Supporting Change: ESNS Sustainability with Rob van Wegen

There is no longer any doubt: The efforts and ambitions for a climate-neutral and environment-friendly way of living need to be improved. News reports on heavy and freak weather incidents and the results of harmful pollution on nature are ongoing. Serious measures have to be undertaken to diminish the currently increasing far too big ecological footprint. Let’s face it, the music sector has also been asked to do so and the new initiative ESNS-Sustainability is a piece of this puzzle, both supporting and stimulating the first steps as part of this global mission.


Rob van Wegen is the leading force behind ESNS-Sustainability: He has already gained distinctive experience for this job during his five years at Innofest, a cooperative lab and network enabling the implementation of progressive eco-friendly solutions among others for festivals. Having also worked for fifteen years at festivals, three years ago, he became the sustainability co-ordinator for ESNS. As part of this, last year he developed a plan and roadmap that supports festivals for the mission of transformation towards a greener future.

ESNS-Exchange asked Rob van Wegen about the related challenges that accompany the process of conversion into ecological-friendly music ventures and about the launch of “Green Touring Support for ESNS”, a special programme for ESNS artists, that supplies funding for eco-friendly travel.

Who else are you in contact with for the mission of ESNS Sustainability and are there any other organisations, companies or individuals you consider as forerunners?
There are front runners on different sides and we need them all. For example, Go Group (part of Yourope), A Greener Festival and Julie’s Bicycle on sharing information and helping people to become more sustainable.  Every country has its own leading festivals pushing for a more sustainable industry. Established artists for making a change in their existing way of touring and bringing the information to the audience during their concerts and the upcoming new artists that start off with all the knowledge, know and make it part of their story and speaking out. It is about pushing boundaries and learning along the way. We still have a lot of roads to travel and we know the way, but haven’t walked it yet, so we might encounter some problems, so everyone who takes a step is part of this movement, and we need to communicate because we need forerunners to help lead the way but we need everyone to join in and follow closely behind.

The number of artists on tours demanding vegetarian or even vegan food is rising. Still yet this can be considered as a first milestone, what else can and should artists do to improve their ecological footprint?
For most of the parties, the biggest impact is in travel. Flying being a big impact maker, and then time and money become a factor quickly. Think of it like this: it might be easy for your plans, but your environmental impact is high. If you add the cost and effort of proper CO2 removal to your flight price and think about the true price of travel plans, the sustainable options will win more times.

Another thing to think about, is what do you ask for at the venues?  And do you ask the places you go, what they do regarding sustainability? Just asking the question, makes them aware that they need to do something. You can ask for electric cars for transport, or ask if your hotel has a green key certification. And what can you do yourself? What do you really need on your tour? And check if the merch is made from ecologically organic materials.

And finally, speak up if you think an issue is important. And we know that there is so much to speak up about, but this can be one of them! And don’t let perfection become the enemy of the good: if you want to do good, but are not sure it’s the perfect way, state your story and ask for help and knowledge. You learn along the way, so don’t be scared of making small mistakes, they give you the chance to become better.

The awareness for sustainability measures seems to be there. But obviously, these also come with higher expenses. ESNS Sustainability considers this aspect and apparently you may have a solution in mind. Please explain what this is all about…
To help shift towards sustainable travel we initiated the Green Touring Support for ESNS artists who played in 2022, we cover the financial gap between their normal plans and their sustainable travel plans to encourage the transition:

With this we want to let artists experience the more sustainable options of travelling and tell the story so they can inspire others, if you make this change as soon as possible, the bigger the impact in the long run. We see artists change from plane to train or invest in new gear so they can travel light and compact and can switch from a van to train. Acts can request the difference between the regular tour costs and the green tour costs from ESNS, up to a maximum of 1,000 euros

Various other industries receive funding for the transformation to run their business more eco-friendly. Does the music sector need to improve its lobbying efforts in order to be treated equally compared to other and bigger industries?
First of all, the funding for none eco-friendly business needs to be re-evaluated. Money is always a factor, so help is needed to lower the threshold to make a positive change. There are many steps to take, so we need help to take them and money is one of the factors to stimulate this change. And when people are stimulated, businesses can follow and soon after, a snowball effect can happen.

Some of the forerunners that have been mentioned before are doing great work already, but they can’t do it all on their own. So, collaboration and pushing forward to action, also with lobbying, are necessary. Equality is always something that needs to be improved, and then I don’t mean to get the same treatment, but get the right treatment so everybody has the same chances, in ways of sustainability but in other areas like diversity and inclusion because this also has an influence on making the world a better place.