How Steve Sheldon Of EPIC Entertainment Group Is Helping to Promote Sustainability and Climate Justice

An Interview With Monica Sanders

Monica Sanders
Authority Magazine

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Alternative facts are not real. If ever in doubt about what the ‘real’ facts are, follow the money. Look into who and what entities are supporting either side of the debate and consider their motives.

According to the University of Colorado, “Those who are most affected and have the fewest resources to adapt to climate change are also the least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions — both globally and within the United States.” Promoting climate justice is an incredibly important environmental responsibility that is slowly becoming more and more recognized. In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who are helping to promote sustainability and climate justice. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Sheldon.

Steve Sheldon is an award-winning event and entertainment producer. He is the co-founder and managing partner of EPIC Entertainment Group along– a collective of producers, experiential marketers, and creative designers focused on producing live events and immersive entertainment experiences. Steve has been locally and nationally recognized for his ability to manage large-scale projects and dynamic teams. Most recently he has co-produced Crayola IDEAworks in Charlotte, NC, and the holiday light show at Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, among many others.Throughout his entertainment career, Steve has produced and operated hundreds of events, festivals, concerts, marketing activations, and exhibitions that have collectively drawn over four million attendees.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you ended up in your current role?

I grew up in central California and moved to LA after high school to attend the University of Southern California. My goal was to become a chiropractor, but a severe nerve injury in my primary arm derailed that plan. When my doctor told me I would likely never regain full use of that arm, I found myself as a junior in college having to figure out a Plan B for my life. Thankfully, I was already working part-time in a University department producing events for alumni and had gained some great experience there. I was able to leverage that experience to take on larger roles in fundraising and event production in the nonprofit world and then in radio, where I expanded my role into marketing and advertising. I continued to round out my experience with additional marketing and event management, development, and production roles. I helped produce intimate gatherings for small groups, as well as blockbuster productions drawing hundreds of thousands of attendees until finally co-founding EPIC Entertainment Group with my friend and colleague, Charity Hill, in 2016. At EPIC we are a full-service production house, focused on live event production, themed entertainment, location-based attractions, and brand activations. Depending on the needs of our clients, we offer all levels of service ranging from entirely turn-key experiences to highly-specialized support. Whatever we do and wherever we go, our focus is on creating kick-ass experiences and having an amazing time in the process!

Everyone has a cataclysmic moment or marker in their life which propels them to take certain actions, a “why”. What is your why?

I think the cataclysmic moment of action in my professional life was making the decision, with my partner, to create EPIC and build our own business. It wasn’t a decision we went into lightly. We both held high-ranking positions with stable incomes and had every reason not to take such a big risk, but we both had a strong desire to do something more. We wanted to focus on projects that are fulfilling and create unique experiences that are unrivaled and truly immersive, as well as provide the kind of culture, leadership, and support that we lacked as employees. We wanted to be empowered to take calculated risks to deliver excellent results for our clients, and to have the opportunity to prioritize and support initiatives that make a difference in the world around us.

You are currently leading an organization in the event production/live entertainment field, which is collectively working to make a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what many in your industry are trying to change?

I think our industry is collectively working to help reduce the carbon footprint of the environments and experiences we create. Often our work involves bringing large groups of people together for short amounts of time. Sometimes you’re talking about thousands of people flying and driving to attend a conference or event, or tens of thousands driving and taking public transportation to regional venues. These event-goers are consuming food, beverages, utensils, they need hospitality services, local transportation, and are expecting temporary décor and installations that create immersive and visually impactful environments. Every single area of need for these consumers provides an opportunity to provide more eco-friendly solutions and the collective impact of those individual implementations can be incredibly significant.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I have been blessed with so many people in my life who have been mentors and cheerleaders on both a personal and professional level and who have been instrumental to my success. These incredible family, friends, and colleagues have provided immeasurable amounts of support along the way. My parents are at the top of that list along with my husband and so many respected colleagues throughout the industry who have provided inspiration and guidance. But I have to say that the biggest key to our success at EPIC is our absolutely incredible rockstar team. We are very fortunate to have some of the best pros in the business working with us. They go to the ends of the earth (sometimes literally!) to help us execute our vision and to deliver outstanding results for our clients and guests and we could not do what we do without them.

What does climate justice mean to you?

Climate justice to me is the recognition of the fact that climate change impacts people from different socio-economic groups and from parts of the world with fewer available resources inequitably and the desire to bring all aspects of those conditions and impacts into the discussion.

The poor and under-served experience the negative impacts of climate change to a more significant degree. Communities of color, indigenous people, the disabled, the homeless, and other under-served populations are often more susceptible to things like storms, floods, poor air quality, lack of access to clean water, food, and other resources. Incorporating these realities into the planning and execution of sustainability initiatives is key in helping to ensure more equitable access to vital resources.

Science is telling us that we have 7–10 years to make critical decisions about climate change. What are some things your organization and the events industry as a whole are doing to help?

The events industry as a whole is making significant strides in implementing more sustainable practices. In many cases, this starts with holding vendors, partners, and potential venues accountable for their own practices. Choosing to work with those who are prioritizing environmentally responsible practices is perhaps the most impactful shift we can make as an industry.

In terms of initiatives that most directly impact guests and consumers, it can be challenging for event producers to maintain the standards of creating rich, meaningful, personalized experiences while also meeting sustainability targets. That said, I’m really proud of the work that our industry has done and, in many ways, is blazing trails forward and setting new standards. From focusing on recycling and waste management efficiencies, to incorporating more eco-friendly transportation options to eliminating paper waste and leaning into the digital world for more innovative solutions to reach our audiences — there are increasing opportunities to ‘lean into green’ and increasing support amongst consumers and end-users, a many of whom are willing to pay a premium to support these sustainable practices.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you in your mission?

Community: It starts at home. Prioritize environmental consciousness. Encourage children to engage in sustainable practices so that it is not just second nature, but the go-to practice.

Society: As consumers, we have the power. Hold brands and companies accountable for their practices. For example, don’t support cruise lines that have been repeatedly fined for dumping non-biodegradable waste in the oceans. Don’t support corporations that lobby against reasonable environmental protections. Be intentional with where you spend your dollars because at the end of the day, the buck stops with wherever you spend your bucks.

Politicians: Listen. You’re elected to represent your constituents, not to vote based on your personal bias or the agendas of your financial contributors. Follow the science and do the right thing.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

There are several reports stating that companies that allocate a significant amount of resources toward sustainability and climate initiatives have higher growth potential and long-term competitive advantage in the marketplace. From attracting top talent, to demanding higher rates for their services, to safeguarding themselves from inevitable carbon price hikes by investing in sustainable materials, climate-conscious brands are experiencing enhanced brand affinity and revenue growth. Sustainability has been mainstreamed as a priority through executives and boards, think tanks and activists, and consumers in general.

This is the signature question we ask in most of our interviews. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started promoting sustainability and climate justice” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1 . When it comes to climate change, look at the science, not the opinions. Factual data is where we should be investing our time and energy, not debates based on politically-fueled conjecture.

2 . Alternative facts are not real. If ever in doubt about what the ‘real’ facts are, follow the money. Look into who and what entities are supporting either side of the debate and consider their motives.

3 . Look beyond the headlines and focus on what’s really important. For example, plastic straws make up .025% of the 8 million tons of plastic waste that finds its way into the oceans every year, yet consumers are misled to believe this is an area worthy of a significant amount of effort and attention toward sustainability.

4 . Energy resources are wasted in our everyday lives in more ways than we can count. Developing a consciousness around that costs nothing, but can have a significant long-term impact on our carbon footprint.

5 . Consumers hold the power. If we demand that companies do better, provide more sustainable services and products, and commit to reducing their overall carbon footprint, which is thereby indirectly transferred to the consumers themselves — then we can affect meaningful change.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I would love the opportunity to sit down with Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme. Among their many initiatives, this group works closely with young environmental entrepreneurs who are committed to finding innovative solutions to climate issues world-wide. There are so many new technologies being developed and experimented with, I think it would be fascinating to learn how they are fostering such creativity and creating potentially game-changing solutions for climate change.

How can our readers continue to follow your work online?

Please find us at www.epicentertainmentgroup.com and on Instagram @epicentertainmentgroup.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

About the Interviewer: Monica Sanders JD, LL.M, is the founder of “The Undivide Project”, an organization dedicated to creating climate resilience in underserved communities using good tech and the power of the Internet. She holds faculty roles at the Georgetown University Law Center and the Tulane University Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy. Professor Sanders also serves on several UN agency working groups. As an attorney, Monica has held senior roles in all three branches of government, private industry, and nonprofits. In her previous life, she was a journalist for seven years and the recipient of several awards, including an Emmy. Now the New Orleans native spends her time in solidarity with and championing change for those on the frontlines of climate change and digital divestment. Learn more about how to join her at: www.theundivideproject.org.

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Monica Sanders
Authority Magazine

Monica Sanders JD, LL.M, is the founder of “The Undivide Project”, an organization dedicated to creating climate resilience in underserved communities.