International music festival goes green

Aktualisiert: März 21

With up to 15 000 visitors a go, the Balélec Music Festival in Lausanne, Switzerland, was keen to keep sustainable. So it turned to ISO 20121 for solutions. and extraordinary results.

What do Burning Heads, Asian Dub Foundation and Radiohead have in common? They have all visited the Balélec Music Festival in Lausanne, Switzerland. The concept for the festival was born in 1981 when professors from the Electricity Department of the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university, decided their students needed some downtime at their place of study.

The event soon transcended departmental boundaries to be enjoyed by the whole campus and has since gone from strength to strength, reaching a record 15 000 visitors. For one night a year, the prestigious institution gets a complete makeover with numerous stages and clubs hosting more than 30 concerts.

The event itself offers a well-rounded experience with endless food stalls and bars, sanitation and waste facilities, and a comprehensive transport service – not to mention top-notch security. Managing the environmental burden of the evening has therefore become essential. To make the event greener, Balélec chose to get certified to ISO 20121 for event sustainability management, which helps event organizers identify – and mitigate – the damaging social, economic and environmental impacts of their event.

Embracing the principles of the standard, the festival set about rationalizing its waste management and limiting noise pollution, while promoting dialogue with its partners and campus-wide coordination.

The result is quite a turnaround: reusable cups and dishes, pocket ashtrays, refundable public transport… Certified in time for its 2014 edition, the Balélec Music Festival shows us there are greener ways to have fun as explained by Miriel Steudler, Quality Manager for the event.

Why did the Balélec Festival organizing committee decide to use ISO 20121?

In 2007 Balélec became the first Swiss music festival to implement ISO 14001 to better manage its environmental impact. The pioneering spirit pervading the organizing committee and our quest for continual improvement prompted us to look at ISO 20121 for the events industry, which provided the ideal opportunity to include social and economic aspects into our existing management system.

Socio-economic concerns had been given extra attention these past few years to ensure the survival of the event into the future. The fact is, from one edition to the next, the festival must adapt to the site of the venue – the campus of the EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) – which is undergoing constant transformation, as well as to local residents and the wishes of its partners, concerned about their sponsorship policy. What’s more, the certification awarded in recognition of these efforts serves to highlight the professionalism of the committee, largely composed of volunteer students.

The 2015 edition of Balélec is the second year that ISO 20121 will be used in the festival. What lessons have you learned from the first year ? And what are you hoping to do differently?

We have noticed that by improving our internal communication and the coordination between the different units, we are able to avoid a number of misunderstandings and glitches that might reflect negatively on our image, including costly consequences on our reputation and reduced efficiency. We aim to continue in that vein.

Besides, our annual debriefing session and the compilation of external complaints brought up a number of issues in need of attention. We hope to put formal procedures in place and monitor their progress to prevent similar errors from recurring this year. We are pursuing our efforts for better waste management, extended sanitary facilities and improved coordination with the university authorities, while keeping our partners informed of our sustainability approach.

With more than 120 partners participating in Balélec, what did you find to be the biggest challenge?

What makes Balélec Music Festival so special is the uniqueness of its venue – the EPFL campus, which has hosted the event for the last 34 years. For one memorable evening, revellers and students are free to roam the corridors, classrooms and entire grounds of the university, experiencing this academic institution in a completely new light.

The sheer magnitude of the event, with its well-oiled yet complex organization, implies ongoing dialogue and coordination between the committee and our 120 partners, while meeting the constraints imposed by the university. Our constraints, as it happens, are often twofold as we try to balance the needs and expectations of the university with those of our partners. Moreover, the event’s growing popularity brings additional constraints, which must be weighed against the restrictions dictated by a continually evolving campus, forcing us to adapt each year.

Could you please share with our readers some logistical information (i.e. number of staff, budget allocated, time spent preparing for ISO 20121)?

The Balélec Festival takes place over one even