A trip down the carbon rabbit hole

Summer’s the season for festival fun but one bar at Glastonbury decided to get serious about its carbon footprint. David Burrows reports.

Rabbit’s footprint. Detailing your carbon emissions and reduction strategies is not just something for the corporate behemoths. Earlier in the summer Rabbit Hole, a bar at the Glastonbury Festival, published its footprint (for the build, operation and derig of the bar). The easy to read report shows emissions of 18,218kgCO2e. The drinks, unsurprisingly, weighed in with the most emissions (35%), followed by operations (mainly power and the crew’s food) and the bar itself (the build).

Take aim. Emissions per drink were forecast to be 0.91kgCO2e, and a target to cut that to around 0.8kgCO2e (10%) was set. That's not as ambitious as the net-zero pub benchmark (0.4kgCO2e) set by Net Zero Now, which is working with Rabbit Hole and other hospitality companies on carbon reduction. “Because of the short duration and additional build emissions the event footprint will always be higher,” explains Simon Heppner, Net Zero Now executive director. This represents a “reasonable target” for such an event, he adds.

Cool cutbacks. Priority actions to cut the footprint included power optimisation, reusing the set, reducing timber, car sharing and use of public transport among staff, and switching the crew’s food to vegetarian by default. Plans were also made to cut ice melt by 20%, which could save 345kgCO2e alone. The ice melt was a surprisingly high forecast impact, Heppner tells Footprint, because it’s delivered daily on site and then stored for use at the bar – that means an extra 30% is bought over and above what’s needed. “By improving insulation of storage we hope to cut this down,” says Heppner. All in all, the team hoped to reduce emissions by 2,979kgCO2e, well above the 1,821kgCO2e target. 

Counting offsets. The bar spent £364 (or 1.83p per drink) offsetting 18 tonnes of emissions. Nine tonnes thanks to a solar panel project in India and another from planting biodiverse forests in Panama (all 18 tonnes of offsets have been ‘retired’).

The results are in. The results have been shared exclusively with Footprint. The 10% target was missed, with emissions cut by 5% overall – from 18,218kgCO2e to 17,303kgCO2e, a saving of 915kgCO2e. “All in all a good result and lots to take forward to next year,” according to Heppner. Emissions from drinks were reduced by 15.7%, while those for the build and operations were cut by almost 12.6% and 11.4% respectively. The “big wins” included re-using the previous year’s equipment (some of which was repaired) and setting vegetarian meals as the default for staff. Emissions from meat-based meals were estimated at 3.5kgCO2 per meal versus 1kgCO2e for vegetarian options: a “conservative estimate” from tracking meals suggests a 50/50 split, though “there is a good chance the actual vegetarian take-up was higher”, says Heppner. Far less ice was used but this had more to do with resupply issues than any clever planning, Heppner admits. 

Not easy being green. There were challenges relating to energy and transport. Rabbit Hole was one of six venues fed from a single generator so allocation of fuel and energy use was “impossible” without collaboration with the other five. It’s an important one to work on for next year, says Heppner, because the diesel used accounted for 25% of the footprint. The main reason for falling short of the target was down to emissions from transport, which actually went up 84.2% against the predictions (from 1,551.9kgCO2e to 2,859.2kgCO2e). Heppner explains: “We forecast 50% of crew travel to the venue by public transport but the train strike put lots of people off and in the end we had less than 5% [coming] by public transport, with a related increase in private vehicles. Even without the strike we would have struggled to meet the forecast target as the majority of those we surveyed were in RVs – not something you can bring on the train.”

Net-zero nuances. The transparency from Rabbit Hole and Net Zero Now is refreshing. Indeed, the more experiences and data like this that others in hospitality can use and learn from, the more chance the sector has in reaching net-zero. Claims that the bar has really gone net-zero, as the initial press release claims, are confusing however. Does the use of offsets to cover all the emissions suggest carbon neutral may have been a more appropriate term? “We’re applying the principle of calculate, reduce, compensate to an event in what we believe is the most credible and impactful way,” says Heppner. “For an event that only exists for a short time, there is clearly an issue with an approach [like net-zero] that is only achievable longer term.”

He suggests that carbon neutral is more limited than net-zero: there is “very little emphasis, if any on emissions reduction”, it is “often focused exclusively on scopes 1 and 2”, and any offsets lean towards avoidance rather than sequestration projects, he explains. “For me this is a poor second to calculating full value chain emissions (scope 1,2 and 3), taking action to ambitiously reduce these and investing in a mix of sequestration and avoidance projects (aligned with the Oxford Principles).”

Hat’s off. It can all get a bit confusing. “[…] as commentators we need to find a balance between being tough and being supportive,” Heppner says. “For me, the story here isn’t the imperfections of the 1% trying to do something, it’s the callow defeatism of the 99% putting their heads in the sand and doing nothing.” Those other bars and businesses he spoke to at Glastonbury this year said what Rabbit Hole has done is a workable approach – and better than the ‘real’ net-zero option which is to not turn up at all. That’s hardly a sustainable economic option for businesses – and, as those Heppner spoke to at this year’s festival pointed out, it also wouldn’t have had any multiplier effect on encouraging others to start taking action. “I liked that [sentiment],” Heppner says.

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