Cold Water

Code Green

A Comparative Look at Worldwide Cultural Policies for Green Events

by Sam Goldblatt

as published in the CSPA Quaterly/Fall 2009

In the Fall of 2008, London and New York, the two greatest theatre cities of the western world, simultaneously announced campaigns for reducing the negative environmental impacts of the respective   theatre industries in the West End and on Broadway.  In September, Mayor of London Boris Johnson revealed his 58-page, comprehensive Green Theatre plan, which was followed in November when New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg staged a press release for the Broadway Goes Green campaign, featuring green-colored characters from Broadway shows singing a newly composed show-tune for the campaign.  While they feature similar strategies of energy-efficient marquee lights, use of recycled materials in set construction, washing costumes in cold water and audience education, the two initiatives reflect the differences in the two governments.  Bloomberg’s campaign, which relies primarily on private companies and associations such as The Broadway League, serves partly as a publicity stunt to spark the stilted Broadway economy.     Johnson’s 58 pages of policy, on the other hand, which delve into far greater municipal detail in areas of carbon emissions and energy  efficiency, serve not as much to promote the West End as to regulate it.  

These twin initiatives reflect a growing trend to apply sustainable  standards, long established for the automobile and energy industries,   towards newer industries, namely those of the arts, events and tourism.  While there remains a dearth of policy regarding sustainability in the fine arts, policies concerning sustainable cultural events, such as festivals, large-scale performances and sporting events, continue to emerge    worldwide, providing a fertile area for analysis and cross-country comparison.  This article will examine the ways in which US policies toward    sustainable cultural events promote private enterprise and education, while UK policies deliver more thorough and far-reaching strategies for sustainability.

American Entrepreneurs

Bloomberg’s green Broadway initiative, with its musical celebrity launch and its website’s focus on press, bears the hallmarks of a publicity campaign designed to invigorate the Broadway (and New York) economy.  Broadway Goes Green capitalises on the “Creative Economy” trend promoted by sociologist Richard Florida, which has successfully convinced Mayors of America’s biggest cities to support major arts and cultural projects in order to drive their cities’ economic engines.  The rapidly rising trend towards green entrepreneurship promoted by President Obama in initiatives such as the Clean Energy Economy shares Florida’s emphasis on job creation and improved standards of living.  Both theories of the Creative  Economy and the Green Economy combine ethical pretenses (i.e. supporting culture and protecting the environment, respectively) with economic incentive, a strategy perfectly employed by Broadway Goes Green, which embraces both culture and the environment as tools to rebuild New York’s economy.

Independent campaigners Green Theater Initiative capture these twin trends of Florida’s Creative Economy and Obama’s Green Economy in an article bluntly titled, “Will the NEA Fund Green Arts Projects?” in which the $50   million awarded to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in a February economic stimulus bill is compared to the $100 billion reserved for environmental projects.  The article argues that:

“In this funding environment, it seems likely that any projects applying for federal funds, be they green projects or no, will be evaluated at least partly on the basis of their contribution to a new green economy, or, alternately, on their benefit to the environment or environmental education.”  (Banner 2009)

While the article eyes the new administration both optimistically and opportunistically, critics of the Creative Economy or the Green Economy theories might question why the intrinsic values of art, culture and the environment need   economic justification.  A Creative Economy, after all, reinforces the US government policy of “cultural Darwinism,” which Kevin Mulcahy argues causes harm to less lucrative but more beneficial arts institutions.  Why, for instance, has Bloomberg focused on Broadway, America’s most profitable commercial arts corridor, and not the many comparatively economically stagnant dance companies and concert halls in New York?  In the same vein, one might ask whether Broadway Goes Green seeks primarily to stimulate the economy or protect the environment.

While the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not yet generated policies toward theatre and the fine arts, they do provide guidance on Green Meetings (inclusive of cultural events), filed on their website somewhat incongruously under “Prevention, Pesticides & Toxic Substances.”  EPA guidance comes in the form of Blue Green Meetings, an interactive but simplified web-based guide to producing green events, consisting of 16 short pages, available at  Lacking mention of alternative energy, carbon offsetting and advice on implementing a green event plan, Blue Green Meetings provides modest tips which critics could easily describe as pandering to the establishment.  Hosted by Canada’s Oceans Blue Foundation and America’s Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC), Blue Green Meetings lists nine businesses and industry associations on its Advisory Committee, plus nine other    private funders as sponsors, showing a private sector audience somewhat divorced from the US Federal Government.  Created by and for professional meeting planners, Blue Green Meetings provides basic guidance as well as a wide range of further references and resources for green events, without challenging industry practices or seeking an audience beyond industry insiders.  By sponsoring the website, the EPA supports private research and initiatives   without creating its own; the US Government continues to act as facilitator to private sector schemes.

With Bloomberg’s forward-thinking public-private partnership Broadway Goes Green as a notable exception, the most successful US initiatives in green events, and those with the greatest influence on industry policy, tend to come from the private sector.  Live Earth, founded by Former Vice President Al Gore and mega-concert producer Kevin Wall,  produced the world’s largest green event to date with a 2007 concert series spanning 24 hours and seven continents, featuring the world’s most famous musicians and reaching around 2 billion people.  A private enterprise with a public policy agenda, Live Earth not only educated its massive worldwide audience on climate change and lobbied governments for environmental regulation, it created and implemented landmark green event policies.  The Live Earth    Environmental Guidelines, which, at 73 pages, even top Johnson’s Green Theatre document, provide a comprehensive guide to green event management so meticulous and authoritative as to render the EPA’s Blue Green Meetings obsolete.

Tackling special issues such as composting, restrooms, production design and artist management and providing a comprehensive guide to planning and implementing green initiatives at events, Live Earth’s Environmental Guidelines stand as the world’s authority in green event planning.  More than any article filed on a government website, the   private organisation Live Earth stands as the world’s most visible green event role model, and Environmental Director John Rego frames the Live Earth Environmental Guidelines as supplemental public policy:

“Even without local, national or international regulations, concert and event organizers are setting their own standards.  We designed this manual to act as a companion guide to your personal or governmental standards.”

By setting standards, raising benchmarks and policing industry practices, Live Earth takes a firmer, more proactive stance on green event policy than both the EPA and Mayor Bloomberg.

One must recall, however, that these Environmental Guidelines are ancillary to Live Earth’s most visible impact as a green event: education.  The Guidelines clearly state the mission of Live Earth “to trigger a mass movement, empower individuals to change their behaviors, and urge corporations and political leaders to enact decisive measures to   combat the climate crisis,” and the website measures this mission in terms of press, publicity and outreach.  Similarly, the Guidelines, written one month before the concerts and perhaps cognisant of the herculean task before them, set modest goals, instead emphasising the greater impact in the public discourse:

“It is the goal of Live Earth not only to implement a few of the solutions presented in this manual – and be a global low-impact, carbon neutral event – but to create a legacy that starts a conversation and shares best practices, lessons learned, and sets benchmarks that enables future events to continue to achieve further sustainable progress.”

While Live Earth has certainly invigorated the global conversation on climate change, its  impact on the events    industry is less direct: its Environmental Guidelines show no distribution plan, and, indeed, were only discovered via an internet search that opened a private page of the Live Earth website.  In fairness, Live Earth’s public site provides most of the same information in an accessible, 9-page Green Events Guidelines section which still rivals Blue Green Meetings in terms of detail.  Although commercial Green Events in the US continue to focus on audience education rather than detailed green regulation, they are still broadly more successful than meager government initiatives.

Green Britain

Perhaps in recognition of Live Earth’s limitations in shaping event industry policy, Rego, in the Environmental    Guidelines, anticipates the creation by the British Standards Institute (BSI) of a “Specification for a sustainable event management system with guidance for use,” known as BS 8901.  Indeed, many event professionals expect BS 8901 to bring authority and accreditation to the field of green events, because of BSI’s reputation as Britain’s National    Standards Body and the world’s leading authority on setting industry standards based on empirical data.  

As its title suggests, BS 8901 does not dictate specific Environmentally Friendly Practices (EFPs) but rather provides the specification and methodology for creating one’s own sustainable event management system.  Although unique EFPs are highlighted in areas including biodiversity, archaeology, equal opportunity and supply chain management, BS 8901 focuses on managerial tools such as defining objectives in terms of scope, performance level, criteria and consistency, using key performance indicators (KPI) to measure progress, and documenting results.  Charts are provided, including an “Outline structure for a sustainable development maturity matrix–guidelines for continual   improvement,” which shows how progress in areas of inclusivity, integrity, stewardship and transparency can be measured from “minimum involvement” to “full engagement.”  Most importantly, although it encourages gradually increasing EFPs, BS 8901 firmly states that sustainability “should be an integral part of the event management process, and not regarded as an ‘add-on’ component,” and that “its influence should extend throughout the entire supply chain.”

Rather than provide baseline advice, available elsewhere, on EFPs, BS 8901 targets the higher goal of redefining event management altogether with a new system and a new ethos.  Although the standard, at £120 per copy, is inaccessible for grassroots events, it attracts high profile companies such as Live Nation which seek industry prestige and competitive advantage.  In presenting Live Earth at Wembley Stadium in 2007, Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert producer, became an early adopter of BS 8901.  Live Nation Production Manager Andy Pearson frames the decision in terms of savvy business advantage:

“Sustainability might not be a massive issue now but I think in the next few years it will become one. If you fail to do something now, you will find yourself in a position of scrambling to catch up, or simply out of business.”

Pearson reflects a desire to stay at the forefront of his industry and in good standing with government policy, values shared by the other high-profile implementers of BS 8901 thus far, which include professional conference organisers EC&O, sports venue the Lord’s Cricket Ground, and major arts event the Manchester International Festival.

Other major event producers, however, see BS 8901 as an opaque document typical of UK bureaucracy.  Ben Challis, lawyer for the renowned Glastonbury Festival, co-founded the organisation A Greener Festival in 2006 as an informational resource and an awards scheme to promote and validate outstanding Green Events.  He was unimpressed by an early copy of BS 8901, saying that, “It was the most appalling document I had ever seen.  Fifty pages of nonsense and a really good spreadsheet.  It was unreadable, and we knew full well that no small festival would ever use it at that stage.  It is bureaucratic.  It provides the processes, and that is what British Standards can be like.”

Going beyond a standard criticism of government bureaucracy, Challis argues that BS 8901 was created in a vacuum, without proper input from actual producers of Green Events.  While the well-documented BS 8901 Case Studies show BSI seeking practical experience to improve the standard, it remains unlikely that the document will target smaller festivals.  Instead, the document is being refined to serve a greater geopolitical purpose, what event scholars term a “mega event,” the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Developed specifically within a timeframe to provide the Olympic Games with a world-class standard for sustainable events with proven results, BS 8901 plays a critical part in London 2012’s ambitious Sustainability Plan.  This Plan, a December 2008, 36-page update of which is downloadable from the London 2012 website, begins by noting that,  “Sustainability has been a central theme of London 2012 since the beginning of the bid to host the Games.”  Thus does London 2012, and the government supporting it, position the UK in line with “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” as sustainable development was first defined in the UN document Our Common Future, or “an enduring, balanced approach to economic activity, environmental responsibility and social progress,” as it is defined by BSI.  The fact that this ethical and environmental theory takes precedence over any economic or political goal in the London 2012 plan represents a milestone for Green Events and for the Olympic Games.

London 2012 takes a broad view of sustainability, including five areas that London 2012 seeks to impact: Climate Change, Waste, Biodiversity, Inclusion and Healthy Living.  Of these initiatives, each of which is outlined in detail over several pages, only Inclusion, which focuses on regeneration and access, mentions explicit economic or political    interests.  The other initiatives, which include a carbon footprinting study, construction of new habitats for wildlife, a National Skills Academy and a free swimming initiative, are designed not for short-term economic gain but for long-term social growth.

The London 2012 Sustainability Plan constantly refers to its Legacy, the final phase of the Plan based on the concept that sustainable development should benefit future generations.  It is only here, in the UK Government’s Legacy Action Plan, that economic and political ambitions arise: in the last of five promises that otherwise cover regeneration and sustainability, the government aspires toward “Demonstrating the UK is a creative, inclusive and welcoming place to live in, visit and for business.”  Whereas political and economic ambition often rule a country’s Olympic Games    policies, it clearly takes a modest, ancillary role in London 2012.  With sustainability as a guiding priority, the long-term, government-sponsored initiatives in its Sustainability Plan, and the prodigious generation of policies such as BS 8901, London 2012, which reflects the UK government’s outstanding commitment to sustainability, aspires to become a landmark Green Event and a blueprint for others to come.

One World

If London 2012 promises a proactive approach, Beijing 2008 began on the defense, combatting the city’s reputation as a smog-infested center for polluting industries.  In “Smog and Mirrors: China’s Plan for a Green Olympics,” Spencer Reiss articulates the geopolitical and economic incentives behind Beijing’s environmental plan:

“The Olympics are China’s coming-out party, payback for smug Westerners and a victory lap for the Godzilla of the global economy. The stone-cold suits who run China Inc. don’t want the celebration spoiled by smogged-out skylines or marathoners in face masks.”

Although in many ways it serves to distract from China’s increasing role as the world’s largest polluter, the Beijing 2008 environmental plan does deliver significant green outcomes for China as well as advancements in the field of green event policy.  Beijing 2008 not only installed cutting-edge sustainable features in their spectacular new venues, such as the Bird’s Nest stadium’s “rainwater-capture system” and the Water Cube’s “high-efficiency thermal polymer skin,” they also created the “Green Olympics, Green Action” initiative to teach citizens EFPs and created greenspace on 74 Beijing rooftops.  

However, far from London 2012’s environmental legacy, which looks 150 years into the future, Beijing 2008 exploited the short-term strategies of temporarily shutting down construction and relocating factories outside the city.  While Beijing 2008’s environmental plan enhanced the Olympic Games and benefited Chinese citizens, it clearly does not reflect a long-term policy shift toward sustainability in China. 

As a point of comparison to China’s bombastic yet shallow green events policies, the Canadian government continues to produce quiet yet comprehensive, world-leading policies in green events.  Environment Canada’s 2007 Green    Meetings Guide combines the EFPs of Blue Green Meetings with BS 8901’s strategic management systems into a  comprehensive guide to managing sustainable events.  Written completely by the government and thus reflecting   Canadian policy, the Green Meetings Guide takes a practical approach to green events, defining them as those      ensuring, “that all aspects … including its location, food services, transportation and the provision of materials are  approached with pollution prevention in mind in order to reduce its environmental impact.”  Unlike London 2012, with its ambitious social agenda incorporating issues such as regeneration and healthy living, Canada focuses on the more practical, and more feasible environmental issues.


Government documents such as Environment Canada’s Green Meetings Guide provide the most accurate view of a government’s official policy and values towards green events.  Green Meetings Guide provides a complete, practical guide to all environmental issues in event management, reflecting Canada’s serious valuation of environmental protectionism.  Both the UK and US provide similar, but much simpler, publications for download on their government websites.  The UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published a Sustainable events guide  in 2007, which takes the broad UK definition of sustainability to advise event managers on EFPs within the areas of transport, venue, catering, preparation, social wellbeing, raising awareness and evaluation.  The US EPA’s corresponding document, It’s Easy Being Green! has not been updated since 1996, and provides more basic advice on waste management, procurement and education.

Like the green theatre initiatives put forth for London and New York, these two documents reflect national values.  It’s Easy Being Green! boosters entrepreneurs with promises of cost savings and competitive advantage, while emphasising green education as a core value.  Sustainable events guide, on the other hand, lays out a more far-reaching and well-rounded set of EFPs which are advocated for their inherent ethical merits.  As all three documents from the US, UK and Canada mention their application to internal government meetings and events, they should be taken to reflect strict government policy.  

As David Hesmondhalgh notes, however, policy, especially when intertwined with terms like culture and sustainability, can be expressed in many ways, events being one of the most visible and memorable methods for communicating policy.  Live Earth reflects the American entrepreneurial approach while inspiring and anticipating Green Events as a major growth industry.  London 2012 promises to raise global standards for green events while triumphantly aligning the UK with the ethics of sustainable development.  If the US and UK governments can meaningfully interact both with each other and with the world-leading producers behind these Green Events, perhaps more effective, practical and supportive Green Event policy will emerge.