What does your work as Director of Administration entail? Why is the environmental question part of your remit? How do you approach it?
My job is to implement the project of the Festival on a financial, legal, administrative, and human resources level. In this respect, I have to measure the financial impact of the environmental question when it comes to the Festival and its organisation. This reflection started back in 2010, when the Festival first started measuring its carbon footprint and created its environmental charter, and was strengthened by the signature of the Charte Éco-festival with the city of Avignon, the Grand Avignon, and Avignon Festival et Compagnies (AF&C). In 2014, it founded, along with other festivals, a collective of environmentally responsible festivals in the région Sud Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (COFEES), which today includes sixteen different structures. This network of exchange and practices offers innovative and concrete actions to tackle environmental and societal issues, but also allows different structures to pool their resources together to undertake actions, facilitate the organisation of environmentally responsible events, and to have more power at the regional level—in particular when it comes to treating with public authorities. Cultural agents have long been aware that great events are very energy-intensive. For the Festival d’Avignon, the question is one of organisation, both external and internal. For instance, we’ve tried to encourage carsharing in our audience, and have invited the companies programmed at the Festival to adopt better practices. The Festival d’Avignon is trying to model new ways of working to react to the climate crisis at its level. In the long run, we hope that those changes will serve as models for our various interlocutors such as spectators, employees, companies, journalists, partners, and various public bodies we interact with…
What is the concrete impact of the environmental question for the Festival and the services it provides? What is its cost?
Let’s take for example the question of heatwaves, an intense phenomenon which affects us more and more every year, and which has an enormous impact on our teams. In 2019, we reached the limit of what we could do to make extreme temperatures more bearable (both for employees who end up working different shifts to avoid the heat and for our equipment, which wasn’t designed to withstand such important temperature swings). The climate crisis has had real and serious consequences for the Festival. The environmental question has had an impact on every level of its organisation. Transportation, and thus the question of greenhouse gases reduction, is for instance tackled by different actors at different levels: by our communication services when it comes to our audience, by our production staff when it comes to the artists, by our human resources department when it comes to our employees, by our technical staff when it comes to sets and equipment that have to be moved from storage to the venues, etc. Each service plays a part in creating long-term actions in the personal and collective organisation of work. Those transformations have a cost, and they require us to make investments. In 2019, we saved about 1,8 tons of paper by cutting back on printed communication material (for a total of 34,000 copies across several formats). In the long run, many such sources of waste should disappear. For now, we are in the process of transferring expenses from one to the other. Our cutting back on printed material is offset by the development of an app which lets people access the programme, as well as new contents and services. Digital technology is energy-intensive, but it is fundamental today to implement solutions adapted to a logic of long-term management of our environmental resources to reach balance. This equilibrium is our duty.
How is the Festival making its audience part of this process?
Our approach when it comes to environmental questions is a long-term, but also a social and societal one, because our mission is to open our doors to as many people as possible. We’re working with the public in several directions: inclusion, through our policy of seasonal hiring; accessibility and disability awareness (teleloops, French sign language translation, documents adapted to people with reading disabilities, audio description, etc.); and awareness and accountability initiatives. Starting this summer, we’ll encourage festivalgoers to adopt environmentally responsible habits, such as planning one’s trips in advance and using soft modes of transport or public transportation; patronising restaurants which use short food supply chains; getting rid of single-use plastic by using flasks and reusable boxes and cutlery; buying from local companies; reducing paper consumption by downloading the Festival’s mobile application; recycling one’s waste, etc.
Do you have the tools and means necessary to successfully develop this policy in the long term? Are you thinking about “environmental budgeting,” just like there is now gender budgeting? Are your partners in favour of the Festival’s environmentally-conscious positioning?
Not everything is under our control, but we’re trying to reinvent what we do. We’re using analytical accounting to identify our “sustainable development” expenditure and the economic impact of our reorganisation. I wouldn’t be surprised if this way of budgeting were to soon become part of the funding requirements imposed by public authorities. For now, no such constraint exists at the national level when it comes to grants and subsidies, the way there can be at the European level. For our part, we encourage the artists, employees, and spectators of the Festival to adopt better practices, but the legal deadlines are still a long way off. We need powerful actors to take specific actions to reduce them. That’s what the Festival is doing by acquiring new tools and by asking its service providers to favour specific economic, environmental, and social approaches, or to respect ISO norms, in particular when it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR). The goal is to create a virtuous circle, to come up with new environmentally responsible alternatives. For instance, we asked our suppliers to stop stacking the vending machines in the Festival’s venues with sugar-rich, over-packaged products. It’s a change that comes at a price, but it also responds to the urgency of the situation, creates prospects for short food supply chains businesses, reduces our waste, and is a step in the right direction when it comes to changing our consumption habits.
Interview conducted by Francis Cossu, early April 2020