“The Role Entrepreneurialism Can Play in Driving Outsized Impact in Live Events,” (from left): moderator Katherine Keating, Arman Chaparyan, Ryan Everton, Ryan Fritsch and Jaime Nack.
‘We are seeing the change that we were hoping for take shape’
The climate crisis worsens with every passing day, but innovators and entrepreneurs in the live events sector and adjacent industries are also developing and implementing sustainable solutions at an accelerating clip.
“Ten years ago, the solutions didn’t exist like they exist today,” said Jaime Nack, president of environmental consulting firm Three Squares Inc., at the VenuesNow Conference in Seattle on Thursday.
“We didn’t have the call for action from the artists like Coldplay, from the athletes, the voices weren’t as loud as they are today,” she continued. “We are seeing the change that we were hoping for take shape.”
Nack was joined by four other leaders in the sector for the panel “The Role Entrepreneurialism Can Play in Driving Outsized Impact in Live Events,” which focused on the specific ways the live industry is rethinking its processes with sustainability in mind.
Katherine Keating, managing partner of SoundWaves, the ESG investment arm of venture capital company SoundVentures, moderated the panel and provided useful context.
“We’re basically working together to invest in adopting sustainable solutions that are on cost parity,” she said. “There are a lot of innovative solutions out in the marketplace that can transform arenas. The whole purpose of what we’re trying to do is make sure there’s product market fit, so that we can come to venue operators and actually see viable solutions that we can adopt.”
Two panelists, Turn Systems founder and CEO Ryan Everton and Cloud Paper co-founder Ryan Fritsch, have developed such solutions to specific sustainability challenges in live events.
With Turn, Everton has devised a capture-and-reuse system for both plastic and aluminum cups, seeking not only to eliminate disposable cups but also to provide venues with collection and cleaning resources that ensure the cups are no more costly than disposable alternatives.
Turn’s collection bins gamify the return of reusable cups, and specialized washing units — housed in shipping containers — clean cups 700% faster than other dishwashers, the company says.
“Every venue wants and needs to make more money, and it needs to save more money,” Everton said. “We make our system work so it makes more money for the venues, one. Two, it needs to be very easy to implement, so it’s as simple as just putting our cups at the bar.”
What comes in must go out, and on the other end of the digestion process sits Fritsch and Cloud Paper’s product: tree-free toilet paper sourced from bamboo. While recycled paper products have long been on the market, Fritsch said, they haven’t been more widely adopted because they are “just not high-quality products. … You can’t turn receipt paper and old newspapers into a soft, high-quality tissue.”
“We wanted to have a product that was high-quality, checked all the same sustainability boxes (as recycled paper) … but raised the bar in terms of quality so that there was never any sense of sacrifice for making the sustainable switch,” he said.
Enter bamboo, which can be used to make paper about three years after it’s planted — as opposed to the 50 to 70 years required for trees — and also absorbs more carbon and releases more oxygen than other plants.
Investors like Keating play a key role, stimulating innovation, sometimes before sustainably minded events professionals know they need it.
“Venues are craving the solutions that are presented,” Nack said.
“You’re investing speculatively in solutions, hoping that they’re going to be adopted,” Keating said. “You’re kind of reverse engineering the decision-making process, if the demand’s there.”
When artists call for sustainable provisions in their riders, it prompts venues to “get on board with creating that market demand,” she added.
That’s where Coldplay comes in. Last week, the band announced the extensive slate of environmental policies it plans on its 2022 tour, which Arman Chaparyan, head of special projects at Coldplay’s management firm, Dave Holmes Management, detailed for the audience.
For instance, the band modernized the LED wristbands it has given to audiences for the last decade by teaming with PixMob to develop a compostable, plant-based wristband.
“Everything we’re doing is not just for us,” Chaparyan said. “It’s for every tour out there. It’s for the tours after us. … We can do more. We can learn from each other. We can see what’s working and what’s not, and we really want to make sure we give everything to everyone else.”
Major artists and venues leading the charge — both in financing and in implementation — will rapidly trickle down to smaller operators and performers, Fritsch said.
“I’m inspired seeing these well-known names take charge and write the playbook and set the direction for everyone else who might not have the same prestige, but can implement the same thing,” Fritsch said. “You’re gonna set in motion a large amount of smaller players that are inspired by what we’re doing.”
And, ultimately, the live industry could pave the way for the general public. Everton, for one, envisions Turn receptacles throughout public spaces in cities.
“The events and venue industry, what it does for us is it gets everyone onto our platform, educated around reuse, and we understand the consumer behavior aspects of what makes them return their product and reuse,” he said.