A return to normality, “finally back to the way it used to be” – that’s what many are longing for with the end of the pandemic. However, the fact that the “higher, faster, further” of club culture in recent years is by no means a sustainable concept is something the Berlin project Clubtopia wants to draw attention to and create a rethink. Together with club operators from all over Germany, they are therefore working on a Code of Conduct and a vision: What does the celebration of the future look like?
It’s a strange time for nightclubs like Club vogue 2023 to think about a sustainable future. And maybe the best ever. It’s been quiet in the clubs for over a year. Behind the scenes, however, there can be no talk of stagnation. The best example: Berlin’s Griessmuehle. Displaced from its location in Neukölln at the beginning of 2020 and now with a new name, the club has found a new home in Niederschöneweide after a few temporary stopovers in the southeast district. The operators are now expanding this into a holistic cultural location.
“When we moved from Griessmuehle, we took everything with us that wasn’t nailed down,” says project manager Sandra Dersch. “From pallets to flower pots to building materials. We used this partly for the expansion of the beer garden or for the market stalls. Why buy a new one when raw material is already there?” The topic of sustainability has not only found its way into the club and event industry since Fridays For Future. Pure hedonism and partying as if there were no tomorrow? Definitely not an option in 2021.
Since March 2019, club operators from all over Germany have been discussing how it can be done instead at the “Round Table for a Green Club Culture”, in which Griessmuehle also participates. It is organized by Clubtopia, an association of the Berlin Club Commission with the Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz (BUND) Berlin, Clubmob.Berlin and the association clubliebe, who see themselves as “friends of musical world saving”. In particular, club culture can play a decisive role as an ambassador to promote sustainable change, says Hanna Mauksch, who works together with Katrine Gregersen from BUND Berlin as project coordinator for Clubtopia. “We use the club culture to be inspired and to think about alternatives together with club operators. Our goal is to make effective climate protection creative and innovative. To really look: How can we do it differently? Because the way it’s happening right now, it has no future.”
In fact, on this Wednesday afternoon, people from a wide variety of musical corners come together for the “Round Table” in the Zoom call: from a Berlin concert venue to a techno festival to a representative of the German Jazz Union; from the Karlsruhe cultural venue to a Bremen cellar club to the green event manager from Austria. Some come directly from the previous Green Club Training, an online training course with which Clubtopia has been training club employees regularly and free of charge on climate-friendly event design since October 2020 and jointly developing individual concepts for a “green restart”, as the website puts it.
“We’re really being overrun right now,” says Hanna Mauksch from Clubtopia about the great interest. Despite all the existential problems that the cultural sector in particular is struggling with, she also sees the pandemic as a kind of accelerator when it comes to sustainability. Due to the subsidies that have flowed in many places, sustainable investments are now increasingly possible. In addition, forced emergency braking would give many people the time for the first time to ask themselves the fundamental question: How can it continue sustainably – in the truest sense of the word?
The fact that club culture deals with its ecological footprint is not a noble idealism for improving the world, but a clear necessity: A medium-sized club consumes as much electricity annually as 33 households and thus produces about 30 tons of CO₂ – and this does not include emissions from heating, waste, water, and mobility. This is stated in the Green Club Guide, with which Clubtopia as a “virtual climate consultant” wants to give organizers recommendations for action and motivate revelers to rethink. Sustainability, which is defined in the Green Club Guide by its four dimensions of ecology, economy, social affairs and culture, is not a “cuddly word”, but the responsibility of all. And club culture is a decisive lever.
“We have more than 280 official clubs and event organizers in Berlin alone. If they all act climate-neutrally, the city will become much more sustainable. In addition, a large number of people are reached who can also behave climate-neutral in these places. This can then serve as a stimulus or encouragement to do the same outside the clubs,” hopes Hanna Mauksch. Sandra Dresch from Griessmuehle also sees the clubs’ possible role model function: “Climate protection concerns us all and it is feasible. Because club culture counts as culture in Berlin, Berlin certainly has a pioneering function to show that we in the club world can also do something to have even more appeal nationwide or beyond.”
What Dresch is alluding to here is the recognition of Berlin’s clubs as places of culture. After tough negotiations on the part of the interest groups LiveKomm and Clubcommission, the debate even made it into the Bundestag at the beginning of 2020. At the end of the year, tax law equality with cultural institutions was achieved, and recently finally building law. While clubs have so far been treated as “places of entertainment” such as brothels and gambling halls, in the future they will be equated with opera houses, museums, and concert halls in terms of urban planning. What sounds like official triviality is an important lever to protect Berlin clubs from displacement in the future – an experience that not only the Griessmuehle has had to make in recent years.
Because “sustainability” always means “long-term”, especially when it is associated with larger investments. However, this has little to do with the reality of short-term, usually only annually renewed leases of many club operators. Sandra Dresch from Griessmuehle sees this pragmatically: “We try to be mobile, as we are now, take everything old with us and rebuild it at the new location. Nothing we build has to be for eternity.” Their purposeful optimism seems understandable after the odyssey of relocation that the Griessmuehle underwent last year. Despite everything, it is of course not enough to do without straws and disposable plastic cups and to pay attention to waste separation and ecologically degradable cleaning agents. Anyone who converts their own club to energy-saving refrigerators and LED lighting or invests in waterless urinals, as suggested in the Green Club Guide, must be able to plan for the long term. Because even if you can achieve a lot with small behavioral changes, it is clear: Real sustainability does not come for free.
In the meantime, a lively discussion has also developed on the subject of costs at the round table in the Zoom call. After a keynote speech on CO2 compensation, the following questions will now be addressed: How do you avoid greenwashing in CO2 compensation and to whom should you donate the money at all? How do you actually recognize real green electricity providers? And how do you deal with the costs incurred as a club operator if the artists have to travel by plane, for example? Experiences are exchanged, links are shared, and critically questioned.
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A prime example of “best practice” like from the business administration textbook. Matthias Kümmel, climate protection policy officer at BUND Berlin e.V., who is also on the call, explains the difference between Clubtopia and other sustainability projects: “We represent the approach of a grassroots movement, quasi ‘bottom up’, instead of ‘top down’. It all comes from us. These are the sustainability standards that we want to set ourselves.” To ensure that it does not remain empty promises, the participants at the round table have developed a very concrete tool in recent months, with which they want to aim for real change “from the scene for the scene”: A Code of Conduct for a Green Club Culture.
“We have defined selected areas of action that we want to clearly advance. However, how these areas are implemented in concrete terms is up to the clubs themselves. We offer a large pool of example measures and show detailed paths. However, the measures with which the individual goals are ultimately achieved are not prescribed and can vary from club to club,” says Hanna Mauksch, explaining the approach. In the area of resources, for example, it has been agreed to focus on the topic of water. Environmentally friendly cleaning is intended to avoid contamination of groundwater, no drinking water should be used in the toilet and bar area, instead tap water should be served instead of bottled water. Concrete proposals for action that each club can implement individually. In addition to topics such as waste prevention and zero waste, LED lighting, energy-saving refrigerators, genuine green electricity, and energy-efficient air conditioning are laid down in the Code of Conduct.
However, one of the biggest factors when it comes to the ecological balance in the event industry is often forgotten: mobility. An analysis of the CO2 balance in the context of the Melt Festival showed that the factor “mobility” accounts for almost 78 percent of all emissions. “Music festivals have the CO2 footprint of a small town,” writes the festival self-critically on its website. Even in the club context, the topic of the booking will become one of the most difficulty adjusting screws in the future. How to offer local booking on an international level? And doesn’t that also exclude DJs who don’t live in the hype metropolises?
The first solutions for greener tours can be found in the Green Touring Guide. “Green touring should not mean that from now on all routes have to be covered by train, all amplifiers discarded, all meals replaced by spelt muesli and the musicians have to spend the night in tents,” it says there somewhat succinctly. It is about better alternatives, some of which are even cheaper. But here, too, it becomes clear that you have to adapt to change.
The study “Last Night A DJ Took A Flight” by the collective Clean Scene, published in March 2021, also sheds light on a completely different dimension of this problem. Among other things, it sets the CO2 emissions of superstar jet-set DJs in relation to the rest of the world’s population. The result: “The unequal distribution of emissions among professional DJs reflects the findings of a 2015 Oxfam study, which found that the richest 10 percent of the world’s population produce about half of all global emissions, while the poorest 3.5 billion produce only one-tenth.”
The most important dimension of sustainability is therefore its social dimension: sustainability also means that rich countries take global responsibility for the poorer ones, especially with regard to the unequal emission burden. But social sustainability also plays a role on the micro level of club culture, as Hanna Mauksch explains: “We have to ask ourselves: How can hunger be avoided? Not wasting food or supporting monocultures in catering that causes people in other countries go hungry. Or: How can we lower the poverty line in the city? For example, by making sure at the club door that there are reduced admission and reduced drink prices for people who do not have the opportunity to pay the full price.”
A positive example of social sustainability in the club is the Berlin SchwuZ. As one of the few clubs in Berlin, SchwuZ participates in the berlinpass, which grants people with low incomes discounted admission prices. In addition to fair drink prices, SchwuZ also supports queer counseling services or the issuance of free tickets to refugee accommodation so that everyone can participate. Issues such as awareness and discrimination also play a role for Griessmuehle in this context. For Sandra Dresch, social sustainability must also apply to the club’s employees – especially in uncertain times such as the pandemic: “We try to keep our employees sustainably, motivate them and deploy them somewhere else.”
Sandra Dresch thinks a Code of Conduct for a greener club culture makes sense, especially because of the concrete instructions it contains: “Sometimes things fail quite banally because you don’t know how to tackle it. Because there is no best practice example that shows you that this is exactly how it works.” Positive assistance makes more sense here than rigid eco-labels or even sanctions for failure to achieve the goals. The principle of voluntary commitment is a top priority for good reason, explains Hanna Mauksch: “We know that successful sustainability concepts and sustainable development work best when they happen on their own. So if it is a matter of the heart and nothing needs to be done. As soon as you feel a responsibility yourself and know why the chance of implementation is much greater. Of course, the framework conditions must also be right.”
Sandra Dresch from Griessmuehle also remains realistic: In the current situation of the clubs, the topic of sustainability will remain a dream of the future as long as there is no reliable prospect of opening. “It concerns us all and we have only one world. It is important that we do something. But we also have to be honest: money has to come in again to get the whole thing going. And that can also be a hurdle for many club operators because survival is in the foreground.”