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Interview: The Making of the Sustainability Toolkit for Mexican Festivals

After the successful launch of the sustainability toolkit for Mexican Festivals, AGF’s director Teresa Moore and co-author answers a few questions on how it all came about and the work that went into it. 

1.How did the collaboration with the British Council to create a toolkit for Mexican festivals come about?

In many ways this project was a perfect fit for AGF as we are uniquely placed  with both the practical on the ground experience of working with very many festivals and events around the world as well as the knowhow to apply that experience to a training format both live and online.The project was in two parts, the first  to deliver an online training programme for 30 Mexican Festivals and the second  to develop a sustainability toolkit for festival managers. The training lasted 4 weeks and ended with an online bilingual conference which discussed solutions and problems of implementing change at festivals.

The second part of the project was the development of the Sustainability Tool kit for festival managers. Designed to be both user friendly and packed with information and advice, the toolkit provides a comprehensive review of all of the key areas important for making events greener as well as real case studies and checklists that the festival organiser can use for their events”

2.Why is it important to share knowledge and create guidance like this for the festival industry in other countries?

At AGF we have always believed that sharing knowledge is an important part of helping events and festivals to reduce their environmental impact. We have learned so much from our work globally since we started more than 15 years ago and believe that we can’t move forward with greening our events and festivals if we constantly have to reinvent the wheel. This is why the knowledge shared in this toolkit is so important

3.What are the challenges faced by festivals in Mexico that are different to Europe and other countries?

 To be honest this was very much an unknown at the start of the project so right at the beginning we asked the Mexican festivals about the challenges they faced in making their events greener so that we could better understand the context in which they are working.

As it turned out there were many similarities to the UK and European experience such as lack of infrastructure options for dealing with festival waste. The differences though tended to be more about how far along the journey they were in making their festivals more environmentally friendly.  Some of the innovations we are now used to seeing in the UK and Europe such as smart power provision, circular cup systems and the focus on data collection and measurement were quite new to Mexican festivals. These aspects together with much more have been included in the toolkit.

4. How long does it take to create such a piece of work like this?

It does take many weeks of work to create something like this although it did help that the training materials already developed could be used to form a structure and provide the core information. On top of this though the whole toolkit had to be translated and put into a visual format that is easy to follow and use.

 5. You mention that today’s festival needs to be viewed as an ecosystem of sustainable practices where every aspect of the event supports its sustainability goals.  Can you explain more about what you mean by that?

 Yes. I strongly believe that we can no longer think of the operations involved in organising our festivals as separate from each other. For example, in the past the industry has tended to deal with the issues of waste as an on-site problem which happens during the event.  In fact, the waste at an event is a problem that is often created before the event even starts. The decisions made at the planning stage regarding things like materials usage, the type and quantity of food brought in by food traders, contracts with sponsors and brand activations, those and many more decisions can all impact on the amount of waste at the event. This means that solutions need to be those that build in consideration of potential waste streams which stem from our event planning decisions at the very beginning. Really every aspect of the event needs to be scrutinised for its impact on the environmental sustainability of the event.

6.How important are Festivals in influencing audiences and bringing the conversation of sustainability and climate change to their audiences? 

Festivals as we know are great places for innovation and experimentation and for those audiences who are open to this and can be engaged with the issues of climate change, they can have a profound influence in changing behaviours. Around the world we have some fine examples of festival organisers who are totally committed to greener practices along with their very engaged audiences.

However not all audiences are the same.  Research has shown that for some audiences’ innovations at festivals will not have much effect because those audience members are not engaged. I have seen this in my own research into festival tent waste and changing behaviour. So a greater understanding of what motivates behaviour change needs to be developed so that festivals can introduce the right tools for their particular audience to achieve that change to greener behaviours.