Sustainable Venues and Eco-themed Shows at Edinburgh's Festivals

By Amanda Grimm, Environmental Sustainability Officer, Festivals Edinburgh

Think about sustainability at festivals, and what comes to mind is normally waste reduction and single-use plastic. Edinburgh’s August festivals are making progress in these areas, through initiatives including the Fringe Swap Shop and Food Bank, a trial of a reusable cup scheme at Assembly Rooms on 20-22 August, the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s water refill stations and comprehensive recycling facilities, and the Edinburgh Art Festival’s commitments to provide only vegetarian or vegan catering (which is less carbon-intensive than meat) at their events.

This year, with the climate crisis, school strikes and species extinctions constantly in the news and on many people’s minds, we are seeing environmental sustainability feature at the August festivals in different ways: as a recurring theme in festival shows, talks and exhibitions, and as a guiding philosophy for certain venues.

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A couple of venues at this year’s Fringe are notable for their innovative ways of being sustainable. The Greenhouse at Dynamic Earth is the Fringe’s first Zero-Waste venue. All of the materials used to build the beautiful venue were saved from landfill. They use digital marketing instead of flyers to save paper, and all of their shows have environmental themes, so a trip to the Greenhouse is a truly sustainable experience! The Pianodrome at Pitt Street Market in Leith is a 100-seater amphitheatre constructed entirely from over 50 discarded pianos. Winner of the Sustainable Fringe Awards 2019 (venue category), it hosts many free as well as ticketed shows, across art forms and age ranges.

Summerhall, just off the Meadows, plays host to several shows about climate change. The Canada Hub, presented by Summerhall, showcases two productions grappling with climate change, Sea Sick and Pathetic Fallacy. Sea Sick is a critically acclaimed production about the state of the global ocean. The company are offsetting the carbon created by their show, flyer printing and travel through the Ocean Foundation, which will plant the amount of sea grass needed to absorb that amount of carbon. Pathetic Fallacy takes a more radical approach: rather than the artist flying from Canada to perform in Edinburgh, each performance a different local stand-in takes on the central role, in order to keep the carbon footprint of the show, which is about the weather, weather gods and hope, to a minimum. Summerhall is also the home of the Extinction Rebellion Fringe residency, which features art installations as well plays, workshops and events each evening, all on the themes of the ecological (and social) crisis and what we can do about it.

Another show which makes a political statement and motivates audience members to take action is

1.5 Degrees Live, in which more than 100 activists, scientists, politicians, authors, performers and members of the public read out sections of the pivotal 2018 IPCC Report on the impacts of global warming above 1.5 degrees, from start to finish, over the course of the week-long run. After each performance, the organisers suggest actions that audience members can take to make a difference, from signing a petition to joining a protest or campaign group.

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How to Save a Rock, winner of the Sustainable Fringe Awards 2019, focuses on the climate in both content and production. Powered by bike and solar power, it is a carbon-neutral comedy about how to still have hope. Finally, Stand Up for Your Planet is a night of stand-up comedy on the theme of climate change, promising to mix climate realism with a healthy dose of laughs and hope. The one-off show is raising funds for Creative Carbon Scotland, who support the arts and culture sectors in Scotland to bring about transformational change for a sustainable future.

At the Book Festival, one of this year’s themes is ‘The Fragile Planet’, a strand of 10 events bringing together environment specialists, scientists, activists and writers to celebrate the natural world and ask: how can we avert disaster? Speakers include sustainability guru Mike Berners Lee and former Irish president, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and climate justice campaigner Mary Robinson. Environmental organisation WWF is supporting events offering positive stories about what’s already being done to protect our planet, as well as hosting ‘Cake and Climate Change’ discussions in the Garden Bookshop.

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The Edinburgh International Festival’s new You Are Here programme has included a number of thought-provoking shows, discussions and events with climate themes. The Royal Court International Climate Crisis Plays (13-17 Aug) is a week of lunchtime performances showcasing new short plays by international writers providing urgent perspectives on the global climate crisis. Climate, Culture and Creativity (17 Aug) is a morning of provocation and discussion on the Climate Crisis and the role of artists and culture. Part of the brilliant Breaking Bread series, in which artists host a two-course vegan meal and present a provocation for discussion, on 17th August the poet, playwright & performer Inua Ellams invites us all to think and talk about the climate crisis.

So make the most of the opportunity to exchange ideas with artists, authors and citizens from around the world, in Edinburgh for the August festivals. Catch a show or take part in a discussion about one of the biggest issues of our time, and join in the conversation.

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