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Greening the Hay Festival

Laura Sevier

20th May, 2010

Next week, the Hay Festival in Wales kicks off with its usual big name line-up of writers. Andy Fryers, organiser of the festival's special 'Greenprint' initiative, talks about expanding green events and shrinking footprints

Laura Sevier: Set in a tented village on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Hay is the biggest cultural and literary festival in the world. What has been the most challenging aspect about reducing the impact of the festival?

Andy Fryers: The biggest aspect is the visitors. We're in the middle of nowhere, a tiny little village in Hay-on-Wye, and people come from all over the world to visit. As well as providing different means of transport, we record all of our events and make them available online.

On the energy side, we switched to Green Energy so we're 100 per cent renewable.

Waste has been more difficult. We're not like Glastonbury where everyone needs a ticket. Anyone can come in and you only buy tickets for the individual venues so managing people in and out, and what people bring into the site, is quite difficult.

This year the Welsh Assembly is launching a Sustainable Development Charter. We are one of the 20 companies signing up. Part of that is to achieve a closed loop on waste and come as close to zero waste as possible. That's one of the biggest challenges we've had.

LS: What exactly is the Hay Festival Greenprint programme and what are its aims?

AF: There are three key aims for the Greenprint programme, which started in 2006. First, it's to audit, assess and make changes to our direct impact - so that's where we get our power from, where we source our goods.

Second, it's to help our visitors to make changes themselves. For instance, the railway station is 15-20 miles away and we put on a regular bus service to and from the festival. We also have buses that go around the various neighbouring villages to help people get to various B&Bs and back.

Third, we have a programme of events and lectures around the whole sustainability theme which engage, educate and inspire people to go away and make changes.

LS: What have been the biggest successes of the programme since 2006?

AF: I think the biggest change has been on waste. We were doing very little recycling back in 2005. Last year about 55 per cent of our total waste was recycled as opposed to going to landfill.

On helping the public, in addition to the buses we've also got a car share scheme. We've enabled thousands of people to get to the festival via public transport who wouldn't have been able to get here otherwise. That's probably our biggest area.

In terms of raising the profile and discussion about climate change issues, Al Gore was one of the biggest events. He came just as he started his tour of An Inconvenient Truth.

This year we've got a whole range of environmental speakers from James Lovelock to President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives. Raising the types and numbers of events around sustainability has been one of our biggest achievements over the last four years.

LS: Has the Greenprint toolkit, a guide to all of the changes you have been undertaking to make Hay Festival more sustainable, been useful for other festivals?

AF: As far as I know, we've had very good feedback from other people who have used it and every year, for the last three years, we've had a seminar in the winter where we invite other festivals within Wales and also those across the border who want to come over and discuss issues about sustainability. It's been a very useful tool for the Welsh Assembly to help others to make those changes. So it has been successful. We're looking at how we can take it to the next level.

LS: What are the highlights of this year's green events at the festival?

AF: The Greenprint Forum, 'A Better Use of Existing Resources', is billed for the first day of the festival. In addition, the green programme includes any of the events which are linked to sustainability and the green agenda. So outside of the forum we have President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives talking to Ed Miliband; Nicholas Stern on ‘A Blueprint for a Safer Planet'; a 10:10 update (10:10 came about on the back of Hay Festival 2009 so it's nice they're coming back) and Ian McEwan talking about his novel Solar.

There are 80 different events happening ranging from talks about climate change to gardening with Monty Don.

LS: Paul Kingsnorth, organiser of UNCIVILISATION 2010: the Dark Mountain Festival says it's no coincidence that his festival clashes with the opening weekend of the Hay Festival. He says: ‘while the literary establishment gathers for its annual love-in, we will muster an opposing army at the other end of Offa's Dyke for a very different kind of gathering.' Can you comment on this in the light of your green agenda?

AF: Yes, it's great to see people talking about stuff. We certainly don't have a problem with it. People who are speaking there like George Monbiot have spoken at our festival many times.

We're a festival of ideas - if people are having new ideas and meeting, debating and discussing things then that's great. It's certainly not an opposing army from our perspective anyway.

LS: What is the most exciting part of organising Greenprint and working at the Hay Festival?

AF: For me, it's when people rock up and listen and go away inspired. That's when you realise what it's all worth it. You work away 12 months of the year doing a range of things hoping it's going to be successful and popular and when it proves to be and you have people coming out of lectures going ‘that was fantastic, really inspiring', that's when it's worthwhile.

The Hay Festival runs from 27 May to 6 June. For more information go to www.hayfestival.com

Laura Sevier is the Ecologist's Green Living Editor

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