are just the fourth league club to achieve this standard, after Manchester United, Bolton Wanderers and Bradford City, there’s clearly a lot more the highest of the high-profile sports could be doing.

Quite simply, whether accepting it dilutes the soul of the game or not, football clubs are big companies like any other these days – with the same responsibility to set an example domestically and internationally. They can make sustainable business decisions for their own estate, but they can also help in disseminating the domestic energy efficiency message to their loyal fans – as Ipswich Town have proven.

As far as making some major changes goes, the ball is well and truly in the major football outfits’ court. Or perhaps pitch would be more appropriate.

Electric vehicles: in charge of a greener destiny?

According to a recent report, Europe may well have 4.1million electric car charging stations by 2020. Unfortunately, progress is currently being stymied a bit by some haggling about what plug to use on said chargers.

The matter-of-fact-titled Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment by Pike Research says that the lack of a singular agreed A/C charging connector may be a make or break factor – with the main schism between the Germans and the Italian/ French contingent. It does seem, though, that this issue is expected to be sorted eventually.

Germany has the biggest expected market for EVs, with France, the UK and Holland following. But for markets to flourish in each nation, the report urges more working together: consistent regulation and incentives unsurprisingly are strongly suggested.

There has been some steady progress UK-side of late: a twenty per cent rise in claims through the government’s Plug-in Car Grant this year compared to last. Indeed, 814 claims were made in the first half of 2012, while just 892 during the whole of 2012. While progress is steady on low-emissions vehicles in this country, few would doubt that it’s happening.

The first half of the year saw 99 claims through the Plug-in Van scheme, so it seems our green white van man has a little way to be fully convinced of the potential long-term cash and carbon savings of going electric.

The general theme here is things need to come together in order to achieve real cut-through for low-emissions vehicles. The more knowledge and information is shared, the more individuals and businesses can make informed decisions beyond sometimes sensationalism news reports. But then, maybe a little hype doesn’t hurt; a little celeb-endorsement maybe?

Leonardo Di Caprio is backing electric vehicles – albeit in the main, one that’s a bit more glamorous than a van – and one that you couldn’t get a cement mixer in. The star’s sustainability foundation has just teamed up with Fisker Automotive, makers of the high-end hybrid Karma luxury sports GT. Well, we mortals can dream…