BLOG: The Fringe’s blueprint for a more sustainable festival

Mon, 02/01/2021 - 20:21

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society is proud to be a founding signatory of the Edinburgh Climate Compact, led by the Edinburgh Climate Commission.

The Edinburgh Climate Compact is a commitment by the leading businesses and employers in Scotland’s Capital to take action within their own organisation and sectors to contribute to a green recovery and radically reduce the city’s carbon emissions.

As a representative form the cultural sector, we are committing to direct, urgent, positive action on carbon reduction and sustainable practice, and this will be a guiding principle of the Society over the next 10 years.

A plan for change

Back in 2017, the Society published The Fringe Blueprint. Inspired by the ethos and drive of the original eight companies who started the world-famous Fringe, this statement of intent features eight firm commitments to influence and inform our work until 2022 (the Fringe’s 75th anniversary).

Of course, little did we know then how much the world would change in 2020. We couldn’t have imagined a Fringe-less August for the first time in 73 years, nor what it would mean to live and work in the reality of a devastating global pandemic. But amidst all the change, unease and uncertainty, the blueprint has remained a driving force for positive work, particularly around one of our most important commitments: to reduce the festival’s carbon footprint and champion initiatives that limit our impact on the environment.

 Broadly, we’re splitting this commitment into four core areas of implementation:

  1. Embedding environmental, economic and social sustainability across our own core business
  2. Communicating our goals and practical work to venues, artists and partners
  3. Providing Fringe participants with tools to ensure their work considers the impact on the environment.
  4. And working with city and government partners to advocate for and accelerate infrastructural changes needed to fully realise carbon reduction.

Leading by example

The Fringe Society is the charity that underpins the Fringe, and as such, we have a role to play in supporting change across the wider festival. It’s crucial that we lead by example with our approach to sustainability. Just some of the measures we have taken within our day-to-day operations include:

  • Significantly reducing print, both for internal use and across marketing materials. For example, the print run for the Fringe programme has reduced by 45,000 over the last two years, and we will continue our trajectory towards a print-light festival, and we’ve deployed laptops and energy efficient machines to reduce our office paper and energy usage.
  • Reducing our Society waste and recycling, while working with our partners and the city council on a city-wide initiative to ensure accessible signage for recycling.
  • Introducing a procurement process for staff travel to ensure the most sustainable mode of transport can be sourced.
  • Looking at our energy suppliers. 60% of our energy used is renewable energy from Good Energy, and we’re looking at switching to carbon neutral gas from Ecotricity when our current contract comes to an end.
  • Committing to vegetarian food at all our events and continuing to work with suppliers to procure ethical and local products and to minimise plastic and carbon in the delivery chain.
  • Minimizing air travel while maintaining our gobal reach from our own office. This involves learning and developing from our digital offering and ensuring that our marketing campaign is underpinned by the mantra of engaging existing audiences with the Fringe.

Supporting wider change

The actions listed above are by no means exhaustive and offer only a snapshot of the day-to-day operational changes which can make a big difference. In addition to this, we are always open to conversations with our participants and venues about how to be as sustainable as possible. This involves:

  • Promoting and sharing best practice with and between participants and venues (we now have 75 venues signed up to the Green Arts Initiative, with a number of Fringe venues leading the way in how to present work sustainably).
  • Launching the #QuickFlyer campaign on social media which provided Fringe performers the ability to digitally pitch their shows, in return reducing the use of paper flyers.
  • Launching Fringe Swap Shop, which is held at Fringe Central over the last three days of the Fringe, to encourage the recycling and reuse of props and unwanted materials.
  • Hosting Fringe Food Bank, where we encourage venues and participants to donate any unwanted food to a Food Bank collection point Fringe Central.
  • Encouraging paper recycling, by asking venues to inform their companies how they can dispose of unused flyers/posters with us.
  • Developing two Sustainability Toolkits in partnership with Creative Carbon Scotland. These are designed to recognise those achieving the highest level of sustainability with the toolkits providing online recognition and signage that the venues can display.
  • Building on the work and committing to change

Every action, idea and suggestion listed here is a positive start, but we know there is so much more to do. We’re working towards Edinburgh, Scotland and the UK’s net-zero future, and that means promising to reflect on everything we’re doing and continually committing to better it.

Since the Blueprint was produced, the Society has updated our commitments to align with Scottish Government and City of Edinburgh 2030 targets. And now, as we look to build a Fringe for the future, we’re as committed as ever to putting climate action at the very core of our work.


By Shona McCarthy, Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society Chief Executive

Image credit: Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society / David Monteith-Hodge.