Industry Op-Ed

Why Sustainable Festivals are the Future

Leo Kotlyar
Written by

Leo Kotlyar

Oct 9, 2020

4 min read

Art With Me FestivalArt With Me Festival

Photo courtesy of Art With Me

Electronic music festivals and the sustainability movement have one thing in common: the demographic. According to Wageningen University, the average age range for an electronic music festival-goer is 21-26 years old. Generation Z (Gen Z), the segment of the population born between 1995 and 2010, has an equal penchant for beats and bass lines as they do for saving the Planet.

This generation grew up on the Internet, having access to all available data at the push of a button. Their school curriculums included climate change, increased cultural/historical awareness and diversity training, which has produced the most empathetic and socially conscious demographic to date.

More importantly, Gen Z already comprise one-third of the world's population - and command a staggering $145 billion in buying power. This growing segment is big business for electronic music organizers. Greta Thunberg, famous for her “School Strike for Climate” campaign, represents the majority of Gen Z values. Yet most of her peers voice their activism in subtler ways - with their wallets.

According to a Cone Communications research study, nine out of ten Gen Z'ers worry about the health of the Planet, and 94% of them believe that businesses must address these issues head on.

The same study confirms that 89% of young adults born after 1995 would rather buy from a company addressing social or environmental issues over one that is not. A whopping 92% would switch brands to one associated with a good cause, given similar price and quality. Which brings us back to the sustainability movement, and the lack of clarity surrounding it.

Sustainability as a word is both misleading and self-explanatory. It is misleading in that our meme-driven, sound-byte media often limits sustainability to environmental factors only. Yet it is self-explanatory, given that the word itself is all-encompassing; sustainability is the quality of being able to continue over a period of time. Prolonging our health, abundant communities, pristine environments, quality food and water, good governance, and a fair social order are all equally important. For this reason, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) comprise 17 different aspects of a sustainable future.  

Understanding this relationship between Gen Z consumers and the full spectrum of their core values is crucial for the future of electronic music festivals. This is an opportunity to create a differentiated experience that appeals not only to the largest demographics’ tastes, but also to their vision and values. Never before has the electronic music consumer had this much choice. The Netherlands, largely hailed as the mecca of electronic music festivals, has over 400 festivals alone.

Read more: Industry Op-Ed: Festivals & Philanthropy: It’s Time To Do Better

Not all festivals are created equal, however. While sustainability has been a buzzword in the festival scene for several years, few event organizers have gone the full monty. The Dutch festival DGTL (produced by Apenkooi Events) is hailed as the gold standard of festival sustainability, routinely winning the coveted AGF (A Greener Festival) title. But AGF's attention is focused only on environmental issues - largely ignoring many of the UN’s SDG goals.

To best align with the Gen Z consumer, festivals must authentically embrace the full definition of sustainability and meet their consumers at their value-point. They must use creative revenue and budgeting approaches to justify higher upfront production costs - knowing they will retain their patrons, as well as their rapidly increasing spending power.

20% of festival patrons are considered hard-core fans. This group attends 3x more festivals than their peers and spends an average of $91 more per show. Engaging these super fans at their core will not only monetize, but it will also lead to network multiplier-effect value through viral marketing.

Gen Z are not only value-driven consumers; they also love to blast their socials when they find a brand that aligns with their values. Statistically speaking, the mobile generation head straight to their social media to promote positive and empowering experiences. 87% of them are likely to share and give praise to a company aligned with their beliefs. So, while sourcing local/organic/plant-based food and providing beverages in non-plastic containers may (at-a-glance) seem out of budget...festival organizers should see the value-add of long term alignment and viral marketing as well worth it.

According to festival patrons, one of the top reasons for attending such events is to escape reality. Perhaps if the reality of our current world seems grim - with rampant pollution, environmental degradation, wasteful use of food and water resources, inequitable treatment of women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community - festivals have a unique opportunity to cultivate inspiring alternative realities. Envisioning a world in which those issues truly don't exist, where a more utopian existence is possible - if only for a weekend.

If we regard festivals as microcosms of our civilization - encompassing the same aspects of transportation, energy, education, innovation, food/water and waste to name a few - then there is no better test case to prove what is possible. Festivals can plant seeds of awareness and hope that one-day will blossom into the sustainable world that we all dream of.

Leo Kotlyar is the founder and president of DéWarrior Unlimited B.V., a strategy and sustainability consulting company working to transform the way businesses grow through scalable sustainable development.

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