Are science festivals good (or bad) for the environment? Three science festivals from across the EvalFest network have come together for a mini-grant project, led by the UK’s Festival of Nature, to explore how science festivals can evaluate their environmental impact alongside learning, awareness and other traditional festival measures. The project partners are Jacksonville Science Festival, and Wisconsin Science Festival. An initial meeting was held in February 2019, hosted by Jacksonville Science Festival, to scope the project.

We know that there are extensive tools available for helping events of any kind measure their environmental impact (for example, carbon emissions, waste, energy use, water use, etc). However, many of these tools only calculate, demonstrate or highlight all of the negative impacts of hosting events – and don’t always fit in our with our festival’s measures of success (for example, visitor travel is one of the highest environmental impacts for many events. So the fastest way to lower the impact….is to have fewer visitors! And that is definitely not something most science festivals are trying to do…)

The premise of the project is that science festivals also create a variety of positive impacts on the environment – for example through education, creating awareness, hosting key panel debates, raising the profile of environmental scientists and campaigns. Some festivals incorporate opportunities for visitors to take part in positive environmental behavior changes (eg through incentives for arriving by public transport, or festival events such as beach cleans), others are slowly trying to lower the environmental impact of their event delivery through such measures as using less plastic or installing recycling points.

We also believe that as environmental pressures increase, science festivals have an opportunity to be “ahead of the curve” and demonstrate how valuable they are in bringing people to explore important environmental science topics.

The challenge the project partners have identified is exploring both these negative and positive impacts within a cohesive single evaluation framework. While some measures are numeric, others are estimated, still others come from qualitative data gathered at the event. During our scoping meeting, we have created an initial ‘environmental scorecard’, specific to science festivals, that we think might provide a way forward.

We’ll be using 2019 to test the scorecard at Jacksonville Science Festival, Festival of Nature, and Wisconsin Science Festival, sharing our findings and thoughts with the Evalfest community as we go. As three science festivals running across different geographical scales, lengths, formats and different times of the year, we are working on creating a tool that works across the many varieties of science festivals.

If you’d like to know more, if this is something you’re also exploring in your own science festival, or if you have any resources that you think could inform this work, please do get in touch. We’re looking forward to creating a toolkit to benefit the EvalFest community and beyond, so we would love to hear from you as the project progresses!


Savita WillmottFestival of Nature (Bristol and Bath, UK)
For additional information, please contact Savita at: savita@bnhc.org.uk