How to Have a Sustainable Fringe Festival

Image: © Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society

This month the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has taken over the Scottish capital, bringing with it hoards of performers, food stalls and visitors. If you’re heading to Edinburgh, discover some of the festival’s sustainability initiatives, the shows with a sustainable focus, and Fiona Cartmel’s tips and advice for making it the most sustainable Fringe yet. 

There is nothing quite like Edinburgh during the fringe. The streets come alive with tourists, street performers and people handing out posters, giving you a sneak preview of their show.  And among the joy of it all, one has to ask, what about the waste? Everywhere you look, there is potential for waste and environmental impacts. This is the very nature of festival like the fringe. From pop up venues; to the food and drinks served in disposable containers; the paper wasted from flyers and the Fringe guide; and even the props used in the shows. With a plethora of shows, comedians, circus, improv and musicals, the Fringe’s performers are constantly pushing boundaries and leading the way in terms of the creative arts. But how is the Fringe itself addressing its sustainability issues?

Image: © Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society


Since 2010, the Fringe has worked with Creative Carbon Scotland to assess and address the sustainability of the fringe. It has, amongst other things, reduced the carbon footprint of the festival, as well as provided guidance for the performers to lower their own impacts. 

Some of the initiatives that Edinburgh Fringe has put in place include:

  • Establishing the Fringe Blueprint – made up of eight firm commitments that will inform everything it does until 2022. Commitment 7 is “the green fringe”, which outlines how organisers will achieve this, including reducing the use of paper for things like tickets and flyers, and integrating sustainability into the new Fringe home. Organisers are also encouraging audiences to travel in more considered ways and for venues to adopt new, lower impact technologies 
  • Working closely with Festivals Edinburgh and Creative Carbon Scotland in order to reduce its impacts on the environment. This is part of The Green Arts Initiative – a network across Scotland with over 170 members, made up of a range of venues, independent art galleries and event organisers. Through sharing ideas and knowledge they aim to reduce the environmental impact of the arts community and enhance the understanding of sustainability.
  • Providing a sustainability tool kit for all performers at the Fringe in order to help them manage their impacts. It covers everything from promotion and marketing, to travel and freight, production design, waste and recycling. It even has a handy points system to help performers understand which areas they could improve on.
  • The Edinburgh Fringe Sustainable Practice Award celebrates those productions that are really taking responsibility for their impacts, as well as engaging their audiences on the issues. It is a great way to encourage productions to strive to become better, and to reward those that are leading the way.
  • Holding a Swap Shop service for their performers to swap costumes and props, recycle paper promotional flyers, and to donate any unused food. The initiative makes it easy for the performers to give their props a second life, or to find new ones that’ll inspire the next show! 

    Find out more about sustainability at the Fringe.

Image: Greenhouse Theatre


The shows at Edinburgh Fringe have always addressed a wide range of issues, entertaining while informing and challenging audience members.  Sustainability is a key issue being spoken about at this year’s festival, from specific shows on climate change to diversity and inclusion, as well as stages dedicated to the topic.


• Extinction Rebellion at Summerhall – Extinction Rebellion activists are taking over the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August, with a rolling programme of shows, discussions, and workshops at Summerhall. Organisers have created a packed month of visual art, installation, film, theatre, spoken word, poetry, performance, workshops, talks and more – all engaging with Extinction Rebellion’s demands and how we respond to the global climate and ecological emergency.

• The Greenhouse – The first ever zero-waste venue at the Fringe. Made entirely of found and recycled materials, all left over materials at the end of the festival will be donated to other artists. It is a space dedicated to exploring the themes of sustainability, with a programme packed full of shows, workshops and live music.

Image: Splintered


Sea Sick – focusing on the climate change and the oceans

A story of the ocean, its history and future. This is a powerful true life account from Canadian journalist Alanna Mitchell as she sets out on a journey to understand why the sea is changing, how climate change is having an impact, how important it is for us on land, and what we can do about it.

Splintered – focusing on diversity and inclusion

This is a celebration for being queer, female and Caribbean in the form of a theatre-cabaret. Based on a series of interviews with women in Trinidad and Tobago by the writer and director Emily Aboud; the show has some challenging truths embedded in its carnival like joy. Expect music, comedy and rebellion.

Symbiosis – focusing on how we interact with the environment

A show that explores the relationship that we have with our environment and nature through contemporary dance and poetry. This show offers audience members a moment to reflect, investigating the idea that nature can act as a support system and looking at how we connect and interact within it.

Sam Haygarth: Climate Crisis – focusing on being an activist

A show about being an activist. About melting ice caps and rising sea levels. About going to protests and not telling your parents. About the future. About the past. About why we must rebel.  Activist Sam Knights, performing under his stage name in Sam Haygarth: Climate Crisis, has been a member of Extinction Rebellion since the declaration of rebellion and was arrested earlier this year for gluing his hand to the doors of a fossil fuel conference in London. In his other life, Sam is the writer of Extinction, a short film starring Emma Thompson, and has appeared in films including Jojo Rabbit directed by Taika Waititi and The French Dispatch directed by Wes Anderson.

“We have to dream of utopia,” says Sam. “We have to believe in something better. And that’s where comedians, and writers, and actors can step up and speak out. If we are going to get through this together, then we need everybody on our side.”


While Edinburgh Fringe has many initiatives in place to reduce its overall impact, if you’re heading to the city you can also do your bit to help:

  • Take your reusables – At every festival, audience members generate a huge amount of waste, with many eateries serving food in disposable vessels.
    • Take Tupperware and reusable cutlery in order to enjoy the food stalls
    • Carry a reusable water bottle as there are lots of refill stations across Edinburgh
    • Carry your own cup for hot and cold drinks you buy while dashing between shows  
  • Travelling – Visitors come from far and wide to get to the Fringe, and the emissions and carbon impact of this is huge.
    • Travel by train or bus to get there.
    • If you have to fly, offset your emissions.
    • Once you’re there, try walking to the different venues. They are spread all across town, so if you don’t feel like taking the mound, use busses or the trams instead of taxis. 
  • Say no to the flyer – by talking to the promoters you’ll get a much better impression of the show, as often flyers are given out by the performers themselves.
  • Pass on your festival guide book – the Fringe is encouraging all visitors to pass on their festival guide books to another audience member. They’ve left the added benefit of a space near the front of the book for previous owners to write their top show recommendations – an added bonus if you pick one up secondhand.

For more tips on what you can do to help the Fringe lowers its impacts, check out the Edinburgh Fringe’s audience tips



If you’re heading to the Scottish capital, read our With Love from Edinburgh – our sustainable travel guide to the city – before you go.

Discover more sustainable festivals in the UK and around the world.

Planning some festival fun this summer? Find out our top tips for going plastic-free at festivals.