Leeland Crane: design consultant with a conscience

Switching seamlessly from festival coordinator to savvy environmentalist, Londoner Leeland Crane’s commitment to helping music and arts events realise the benefits of sustainability has seen him become a mentor to creative businesses wanting to make a difference.

A recognised Sustainability Design Consultant for festivals and events, Crane is an inspired force in pursuit of a greener future. He’s worked with the likes of Bestival, Camp Bestival, Julie’s Bicycle and Festibelly on everything from programming to Portaloos. Helping festival-goers enjoy the party while practising his environmental preaching is his passion.

‘What’s important and interesting to me is the unique position festivals have in influencing their audience,’ says Crane. ‘Even more so than the government, media or corporations. People go to festivals to have the time of their lives in wonderful creative surroundings. It’s a great opportunity to influence them about being responsible when it comes to the environment.’

His initial interest in sustainability was ‘a visceral beginning’, fired up by witnessing the ‘failings of a system that needed changing’.

‘Sustainability as a philosophy is about taking care of the planet and making sure we don’t leave it in a mess for future generations,’ he says. ‘With capitalism at the helm of our system we’ve done a pretty good job of jeopardising our future, and the battle to change that is what concerns me.’

It was in 2009, while working for Julie’s Bicycle – a not-for-profit organisation centred on promoting sustainability within the music, theatre and creative industries – that his awareness of sustainability was really stimulated within the arts. ‘I became aware of who they were and what they were trying to achieve and was eager to get involved’. It was then that he began promoting a carbon-measuring system to the festival sector.

That same year he implemented a study at Bestival – the Isle of Wight music festival curated by DJ Rob da Bank – to address the event’s environmental impact through audience travel, ‘which is by far the most significant carbon liability of the festival. People travelled a fairly long distance, mostly by car, but findings showed they would travel by greener means if incentives were involved.’ In turn the study drove Bestival’s environmental movement and Crane was active in ‘greening their future’.

Later he developed and manufactured composting loos for Festibelly – a Hampshire music event he coordinated on a larger scale – and was instrumental in the festival winning a commended AGF Award from A Greener Festival: a company committed to helping music, arts events and festivals around the world adopt environmentally efficient practices.

‘Getting the AGF Award was the result of a lot of hard work. I took on the campaign myself for Festibelly as I think it’s important to send messages of responsibility to the audience. It’s about being aware. I try to set an example so that when people come to escape and enjoy themselves they understand that we make the effort to be responsible for our impact on the environment.’

Inspired by this (and ‘too many traumatic experiences in Portaloos at festivals!’) he launched Toodeloos. ‘I really wanted to make the user experience friendlier, so I designed and built 20 compost toilets. The waste is used for its nutrients as a fertiliser but there were both real and perceived risks that needed addressing first, so there was a lot of research involved. The results and the feedback were great, and resulted in happy loo users as well as fertiliser for the farmer and his field.’

Crane’s most recent project, performed at this summer’s Secret Garden Party festival in Cambridgeshire, was an attempt to recreate an event ‘that drove one of the early environmental movements’.

Called Third Planet – based on the Earth images taken from Apollo 8 in the late ‘60s – it involved launching a video camera into the stratosphere on a weather balloon and transmitting a live feed to the festival big screens below. Its implementation was a testament to his enduring desire to design and address sustainability practices creatively.

‘It was a project with a lot of variables,’ he says. ‘It was truly a creative challenge and vision to try and re-enact.’

Today Crane continues to bridge the gap between the environment and the arts in various measures to help make a change. He is aiming to further his mission by recreating other environmentally impactful events, all the while enjoying the best of London’s history and big city diversity.

‘Every city is made by its history and London has one of the richest in the world. We have a real melting pot of cultures and sometimes when sitting on the tube I’m astounded by the fact that every individual seems to be from a different corner of the planet.

‘I spent some time living on a narrow boat on the London canal system a few years ago. There’s something magic about the canals. It’s a part of London that has remained relatively unchanged over time. There’s a nice sense of community that’s brought about by a common interest in a simplistic way of life, which is quite rare in urban environments. The lifestyle is diverse; you get all the greatness of the city, while experiencing the challenges of maintaining an off-grid existence. And that’s what really inspires me: maintaining that balance between urban life and the natural environment. Keeping our city green.’

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