From waste management to fan travel and food and beverage (F&B), there are many ways that venues can make an impact and be more sustainable in the way they operate. In this blog we share four key areas of consideration.
As together we work towards the global delivery of net zero, initiatives like these are crucial not only for the environment – they are also good for business.
A venue that is proactively and credibly operating as sustainably as possible presents opportunities for sponsors and rights-holders alike. Brands are eager to partner with venues and businesses that have sustainable goals and are taking legitimate actions to achieve them.
Tens of millions of disposable cups end up in landfill each year. Even those disposed of correctly have high carbon footprints resulting from their production, transport and necessary recycling.
While moving towards compostable paper cups is a big step forward, the science is clear that reusables are the best solution available, both in terms of minimising waste and reducing carbon emissions. However, weening ourselves off disposables will involve commitment from event organisers and a mindset change amongst fans who are used to flimsy disposables.
Leading the way in this area are our three venues in Germany: Mercedes-Benz Arena (see pictures below) and Verti Music Hall in Berlin and Barclays Arena in Hamburg.
Working with their catering and bar partners, a stock of reusable cups has been purchased and in-house washing machines installed to allow for the processing of all cups. These enable our venues in Berlin and Hamburg to operate completely closed-loop systems, which have already saved over 1.1million cups from disposal since their introduction in January 2023. Keeping washing processes on-site has also removed the need for carbon-intensive deliveries and recycling pick-ups.
However, getting the mechanics of the system correct is only part of the solution. All communications and incentives also need to be reviewed to ensure the smooth functioning of the process.
Clear labelling both on the cups and around the venue is key. Fans need to know exactly what is required of them and understand the importance of doing the right thing before they can be expected to make a change to their behaviour. It is also recommended to avoid branding cups to reduce the temptation for fans to sneak them out as souvenirs.
Finally, financial levies can be deployed to incentivise the return of cups if your venue can facilitate the smooth functioning of such a system (for example, if you handle cash, it makes it much easier to refund the levy directly to the consumer).
Even if you don’t have space for a full in-house washing system, there are several companies who provide a full-service washing system for venues now. For example, AEG Presents’ UK venue the Eventim Apollo has regular deliveries of reusable cups which are used for all events. Used cups are then picked up, washed elsewhere and replaced with new ones for each show.
When engaging systems like this, it is important to consider how far the washing facilities are from your venue. Generally, anything under 50km from the venue will be considered a worthwhile trip to ensure that the system is better for the environment than continuing to use disposables of any sort.
2. Fan travel
Fan travel is the largest single contributor to the carbon footprint of major events. It is also one of the hardest things to tackle. Ultimately, until the transport system is decarbonised, achieving net zero in this area will be a challenge. However, there are many levers to pull that can help.
First and foremost, collecting data on how your fans travel to you and where they come from is paramount. This can be done via incentivised surveys (online or offline). Once you have an accurate picture, it will be much clearer what your impact is and where you should focus your efforts. If, for example, you have a high percentage of fans travelling by car from one specific area, could you look to charter a lower-carbon coach service to cater for these fans?
It is also important not to forget the obvious, and ensure you have adequate safe bike racks to encouraging the most environmentally friendly of all transport options.
Local authorities are crucial partners in tackling transport emissions. Liaising with them to increase public transport during busy times can have a huge impact on the type of transport fans choose, but it is not the only thing to consider.
Perhaps it is possible for you to offer public transport tickets during the purchase process, or maybe those arriving by train, bus, bike or foot could receive extra perks on-site (for example, discounted drinks, money-can’t-buy spot prizes).
Even with all these policies in place, it is likely that the car will remain a popular mode of transport for many fans and the impact will still need to be addressed.
Encouraging car sharing with additional perks for those who do this could be an option, but it is also important to consider increasing the number and prioritising the positioning of EV charging points. The perception that there are not enough charging points is consistently noted as a barrier to uptake of the technology, so visibility in busy venues can help address this.
It may also be an idea to consider adding a parking tax. Not only will this act as a discouragement for drivers, but also provide you with a pot of money to fund carbon-reduction projects across your venue.
3. Waste management
It is vital to understand exactly what is brought into your venue and what leaves. Identifying and measuring purchases and materials will allow you to better understand how to excel in waste management and make an appropriate plan.
Once you have an idea of your in and outgoings, you can follow the principles of the waste hierarchy to ensure as little material as possible is considered ‘waste’:
- PREVENT: Buy and use less overall. Ask the question – does this material NEED to be purchased, or can we get away with not using it at all? Remember, every item purchased will have a carbon footprint.
- REPAIR / REUSE: Keep materials in use for longer by reusing and repurposing materials instead of sourcing new.
- RECYCLE: Make sure you send materials to the correct end-destinations to ensure top-quality recycling and to keep your waste streams segregated (more on this below).
If you cannot avoid an item ending up as ‘waste’, it is essential to ensure it is dealt with by responsible waste and recycling companies. To do this, the item needs to be segregated into a pure waste stream (for example, cardboard, glass, plastic and food streams) and sent to a destination that can deal with it appropriately.
Accurately segregating your waste into clean, pure streams for processing is essential for improving recyclability rates. As a large proportion of your materials will be handled and disposed of by fans, for example, cups, serveware and food, enabling them to easily play their part is hugely important. Bins should be clearly signposted in public areas, with colour coding and graphics leaving no room for misunderstanding or error.
Where possible, serveware should be reusable, but this is not often an easy solution in busy areas. The next best option is to ensure that all food trays and serveware are compostable so they can end up in the same bin as food waste and turned into useful compost with minimal greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the process.
This is an initiative we have been running at The O2 and across our festival network and it has resulted in cleaner waste streams and higher composting rates. At The O2 we even have a wormery (pictured above) and eco-digester that means we can process our food waste on-site. This reduces the need for additional waste trucks, saving both money and carbon emissions while ensuring that our waste is processed in the most efficient and safe manner possible.
Recent research has suggested that emissions associated with food and beverages at events could account for up to a third of an event’s carbon footprint. While the focus in recent years has often been on the cup or the serveware in which the F&B is served, it is now clear that we also need to focus on the physical products that fans are consuming.
Meat, especially beef and dairy, has the highest carbon footprint of all foods, so a great place to start is assessing the volume of these items sold at the venue and substituting them for lower-carbon items, such as chicken and plant-based milks.
Simple initiatives such as Meat-Free-Mondays for your staff catering, or redesigning menus so that vegetarian and vegan options are placed in prime positions, can have a big impact. It is also important not to ‘other’ vegetarian and vegan items by placing them in other areas of the menu from meat items.
At The O2 we have removed the beef burger from our menus and have also assessed the carbon footprint of our recipes so we can display this information on menus and empower consumers with the information they need to make the best possible choices.
For Billie Eilish’s recent residency at The O2, we went entirely vegan across all our menus and saved a total of 14,000kg of carbon. We received huge fan support, as well as an increase in food sales. This is evidence that, when communicated in the right way, these initiatives can be a success on many fronts.
Approximately 8-10% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste alone, so it’s extremely important to consider ways to drive this down. Ensuring buffets are replaced with pre-orders can have a huge impact, as can partnering with a company like Olio, who collect edible food and distribute it to those in need. For unavoidable waste, it is important to consider composting, as mentioned in the Waste Management section above.
Finally, speak to your beverage partners to see if they can provide you with a carbon footprint for the products you are serving across the bar. Not only will this allow you to understand the full impact of your operations, it will also empower you to compare different brands effectively and partner with those with lower emissions data.
Creating competition between brands is one of the most effective tools for accelerating the path to net zero, so this is a very powerful tool to wield.
Exploring new solutions: the world’s first carbon-removed event
We have recently announced that we will be hosting the world’s first carbon-removed events at The O2. Taking place at The 1975’s headline shows in February 2024, each of these pilot events will see the world-famous venue remove over 100 tonnes of residual carbon emissions. This helps us to reduce the impact of the event while also funnelling funds into growing a new industry that will be vital for the global delivery of net zero.
Working closely with A Greener Future on how to best quantify and reduce the emissions resulting from live events, and with carbon removal experts CUR8, we will be using a wide-ranging portfolio of technologies to physically extract the carbon generated by the events from the atmosphere and durably store it out of harm’s way.
The perfect large-scale, carbon-free event does not currently exist, but while the industry continues to innovate and improve to reduce emissions to their lowest possible level, carbon removals will remain an important piece of the puzzle.
As a world-leading venue, we have a responsibility to create a path for real change, and it is our hope that this event will not only deliver the same best-in-class experience that fans expect at The O2, but also one that supports vital climate work and is better for the planet.
While this is just one avenue in our sustainability strategy, and just one of many solutions we are exploring, we believe it is going to be a game-changing initiative, not just for us but for the whole industry.
- For more information visit the AEG Global Partnerships website