Edinburgh International Festival to cut back use of overseas performers to reduce carbon footprint

The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) has set a series of targets for reducing its environmental impact to try to cut the event’s carbon footprint by 70 per cent by 2030.

Sunday, 4th July 2021, 4:55 am

The event's leaders have vowed to reduce travel emissions from visiting performers and companies by 25 per cent from pre-pandemic levels when it returns in full next year.

They are also committed to further cuts of 10 per cent each following year on the environmental impact of its artistic programme, as part of a drive for the festival to become a completely “net zero" event by 2045.

Organisers have also pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions across all of the festival’s organisational operations by 2030.

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The Usher Hall is usually one of the festival's main venues. Picture: Clark James
The Usher Hall is usually one of the festival's main venues. Picture: Clark James

Using the 12-month period in the run-up to the cancellation of the 2020 event as a “baseline” for its targets, the festival has pledged to cut staff travel emissions by 50 per cent by 2022, the 75th anniversary of the event, and reduce them by 20 per cent in each following year.

Festival organisers say they will be working to instil “sustainability best practice” in all of the venues, companies, orchestras and individual artists the event will be working with in future.

Other key pledges for the run-up to 2030 – when Edinburgh is aiming to be a “net-zero” carbon city – include reducing energy emissions by 30 per cent year, reducing emissions from water consumption by 20 per cent each year, and adopting a carbon offsetting scheme.

The festival has also pledged to reduce all freights from transporting freight by 20 per cent from pre-pandemic levels by next year and by 10 per cent in each subsequent year.

The Edinburgh International Festival is based at The Hub on the Royal Mile. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

The EIF has unveiled the commitments in a new sustainability policy and action plan months after the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society became one of the first signatories to sign a new city pledge aimed at sparking “radical action” on climate change.

Key commitments from the Fringe Society, which does not run any venues, include cutting its paper usage by a third and reducing the number of paper tickets produced by its box office to become a “print light” festival.

Festivals Edinburgh, which oversees the running of the city’s flagship cultural events, has published a carbon reduction route map with the aim of trying to ensure that all venues in the city become “close to zero” for emissions by 2037 by the latest.

The EIF’s wide-ranging environmental blueprint states: “We’re so proud of the role we play in enabling audiences from across the world to discover thrilling art at the Edinburgh International Festival, yet we recognise that the international nature of our work has an environmental impact.

"That’s why we have embedded sustainable initiatives at the heart of everything we do to help create a brighter future for Scotland and beyond.

"Our ambitious targets are driven by an urgent need for global change and our desire to be recognised as an industry leader in sustainability."

The festival’s new sustainability action plan states: “International travel is integral to our identity as an organisation and will always be at the heart of our artistic programme.

"However, in order to achieve our ambitions targets, we will embrace new models of working with companies and orchestras, such as extended festival residencies, to lower our overall carbon impact and intensity.

"Artist residencies and the associated increase in engagement activity will benefit our audience and local communities as well as having a significant impact on our carbon emissions.

"As the world’s leading performing arts festival, we will use our sphere of influence with partner venues, companies, orchestras and individual artists to instil best practice in environmental sustainability from inception to delivery of our festival.

"This will include a sustainable procurement policy, climate engaged programming, partnership working across operations and influencing our audiences where possible.”

Roy Luxford, programme director at the festival, said: “The Edinburgh International Festival is an unparalleled celebration of the performing arts and an annual meeting point for people of all nations.

"Every year, during August the International Festival presents a programme featuring finest performers and ensembles from the worlds of dance, opera, music and theatre.

"We recognise the impact that our activities can have on the environment and are committed to reducing these impacts by setting and achieving clearly defined objectives and targets, as well as developing frameworks to achieve continual improvement.

“Driven by an urgent need for global change, our Sustainability Policy and Carbon Reduction Plan sets out our ambitious targets for the next decade.

"We are committed to reach net-zero carbon emissions across our organisational operations by 2030 and across our artistic programme by 2045, in line with the City of Edinburgh Council and Scottish and UK government targets respectively.”

The EIF has signed up to the Edinburgh Climate Compact, which was launched in December last year as part of efforts to ensure the city can reach its 2030 target of net zero emissions.

The six founding signatories were the Fringe Society, the NatWest Group, NHS Lothian, the Robertson Group, the city council and Edinburgh University.

In a blog post earlier this year, Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy wrote: “As a representative from 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 ten years.

"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.”