You might think that The Edinburgh Festival (which is actually made up of several festivals running simultaneously) is inherently un-green. After all visitors fly in from all over the world to walk the streets being handed hundreds of flyers from performers who want them to come to their brightly lit, air-conditioned venues to see something that ultimately could have been broadcast on youtube to save all the bother.
But to dismiss it in this way is a touch naive, not to mention a little mean-spirited. The various Edinburgh Festivals, which began in 1947, are a national institution which bring millions of pounds to the local economy and offer businesses in the area a lifeblood without which they may well not survive. The festivals provide visitors who make the journey an unforgettable cultural experience which quite simply cannot be found elsewhere. The history of the city, combined with the huge variety of performing arts on display makes for an awesome spectacle. Combine this with the nightly Tornado fly past and burst of fireworks which (trust me) make the old city buildings rattle and you have something very special.
But there is an impact from all this on the environment and there are therefore important questions which the organisers have to answer. Fortunately I was in a position to find out some of the answers at an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last Thursday where I spoke to Andrew Coulton, chair of the environmental committee and administrative director of the Book Festival.
Andrew spoke to a group of us who had been invited to look behind the scenes. He discussed the efforts being made to minimise the environmental impact of the various activities involved with the festivals. He showed us behind the scenes so we could see for ourselves that what they are doing to reduce their impact is substantial and wide-ranging.
The measures include:
- Long lasting low-power LED lighting for some performances.
- Replacing chemical toilets with traditional water toilets (by plumbing into the mains)
- Placing recycling bins at every bin point.
- Providing a water stand for refilling water bottles.
- Purchasing long-lasting FSC certified outdoor furniture for the rest areas.
- Encouraging sustainable material use by all suppliers.
- Obtaining reclaimed furniture from local sources.
- Choosing local suppliers where possible.
- Using local food in events.
- Re-using signage.
- Re-using marquee tents.
- Sending old carpet to a re-use scheme for low-income households.
- Recovering all recyclable waste on-site (we saw the area set aside for this and it was impressive to note that they actually go through bins to take out things that visitors put in the wrong bin).
- Changing the wiring in the book shop to allow all staff to turn off light switches (rather than using the traditional junction box which would be difficult for staff to access).
- Providing eco-friendly toys in the children’s play area.
- Providing transport advice on the website in order of most sustainable, with walking directions first.
All in all it was difficult to see where else Andrew could make improvements as he seemed to have used the principles of the waste hierarchy to reduce, reuse and recycle wherever he could. I should point out that he also provided us with a range of locally made food for lunch and a glass of wine. I therefore was particularly easy to please on the tour. But even with the benefit of hindsight I remain impressed by their achievements.
It is reassuring that those at the centre of planning the festival each year take their responsibilities seriously.