25th February 2020

Our goal is to be the most sustainable tech festival in 2020

Guest blog by Will Saunders

It’s time for another wonderful series of events and activities celebrating all things digital in the fantastic northern city of Leeds. With 240 events hosted last year and over 25,000 participants and guests, the Leeds Digital Festival is a fantastic opportunity to use people power to address the biggest issue facing us today; climate change.

The Leeds digital community is a thriving tech hub, filled with progressive, forward-thinking and problem-solving people. Over 100,000 people work within the digital sector in Leeds, and if we pool our resources and ideas I am in no doubt that we can make incredible progress in addressing and tackling the climate emergency we find ourselves in today.

As someone who’s worked in the creative digital sector for 15 years, and as a concerned citizen of Leeds who wants to do all they can to address the climate crisis, I am proud to be involved in the Leeds Digital Festival and kickstart a much needed conversation within our community about how we can all work together to make our industry more environmentally sustainable, contributing my small part to help us achieve our goal of hosting the greenest festival possible.

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/@timlumley

3 areas of focus for a sustainable festival

To begin with, I have identified 3 areas of focus when it comes to running a sustainable festival, and these are:

  • Sustainable Events – how hosts can run a low waste, low carbon event
  • Sustainable Travel – how to get around the Leeds Digital Festival in a low carbon way
  • Sustainable Guests – how we can all get involved in making the festival as green as possible

These 3 areas of focus have a lot of overlap, but breaking down the complex and often overwhelming task of tackling climate change into smaller chunks allows us to address specific areas for change and brainstorm ideas surrounding them. No doubt you will have specific challenges and solutions that I have not listed, but I hope this guide can act as a springboard for your ideas.

Sustainable events

Whether you’re hosting a big party or a small gathering around the pub during the Leeds Digital Festival, it’s important to keep a few things in mind that might help reduce the carbon footprint and waste of your event.

Climate conscious catering

If you’re putting on a spread for your guests, one of the best things you can do to reduce the footprints associated with the food is opt for plant-based options. Plant-based diets generally use less water and landmass to produce the food and emit fewer emissions that their meat-based counterparts. Another great way to have lower carbon catering is to use a local food provider, that cooks with locally produced ingredients. A good example of this is the Leeds-based business Lean Lunch who provide healthy plant-based meals, delivered on bike – and they’re offering a 15% discount for the Leeds Digital Festival this year.

Avoid single use items

It’s easy to amass a load of rubbish at the end of an event, but a few simple switches can make all the difference. If you’re providing food, like mentioned above, be sure to provide non-disposable cutlery and avoid sachets of condiments when a glass bottle or two would do.

Events can be thirsty work, but instead of providing rows of plastic water bottles, why not simply have a couple of jugs of tap water and some glasses. Encourage people to bring their own drinking containers to cut down on the washing up.

Name badges are great when people are meeting each other for the first time, but avoid using plastic name badges, lanyards and clips, because these very often don’t get reused and end up in landfill.

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/@luamtla


Why buy loads of plastic water bottles when a few jugs of ice cold tap water would do the trick? Sometimes you can’t avoid printing out worksheets paper packs for interactive events, but often you can send people digital copies that can be accessed on laptops and iPads during the event – this can reduce the amount of paper waste and inks used.

Consider your venue

If you can arrange a venue close to the station this will encourage people to take public transport and reduce the number of cars. Likewise, if your venue has a bike shed or similar, make sure you let people know so your guests might be more likely to cycle to your event. 

And check whether your venue has recycling facilities and ensure that the bins are in place and clearly labelled so your guests know that they can recycle.

Start the conversation

Even though your event might not be climate or sustainability focussed, why not spend a minute or two at the start to let people know about some of the sustainability measures you’ve put in place and underline that we can all make a difference by being conscious of our daily decisions.

Sustainable travel

Fortunately for those who are able to travel on foot, Leeds is quite a compact city, and it’s relatively easy to get from one end to the other on foot in a short time. And most of the Leeds Digital Festival events are generally located in the centre (though we see the distribution expanding every year!) but getting to and from the festival isn’t always plain sailing and if you commute to Leeds from afar there will be other things that you can do.

Active modes of transport

Unsurprisingly, walking and cycling are the most environmentally friendly ways of getting around. Did you know that the average car emits around 500g of CO2 in a 1 mile journey, so if everybody decided to ditch the car every now and again and walk instead, that would add up to a lot of CO2 and pollution saved from being pumped into the air we breathe.

So if you’re able, get the step counter going and get walking to and from the Leeds Digital Festival events and, as mentioned above, check with the venue about bike storage facilities if you’d rather bike.

Public transport 

There’s nothing wrong with getting the bus or train, especially if you’re visiting the Leeds Digital Festival from afar! The newly refurbished Leeds train station looks great and there are plenty of connections to Leeds from across Yorkshire and beyond.

Getting around Leeds by bus can be a little expensive, but the Leeds Citybus could be a great affordable way to get to your Leeds Digital Festival events for a £1 fare.

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/@freshseteyes

Did you know?
A passenger car carrying one person emits about 40kg of CO2 per 100 passenger miles, while a full bus emits only 6.5kg!

Encourage your guests

As a Leeds Digital Festival host, you have the fantastic opportunity to speak to an audience of thousands of forward-thinking and creative individuals who no doubt care about the planet and want to positively contribute to the world. When organising your event and communicating to your guests, why not take that opportunity to provide public transport information to encourage the uptake, and actively request that people be conscious of their travel arrangements with the Leeds Digital Festival environmental goals in mind.

Consider sustainability perks; why not offer an additional free drink to guests who show (or tweet) their bus ticket to the event, or reward those who have chosen to walk instead of drive. A good way to take this idea into your office is by signing up to Climate Perks, which offer incentives to your staff to live and work sustainably.

Sustainable guests

We would love everybody who is participating in this years’ Leeds Digital Festival to be a climate champion, but we know it’s not easy. I think one of the most important things to do right now is to start and continue conversations about what we do as digital people to make our industry more sustainable, and I’m pleased to see this year the Leeds Digital Festival has an entire category on sustainability.

So whether you’re attending just one event, or you’ve got your calendar booked up, there’s a few things you can do to be a sustainable guest.

Prepare to be green

Along with planning your journey in a greener way, as mentioned above, it’s helpful to be prepared. Bring your own water bottle or reusable coffee cup in the event of the venue only having single-use items. If plastic bottles are the only option, you can always ask for tap water and help yourself.

Choose the most sustainable option

If your event is catered, or you are given the option to select a meal in advance why not opt for a meat-free or plant-based option. 


Did you know? Researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73%!


Prompt the conversation

Not every Leeds Digital Festival event will have a focus on climate and sustainability, however we need to be aware that our industry does contribute to the environmental situation we find ourselves in today, and we have the opportunity to recognise this and do something about it at every level.

If you’re hosting an event, why not recognise the part we play in preserving our environment and make a special mention, asking people to consider how they can influence the way their organisation operates to be more sustainable.

If you’re attending an event, raise the subject with your fellow guests and make note of any sustainability measures the hosts have taken when organising the event.

Consider your own workplace

I’m sure this year’s Leeds Digital Festival will be an inspiring and exciting series of events, and you’ll come away buzzing with ideas that you can take back to your office and do great things to push the tech industry further. During this time, why not reflect on your own workplace and your organisation and ask what practical things your team could be doing to make your workplace greener.

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/@slavakm

Have your say

Finally, why not have your say and participate in the Sustainable Agencies survey, where we are asking people in the digital design and tech industry, specifically design and marketing agencies about the state of sustainability within their organisation. It takes around 3 minutes to complete, a tree will be planted for every survey submission, and the anonymised data will go into a report that will be published later this year and open to all.

And please, do share any other ideas or insights you have with admin@leedsdigitalfestival.com and together we can make years’ Leeds Digital Festival the most sustainable yet!


Author bio

Will Saunders is a Leeds-based graphic designer and creative consultant with 15 years experience in the digital agency industry. Having co-founded an ethical design studio, freelanced at agencies, and worked as an independentillustrator and graphic designer, he is now working to make the industry he knows and loves more environmentally sustainable and better prepared to tackle the biggest challenge of our time; climate change. In 2019 Will founded the Sustainable Agencies initiative with the goal to educate and empower people within the creative sector to live and work more sustainably, to encourage conversations within our industry and challenge the status quo, ‘business as usual’ approach which has contributed to our current climate crisis.