We all love a good festival weekend, but as concerns on climate change and environmental impact grow among most concert-goers, the traditional music festival has had to change.
It is largely known that the average music festival contributes to insurmountable amounts of waste and transport emissions, as well as consuming energy, water, materials and food resources. UK-based think-tank Powerful Thinking reported that British festivals alone generated 23,000 tons of waste a year.
In 2017, environmental reports for the city of Indio, where Coachella is held, estimated that the festival would generate approximately 100,312 tons of waste over two festival weekends and the people attending the festival would account for up to 65% of the onsite carbon footprint.
In a Covid-19 world where your average concert-goer has been made aware of how our consumer habits may need to shift drastically, and where concerted efforts to protect the world we live in are being made – it is inevitable that the music festival industry too will have to evolve.
The Festival Footprint
To paint a clearer picture of how bad a traditional music festival can impact the earth, we should understand what a negative carbon footprint actually means.
No one likes the image of a sea turtle trapped by plastic rings or the grim image of trash islands floating in the South Pacific Ocean, but many fail to connect the dots between our own everyday activities and these devastating events.
The waste that a festival generates can be anything from plastic cups and cutlery to discarded tents and camping equipment. Of the 23,000 tons of waste that was generated by UK-based festivals, it was estimated less than a third gets recycled; the rest is either incinerated, goes to landfill or most probably into the oceans and stomachs of your friendly sea creatures.
An event the magnitude of the average summer music festival also calls for huge amounts of energy and water consumption.
A study of eight festivals by De Montfort University’s Institute Of Energy And Sustainable Development found that it was common for energy generators to be twice the size required to meet peak demand – leading to fuel and energy wastage.
Festival goers themselves are also the cause of major negative environmental impacts. In 2019, Statista reported that the Lollapalooza Brazil festival sold 246,000 thousand tickets, making it the highest grossing music festival worldwide.
People the world over have been more and more willing to travel for music. This may be good news for tourism but bad news for carbon reduction. A UK’s Music Industry carbon impact report by Julie’s Bicycle notes that audience travel alone (not accounting for artistes, crew and contractors) typically constitutes around 80% of a festival's carbon footprint.
Consequently, energy and fossil fuel consumption for transport remain the top two causes of global warming and climate change. We may not feel its full effects now, but temperature increase for the earth’s surface causes devastating effects such as draughts, floods and food shortages.
The Power Of Going Green
These issues have not escaped the periphery of younger adults. A Gallup analysis found that 70% of young Americans feel that global warming is a serious issue that might affect their daily lives.
The large number of Gen Z and millennial demographics at music events thus make the need for a shift towards more eco-conscious events more palpable.
Mohamed K. Faal II, 29, a frequent festival-goer from California says, “I think the idea of sustainability and ‘going green’ has transcended from political debate to serving a practical role in everyday life.
“I would love to see schemes like reusable products sold at some of these concert venues with the option of earning money back upon return of say, a water bottle. If we can continue to illustrate that sustainability equals cash savings, this would spur concerts and festivals to increase their sustainability efforts.”
Large festival organisers have taken into account the demand for a more sustainable approach to creating memorable events. For the first time ever, UK’s largest festival event, Glastonbury, went plastic-free in 2019.
It made all attendees take a Green Pledge, which includes taking back their own waste and donating unused camping materials. There is also an onsite recycling centre that processes the gigantic amounts of waste produced over festival’s three days.
In the US, Coachella has incorporated initiatives such as Carpoolchella, encouraging people to carpool to the festival, as well as a recycling reward system for plastic bottles.
Festivals in Asia have not fallen behind in the efforts to make sustainable big events. Japan’s Fuji Rock have been making efforts to reduce waste and keep a close eye on their carbon footprint since its inception.
The founder of Fuji Rock, Masahiro Hidaka has been known to adhere to the philosophy that nature hosts the event and therefore it is only right that it rewards nature back.
Speaking to Japan Times, he said, “It’s ironic. There’s air pollution, garbage and the animals get scared and run away. It’s our responsibility to let people who come to the festival know that.”
Fuji Rock is known as one of the cleanest festivals in the world and even compensates for its energy usage by switching to biodiesel generators and solar power.
The Future Of The Green Festival
Aside from reducing the carbon footprint of existing festivals, organisers are also seeing the benefit in tailoring specifically eco-conscious festivals. Leading the way are green festivals such as Norway’s Oya Festival and Thailand’s Wonderfruit Festival.
These fully green festivals have been incorporating sustainability into their events since the early 2000s and have achieved an almost 100% carbon neutrality by offsetting their carbon footprints.
Artistes themselves have also understood that they play a key role in encouraging sustainability at the festivals that host them.
Halim Ardie, from Indonesia, is a DJ and co-founder of the Rainforest Pavilion; a collective of DJs and artistes that raise funds for the world’s rainforests. It has been a mainstay at the Wonderfruit Festival for the last four years.
He says: “The future of festivals will need to not only change but also educate. All the festivals that I have been to that adhere to green practices have always left a lasting impression that goes beyond the event, impacting my own habits at home.
“It’s important that festivals are able to educate as well as practice what they preach.”
Similarly, more and more high profile celebrities and performers are using their voice to educate their audiences on going green. Big names like U2 and Radiohead have been advocating carbon-neutral tours and supporting environmental causes and organisations for years, inspiring younger artistes such as Billie Eilish to embark on "green" world tours.
Ultimately it is not a question of how music festivals can be more sustainable but when.
Adam Matthews, founder of Plural Asia, a Malaysian music event organiser sums it up by saying, “The way we experience live music events is a constantly evolving landscape dictated by an ever-changing situation.
“If the world is experiencing a great reset, we can use this as the opportunity to build a truly great future for the industry.”
For more articles on music festivals, read:
Cover Image: Fred Marie/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images
Writer l Shakila Rajendra
Writer by craft, storyteller by compulsion. Eco-conscious, sustainability, travel, music, love and life's infinite funny occurrences like grumpy animals and misspelled road signs are things that get her out of bed.