A Greener Festival?

SustainIt will be holding a green thinkathon at Valley Fest 2019. We will be asking questions about food waste, transport and sustainability. Join us in the field – pick up a pen and add a doodle or two to our interactive art piece or answer a couple of survey questions about creating a ‘greener’ festival.

The original music festival was conceived in the 1960s – a lovechild of the free festivals and protest spirit of the time. In its very roots is an interest in keeping the environmental impact low, reflecting the hippy movement of the time. In the last decade, the number of festivals in the UK has doubled. In 2019 over a thousand music festivals will take place in the UK.

You might assume that as people rush between headliners at this year’s music festivals, the question of how to recycle their food container would be the last thing on their minds. However, it is festival goers who are the main push for a reduction in the negative effects UK music festivals have on the environment. Increased environmental awareness generally has increased consumer sensitivity to such issues when choosing between alternatives. Festival organisers are now taking the pledge to reduce their environmental impact in every way that they can, to truly become a ‘Green Festival’.

Critics argue that it is not possible to have a green festival. Over 3 million people attend UK music festivals every year. 61% usually travel across the UK by car to attend these events. In total they create an enormous 23,500 tonnes of waste.

Despite these statistics – we should accept that this amount of people will have a carbon footprint wherever they are. If they weren’t at the festivals, they’d still be driving cars, consuming food, sitting in air-conditioned offices. So, the environmental impact of a festival also needs to be tempered with this baseline. Providing information and examples of good behaviour at music festivals could also lead to changes in consumer behaviour both at the event and afterwards. By paying attention to the following criteria, festivals can ‘Go Green’.

Glastonbury festival ‘Love The Farm, Leave No Trace’ campaign

Local Ecosystem Impact

Many events involve the use of green field sites, temporarily transformed into busy centres of activity. The preservation of wildlife, trees and hedgerows should be priority when organising an event. Using trackway can minimise damage of vehicle movement on site. Ammonia released by festival goers’ who sneak into bushes can have damaging effects on wildlife, especially to fish in nearby streams, so this should be discouraged.

Local Area Impact

Festivals are noisy – that’s part of the reason why they’re fun! But noise can be a pollutant too. Noise is regularly noted as a major environmental impact of music festivals, particularly in densely populated countries. Management of such events requires careful planning of noise abatement. The Environmental Health Department of local authorities currently set and monitor noise levels during events to ensure that agreed levels are not exceeded.

Travel & Transport

Without a doubt this is one of the areas that can make the biggest impact. Glastonbury famously provides a very regular shuttle bus service to train stations and local amenities daily. Persuading people to give up the comfort of the car is difficult, especially when there is luggage to carry.  Shambala festival charges a fee for every vehicle brought to the event, the proceeds of which are used to subsidise cheap public transport.

Power & Electricity

Since the 1980s, when outdoor events were becoming more prevalent, a ‘plug and play’ Diesel Generator model has persisted in the events industry. Research shows that Generators are usually operated far below their peak power capacity at music festivals, and they consume a baseline of fuel regardless of the size of their load. ‘Powerful Thinking’ are an enterprise who explore the ways festivals and events can reduce their carbon footprint through increased efficiency and alternatives. According to PT, the following alternatives can help reduce the impact of music festivals: Solar Power, Hybrid Power (diesel generator with batteries to store unused power), Biofuels, People power (kinetic), Hydrogen Fuel Cell Generators, Grid Connection and LED lightbulbs.


When selecting vendors and suppliers, festival organisers are encouraged to consider the following:

  • Using local food and drink suppliers who purchase goods from sustainable and organic sources.
  • Asking suppliers to work together to minimise transport miles.
  • Avoiding excess packaging, or any packaging at all.
  • Providing a separate food waste for composting.
  • Opting for plant-based vendors, as cutting meat and dairy reduces your carbon footprint from food by 73%.

Solid Waste & Recycling

Waste generated is one of the most prominent environmental impacts of music festivals. It is also one of the most expensive things for festival organisers. Most festivals are now implementing some form of environmentally aware waste management schemes. Many organisers allow only biodegradable disposables or re-usable cups and plates on stalls and provide separate bins for recycling. BoomTown Fair has an ‘EcoBond’ deposit scheme added to the ticket price. On the final day of the festival, festival goers can exchange a bag of either recycling or waste to get part of the ticket price back. This encourages festival goers to tidy up after themselves and as a result, reduces the negative environmental effects of the festival. Glastonbury have also encouraged festival goers to reduce their environmental damage through their “love the farm, leave no trace” campaign.

Water Usage & Sewage

Many UK music festivals have now implemented composting toilets. These are significantly more environmentally friendly than portaloos and beneficial in terms of fuel and transportation costs. They generate a smaller amount of waste requiring removal by tank lorries than portaloos and the end product can be recycled on site.

Behavioural Change & Communication

As this article has explored – music festivals can arguably be seen, on the one hand, as unsustainable and consumptive. On the other hand, they can be a great medium through which to spread the message of environmentalism. Festival organisers can use a variety of methods to influence attendees’ habits. Financial incentives and discounts are one way of encouraging a change in behaviour, as are internal advertising campaigns against specific activities. Festival organisers should also consider an independent assessment of their environmental data. This will help them to not only evaluate their own progress year on year, but to improve client and customer awareness and attendance in the future.

By Jess Knights, Creative Marketing Assistant