Sustainability is gaining an increasingly prominent place on the agenda in Rotterdam’s events sector as well. Gerda IJff, manager Events at Rotterdam Topsport and Joost Trines, coordinator Urban Events at Rotterdam Festivals, explain how ‘their’ organisation handles the sustainability of events.
Rotterdam Topsport and Rotterdam Festivals: foundations that both want to strengthen the city’s image in their own way. Rotterdam Topsport does that by positioning Rotterdam nationally and internationally as the leading top-class sports city in the Netherlands. And Rotterdam Festivals supports and promotes the city’s broad and distinctive festival and cultural offerings. In 2018, the Green Deal or No Deal motion was passed in the Rotterdam City Council. In doing so, the council asked the college to commit to a Green Deal between event organisers and the council. The aim: a widely supported plan for the most sustainable event policy possible, including the implementation of the necessary facilities.
‘A sounding board group was then formed from within the council, bringing together 11 event organisers, Rotterdam Festivals, the council and an expert body on sustainable events. Based on these talks, the Sustainable Deal Events & Festivals was laid down. The parties involved have expressed their ambition to achieve sustainable objectives on five different themes within three years,’ says Joost Trines, who is responsible for the coordination and implementation of the Sustainable Deal from Rotterdam Festivals, among other things. ‘Because of corona, the deal was only signed in January 2022 and it will remain in force until 2024. After that, we are obviously not done. The deal is mainly a booster to get the sector and the city council on board in becoming more sustainable.’
The Sustainable Deal has five themes. ‘It’s about communication and awareness,’ Joost lists. ‘About energy transition, which means we are committed to emission-free energy sources and fossil-free mobility of visitors to the festival. It is about circularity, i.e. separating waste streams on the festival site and collecting plastic cups for reuse. The fourth theme is climate resilience, through which we want to ensure restorative measures and new planting in city parks to protect and enhance biodiversity. And finally, it is about healthy living, in which we work with local suppliers and offer a wider vegan choice in catering. The participating organisers all have their own spearheads and choose for themselves which themes they are active on.’
The 11 event organisers have a heterogeneous composition. ‘That’s what makes it so interesting,’ Joost thinks. ‘The participants range from a small student association to a large event like the World Port Days, from music to culture, from free to paid entrance, from little to a lot of experience with sustainability. We do focus mainly on outdoor events, though. With such a wide scope, we get a nice interaction of parties sharing knowledge and parties learning from it.’ The participants meet regularly to exchange experiences and share knowledge.
'The deal is mainly a booster to get the sector and the city council on board in becoming more sustainable.'
Rotterdam Topsport is also participating in a sector-wide collaboration on sustainability. ‘We have committed to the National Sport Agreement, of which sustainability of sports facilities is an important part,’ says Gerda IJff. ‘A Sustainable & Circular Events Action Plan has been in place since 2020. Herein, we also focus on five themes: mobility, raw materials, water, energy and catering. The goal is quite ambitious, because as a sports sector and the participating business community, we want to lead the way in achieving the climate goals. The first national pilots started last year: golf, a football match and World Squash Championship. Ninety per cent of our events take place indoors, while the Sustainable Deal focuses mainly on outdoor activities.’
According to Joost, communication and awareness are very important themes for both Rotterdam Festivals and Rotterdam Topsport. ‘It’s about involving visitors in the sustainability experience. You have to explain what the organisation is doing in the field of sustainability, but the audience should not throw the cups on the ground afterwards. Legislation on deposit systems and reusable cups is due in 2024. People need to be re-educated and realise that this is the new reality.’ Gerda: ‘What we also push for is for the venues in particular to be sustainable. At Ahoy, for example, the roof is full of solar panels, they work with locally produced food and they monitor what is thrown away during an event so that they can adjust the purchasing system accordingly. Parties like us and the city council could steer more on this.’
'It's about involving visitors in the sustainability experience.'
Joost sees a challenge in the Sustainable Deal in two themes: energy transition and circularity. ‘We are very much aiming for emission-free, i.e. fixed power points at event locations instead of diesel generators. But the facilities for fixed connections are far from available everywhere in Rotterdam. We need a party like the city council in the deal for that. In addition, Rotterdam operates an after-separation system of waste: in other words, waste is collected in one bin and separated afterwards. But legislation is coming in 2024 that says waste must be separated at events and at least 75 per cent of disposables must be demonstrably processed separately. So that cannot be combined with the council’s circular thinking.’
Even though the deal was signed last year, more parties are looking to join. Joost: ‘That’s why we developed a second shell of event organisers in 2022, which we are including in the talks. Because the more parties lead the way, the more the whole sector and also the suppliers will move along. We just have to reduce our footprint. Then we can talk at length about where we want to be, but we just want to do it. And Gerda, Rotterdam Topsport is hereby invited to our second shell!’