Explore Issue 01 of LOOP Magazine

Featuring Sam Tompkins and Victor Ray as our cover stars, as well as internal spreads from Girli, Jords, Mysie, Finn Askew, Kara Marni and Master Peace

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Sustainable Music Series: The Carbon Issues Culprits – Festivals

Finally, after almost 2 years of absence, festivals are back! My heart was warmed to see the scenes that emerged from the first festivals to welcome back communities of music lovers after a long and difficult period of isolation. At times scrolling through my social feeds, it was overwhelming to see the sheer joy of artists and audiences reconnected to celebrate the beauty of live music. 

However, before we get carried away packing our tents, glitter paint, angel wings, and wheelbarrows full of cheap lager, it’s important to consider the damage these events can have on the local and global environment. Now more than ever, it is clear how important these events are to our industry, culture, and communities. Losing these events to unsustainable practices would be a devastating blow and a real shame because it is avoidable through making the right choices and taking the relevant actions.

To get us thinking about the paradoxical sustainable dilemma that is music festivals, I would like to share a quote that was original published in an article by The Independent back in 2013:

“Recent years have witnessed a growing convergence between the expanding music festival scene and environmental activism surrounding the issues these festivals can give rise to. This development has followed from the realization that music festivals can be, on the one hand, grossly unsustainable and excessively consumptive, while, on the other hand, a great medium through which to spread the message of environmentalism. ”… But behind this picture lurks an issue that activists and festival organizers have been doing battle with for decades: the quest for good environmental practice, among both organizing parties and festival attendees.”

Some interesting food for thought, as ideologically many festivals and festival-goers align with eco-activism, but in practice, it can often be the opposite.

A report published back in 2016 by the music industry think-tank Powerful Thinking in collaboration with Julie’s Bicycle alongside other creative industry bodies found that the UK Festival Industry alone accumulates 23,500 tonnes of waste per year of which 68% ends up in Landfill. 5 Million Litres of Diesel are required annually to power these events, which averages out at 0.6 litres per person per day – a disturbingly low 15% of which is biodiesels. The study also reported that a whopping 80% of attendees choose to drive to events, making audience travel the largest contributing factor to the industry’s carbon footprint. The result is a pretty bleak estimate of around 19,778 Tonnes of CO2 emissions per year from the sector; enough to make any eco-conscious individual reconsider attending a festival at all!

The advantage festivals have though, is that they are one event, in one location, taking place at one time, so it is much easier to minimise a festival’s effects on the environment, and as a result, there are quite a few trailblazers in this area.

Some of the big names include Lollapolooza who in 2018 reported that it managed to offset 2.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and avoided the use of 1,119,276 plastic water bottles through its sustainable efforts, while Coachella encouraged car-sharing to win exclusive prizes and introduced recycling points where attendees could gain points to spend on merch for recycling on-site, and Glastonbury banned the use of plastic bottles completely

One of the more innovative initiatives to come out of the UK Festival sector was from Latitude which partnered with Red Fox Cyclingback in 2019 to provide a dedicated cycle route starting on London or Ipswich, taking riders through the scenic panoramas and rolling hills of the Suffolk countryside – now that’s as eco as it gets in my opinion.

It’s not just the big players that are getting in on the action, there are a plethora of boutique festivals out there that are fighting the good fight, from Green Man Festival to Sunrise and from The Green Gathering to Shambala, each putting their own spin on an eco-fest, providing a platform to promote sustainable practices while reconnecting festival-goers with nature to a soundtrack of good quality live music.

So, on a very positive note, it seems that festivals are well on their way to making a difference, but there is still a lot to be done and there are still many festivals that haven’t even started their journey to sustainability, but as is often the case with sustainability, it’s all about baby steps, every little change helps and every festival that pledges to make their event greener puts more pressure on those that haven’t.

The most important thing to take away from this is; do your research! If you are considering attending a festival, visit their website first to see what sustainable pledges and initiatives that they already have in place, where possible take public transport, carshare, or even cycle. Avoid single-use plastics like the plague, and for goodness sake, don’t leave your tent behind for someone else to deal with, leave the pitch as you found it!

Words by Darren Hay

Posted On 3 October, 2022