Taking steps towards sustainable international live events – minimizing carbon footprint and protecting bats

Emma Vainio, 24.11.2022

How sustainable can big international events be? What can organisers learn from one another? What kind of challenges do they meet?

The speakers at the seminar How sustainable can international live events be? held at the Ice Hot Nordic Dance Platform event in Helsinki in the summer 2022, represented dance, music and visual arts. No matter what genre, when it comes to issues of sustainable development, the different forms of art have plenty in common.

Piloting, evaluating and sharing knowledge are key

The sustainability goals of Ice Hot included minimising the carbon footprint, improving digital accessibility, and helping artists find opportunities to give other performances in or around Helsinki while attending the Ice Hot showcase.

The hotels recommended to Ice Hot Helsinki attendees were eco-certified and at the event they were served vegetarian food. Transfers between venues took place by public transport, and no unnecessary items, such as Ice Hot branded bags or mugs, were distributed.

Communications Specialist Helmi Saksala was involved in drawing up the Environmental Policy of Ice Hot Helsinki 2022, the theme of which was ‘soft footprint, strong handprint’. In other words, the event aimed to minimise its environmental load and maximise its positive impacts, such as the strong artistic, cultural, and networking contribution it makes, as well as increasing climate awareness and actions.

“The key sustainability actions for Ice Hot were piloting and evaluating – as well as sharing knowledge openly,” says Helmi Saksala.

“Sustainability is not a simple issue, but considering the options is certainly worthwhile, and discussing them is hugely important. You can’t aim for complete perfection, as many objectives will inevitably contradict others,” summarises Dance Info Finland’s former Manager of International Affairs Katarina Lindholm.

Ice Hot Nordic Dance Platform 2022 brought nearly 500 dance professionals from all over the world to Helsinki © Catrin Kaitaro

Art has the power to change how people think and influence their values

Our Festival is a chamber music event held in the summer and known for its interdisciplinary approach, as well as enjoying a lakeside location just over half an hour from Helsinki.

The event has been granted the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation’s EcoCompass environmental certificate, awarded to operators who have drawn up an environmental programme with objectives and measures. The festival’s Executive Director Petra Piiroinen has found the certificate to be effective in maintaining, developing and proving the event’s tangible environmental work.

Our Festival’s EcoCompass sustainability goals have included printing less, emphasising digital communications, and looking more closely at recycling and use of water and electricity.

Over the course of 2022–2024, the event is aiming for carbon-neutral operations and will be working hard to ensure its audiences, artists and other stakeholders are all familiar with its sustainable development values.

“We humans don’t even realise how much still needs to be done if we are to achieve the objective set in the Paris Agreement. And generally speaking, people don’t like changing their habits and lives,” Piiroinen explains.

The executive director also underlines art’s power to change mindsets and influence values. “We want our artistic programme to pose questions about what a sustainable future might look like.”

Creating a major art event on an island of butterflies and bats

Helsinki Biennial is an international visual arts event held on the island of Vallisaari, just off the coast of Helsinki, which premiered in summer 2021.

For many decades, access to Vallisaari was restricted to the army, and the island was used for maintaining weapons and storing explosives. Nowadays, Vallisaari is open to everyone and is a natural and cultural heritage conservation area, and home to an incredible range of different species. A number of endangered bats and butterflies, for example, call the island home.

Vallisaari © JP Ronkainen

“Nature must be taken into account at all stages of the event production,” states Helsinki Biennial Producer Saskia Suominen.

“For example, artworks or performances that feature bright lights or loud noises cannot take place in some areas on the island,” she explains. “There would be a risk that they might disturb the bats.”

Helsinki Biennial 2021 brought 150,000 visitors to the island, which caused some erosion. Ferry transportation, which increased the event’s carbon footprint, also made things challenging from a sustainability perspective. “This did not come as a surprise, but on the positive side, the event had almost no impact on the insect population, for instance. Initially, we were afraid that one species of butterfly had disappeared from the island, but thankfully that turned out not to be the case.”

“We want the event to serve as a positive example, showing how people can spend time on the island without disturbing the creatures that live there and respecting the plant life. There is so much more to ecological sustainability than just measuring carbon footprints,” points out Saskia Suominen.

Takeaways from Ice Hot Helsinki sustainability policy

The Environmental Evaluation of Ice Hot Helsinki 2022 shows that the total carbon footprint of the platform was more than 1 000 tons of CO2e, of which 97 % was from 460 artists and guests traveling to Helsinki from Europe and elsewhere, the majority of them by flight.

Nevertheless, in an event like Ice Hot, programmers can see a high number of performances in a few days, as well as make new connections and exchange thoughts with colleagues. As a result, the whole dance sector benefits from this, as getting to know each others’ works leads to new collaborations and co-productions that develop the field.

Ice Hot Helsinki showed that communication, collaboration and sharing about sustainable practices are as important actions as measuring carbon footprint when thriving towards a more sustainable future. The three main learnings from Helsinki were:

  1. In calculating the carbon footprint and assessing the impact of actions, focus on what is relevant and within your realm of possibilities. Allocate resources to this.
  2. In an international dance event, where many different agendas and resources come into play, ecological, economic, social and curatorial aims will conflict. Prioritize your aims.
  3. Collaborative programming, i.e. finding additional opportunities for platform artists with local partners, should be developed. Start the discussions early enough.


Read the detailed evaluation report of Ice Hot Helsinki here ›