#SustainableFriday: "Sustainability" at the re:publica - Interview with Nantjen & Alex

13.05.2022 - Francis and Julian met up with Nantjen and Alex for an internal team interview to talk about the challenges of sustainability.
Visual mit Text auf einfarbigem Hintergrund: „#SustainableFriday“

Alexandra Wolf is one of two project managers of #rp22 and is also responsible for concept and development at re:publica. She has been part of the re:publica team for six and a half years and was previously programme director and festival director. In terms of sustainability, she is interested in how the team works together and how the re:publica project and other projects are managed together. Alex is particularly interested in involving the community and creating further opportunities for participation and exchange.
Nantjen Kuesel is project manager in the #rp22 programme team and sustainability manager. Together with Alex, she works on anchoring and promoting sustainability in the organisation and also in the festival.

What challenges do you think the event industry is facing in terms of sustainability?

Alex: I think, as with many other companies, this is a question of sustainable organisational development. My thinking starts from the team side: How do I build teams? How do we store and communicate team knowledge? At the same time, we all too often talk only about the ecological part of sustainability, but in the re:publica team we of course also mean other aspects, the social for example. These are the values and convictions that we uphold at re:publica or reflect in the programme, but also want to implement ourselves in the team. And here we have to look at what the global, social and legal challenges are and how these can be integrated into a team structure? These are challenges that not only affect the event industry, but also us.

Nantjen: It is basically a task that concerns all companies. We have to develop and implement sustainable solutions so that we can succeed in a socio-ecological transformation of society at all. With this, we also need to understand in the event industry where and how we can work more sustainably - for example, release fewer emissions and create more access, digitally and analogue. We need to know in which areas we are already on the right track and which adjustments we can still make in order to operate in a more socially just and ecological way. At the same time, this presents us with the challenge that we cannot just focus on production, for example. Sustainability must be thought of holistically and taken into account in every area of work - from personnel to programme and production to partner management and IT.

Screenshot: Nantjen, Alex, Julian und Francis aus dem re:publica-Team in einem Zoom-Call mit drei Kacheln.

What concrete measures is re:publica already implementing to make the festival sustainable?

Nantjen: It is a comprehensive catalogue of measures that we have created for #rp22 - you can see it on the website. Our goal is above all to avoid and, if that is not possible, to reduce. For example, we are switching to purely vegetarian catering and not offering a large range of merchandise. We are well-positioned in the area of mobility: the grounds are easily accessible for participants and speakers by public transport. We work together with local service providers, so transport distances are short. The same applies to sustainable topics in the programme and gender balance on the stages. In terms of accessibility, there are some challenges, such as sandy areas. We are currently working on these and hope that we can improve a few things before the start of re:publica. 

Alex: In many areas of our event organisation, such as catering and mobility, we look at how we can create a "nudging effect" through good offers in terms of connectivity or bicycle racks that we set up. These are all levers that we have been using for a long time. Equally illustrative is the question of materials. A large event naturally has an incredible amount of consumables. The re:publica has always used the so-called "grid". This is a modular wooden grid that we use for booth construction and as architectural style elements. Every year they are stored and brought out for the new season, checked, repaired and painted according to the design. We do the same with the baker's crates, from which we build many things: The popular "monkey rock", but also our lecterns or small tables. This is sustainable and economical. The bakery crates are almost iconographic for a re:publica.

We think that "buy - build - throw away" is not a good solution in event production. That's why we are especially concerned with the materials we use for the main stage. When you visit the next re:publica, don't just enjoy the great speakers on stage and the fantastic staging through light and sound, but also let your eyes wander over the materials... I don't know if it's true, but the word on the street is that just about everything on this stage is edible. Maybe not the metal beams or the furniture (laughs), you shouldn't bite on that now, but there was really a lot of research and testing. [Note: all materials are plant-based and therefore very easily compostable or edible, even if not necessarily delicious]. I think our efforts in this regard are exemplary! You are welcome to ask us about it - directly at the event or by email - we are very happy to talk about it and share our knowledge.

We are also breaking new ground this year with the headphones for the participants at the stages. We'll have headphones in stock, but we'd like everyone to bring their own headphones (with cable and jack), which might be a bit more comfortable for their own hygienic well-being (laughs). In this way, the participants are also made a little responsible for their own enjoyable festival experience. And it's the same with merchandise this year: Sure, we all love to bring merch from great events, but we also know that we probably won't use this T-shirt or that tote bag very often. Ordering and having it printed in stock and taking some back to the warehouse is out of the question for us this year. So we will set up a screen printing station in the main hall where you can make your own personal souvenir. Bring your own shirt, bring your tote bag and print it yourself! Apart from being more sustainable, it's also more fun!

Last question: Where do you see re:publica "in five years"?

Alex: Thank you very much for this question! (laughs) I'll play this question back to the founding quartet [note: Andreas Gebhard, Johnny Haeusler, Markus Beckedahl and Tanja Haeusler] via the blog, who each have to answer it with their own vision. We haven't yet set ourselves the goal of being quasi-CO2 neutral in five years, for example. The starting point for formulating goals are our efforts to draw up a very extensive and detailed balance sheet for #rp22. And from this we will derive further measures. In other words, it's best to ask the question again shortly after re:publica, when we have the CO2 balance sheet that we also want to publish - not least so that others can benefit from it.

Let's change the question a little and ask Nantjen again: What would be your greatest wishes for the next five years?

Nantjen: I believe that it will no longer be necessary to point out that there are more sustainable solutions, but that these will be thought about, researched, tested and implemented from the very beginning. The beauty is that our team is already doing that. It is extremely keen to work sustainably, to find sustainable solutions, but there is not yet a clear more sustainable solution or the one right way for everything. We still have a lot to learn, to try out and we will fail often enough. This can also be exhausting and uncomfortable if learned, well-rehearsed processes have to be rethought as a result. In this respect, I can say what is in store for us: With every look we take at a process, how we can make it more sustainable, we will find many new challenges. Accepting challenges, not getting discouraged and finding solutions for them, that is the real goal for the next few years - and having fun doing it!

Alex: Yes, and above all I would like re:publica to be a role model. That our findings don't just stay with us, but that we can enter into an exchange with other actors, with other organisers and with politics.

Thank you both very much for the interview!

For more information on the sustainability concept for re:publica 22, please visit our info page here.