Edinburgh’s Greener Festivals Promote Climate Justice

George Square at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Professor Joe Goldblatt

As 25,000 folk gather this week in the former industrial metropolis of Glasgow to sustain planet earth, only 40 miles to the east, there is a smaller village that is Scotland’s capital city where annually artists, producers, local government and business leaders and their audience members are also plotting ways to promote climate justice through our world leading annual festivals. Whilst we hope for success in Glasgow at CoP 26, I am putting my money on the event makers in Edinburgh for their ability to use their boundless creativity to find new ways to pour old wine into newly recyclable bottles.

Since 1947, when Sir Rudolf Bing recommended that the Edinburgh International Festival be held in Scotland’s historic capital city due to its dazzling scenic beauty and central location, audiences from all over the world have assembled in marquees, parks, and playhouses and in fact any location that could be granted an lucrative entertainment license by the City of Edinburgh Council. During the past 74 years this growing demand has resulted in criticism, some of which is justly deserved, due to the rapidly increasing commoditization of culture and the destruction of the natural environment in our city.

However, what is overlooked is that the Edinburgh festival makers have been quietly and firmly committed to developing greener and more sustainable festivals for many years. Starting with the Edinburgh International Book Festival in the early part of the twenty – first century, the city’s major festivals have committed to increasing reduction and recycling of waste and more recently re – using consumable items. This green influence has now expanded from the busy summer period to year round new practices such as the Capital Theatre’s deployment of reusable drinking cups for all of their performances.

Due to the pandemic, the festivals have been forced to reimagine and reinvent their events in ways that further support climate justice. The use of conveniently located outdoor marquees and hybrid on line events have significantly reduced the carbon footprint bringing events closer to audience members and therefore reducing travel distance which in turn reduces petrol consumption. Furthermore, many of these programmes have now begun to employ more local performers so that the carbon damage caused by long haul flights will be minimised as well.

Nearly three quarters of a century ago Sir Rudolf Bing looked up at the stately Edinburgh Castle and proclaimed that this shining city of many hills would be an ideal place to host festivals because of his ardent desire to have art, culture and scenic beauty seamlessly merge to create a platform for the flowering of the human spirit. Since that time organisations such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society have continually sought new opportunities such as in the twenty – first century embracing this ethos by creating the Sustainable Fringe Awards to encourage good green practice by producers and performers and in 2021 as they sought to resuscitate the world’s largest cultural arts festival they did so without millions of printed leaflets or a large printed programme.

The future hope for climate justice may be found just as strong on the ground in Edinburgh as in the meeting rooms of Glasgow as our event makers and their audiences commit to creating greener and more sustainable festivals to activate their own version of extinction rebellion through the visual arts, music, dance and drama. I am convinced that their commitment is one that is indeed sincere and therefore sustainable and that one day future generations will hail Scotland’s capital city as not only the home of the world’s largest arts festival but also the most beautiful place that throughout the year annually aspires to host the greenest events upon planet earth.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and is the author, co – author and editor of 40 books in the field of events management. For further information about his views about the Edinburgh Festivals visit www.joegoldblatt.scot

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