From food to fancy dress choices, water to waste management; festival sustainability is a huuuuge topic.
There are arguments that festivals are unsustainable by their very nature as temporary settlements requiring tonnes of infrastructure to be put in place for a few short days of hedonistic escape… But I’d tend to disagree.
I think festivals can provide a valuable platform for discussion and education about subjects like sustainability – I don’t think I would be as environmentally interested as I am if I didn’t engage so much with festivals! Additionally – all us attendees would still be doing impactful activities at home; still eating, drinking or perhaps even choosing to fly off on holiday rather than festivalling!
Here are some of the most interesting and pioneering ways that festivals lessened their impact on the environment this year and pushed festival sustainability to the next level…
Gone Off Milk
The Sustainability darling of the UK festival scene, Shambala Festival, have a list of green credentials as long as a very long thing – but we’ll just focus on their latest here! This year they added a ban on cow’s milk to their current ban on meat being sold from food traders on site.
If you’re a veggie (like me!) or a vegan already and you’ve read much about the impact of the meat and dairy industry on the planet then this might seem like the logical next step. But actually it’s a pretty complex issue and has been controversial even with Shambala’s relatively small & like-minded audience – to see what I mean, get stuck into the comments here!
You can read more about the Gone Off Milk initiative here.
I also LOVED their call out for fancy dressers to create their costumes out of recycled materials and think more about more sustainable styling for their carnival costumes this year.
No more single-use plastic
This year Boomtown banned all single-use plastic, making everything on-site closed loop, including compostable bar cups in an industry first!
You might think this is a simple decision but consider all the aspects; no plastic water bottles means installing heaps more water points for everyone to refill with and bringing in some canned water for the bars. With traders and bars all using vegware, that means providing specific compost bins so that everything can be sorted and then sending it all to an industrial composting facility. It is a huge logistical mission that requires heaps more infrastructure and awareness!
Read more about Boomtown’s single-use plastic ban here.
I had a few people ask me this year why, if there was no single-use plastic, single-use cans were still allowed? Cans are infinitely recyclable (!) and recycling them saves heaps of energy and valuable resources, check out Every Can Counts for more info.
Meadows in the Mountains
Train Not Plane
It’s all very well being a totally plastic-free site (which Meadows in the Mountains is) offsetting your carbon emissions by planting your own forest (which Meadows also does) but if your 2000 attendees fly in to your beautiful Bulgarian site from all corners of the earth then you’re kind of only just about offsetting your emissions!
According to Energy Revolution, audience travel makes up 80% of most festival carbon emissions… I imagine it is more than that if most of your audience is from the UK and travelling to Bulgaria!
Meadows are tackling this issue head-on with a great campaign called #TrainNotPlane encouraging their audience to embrace slow travel and make their trip to Bulgaria more slow and scenic by embracing much lower emission cross Europe train travel rather than quick high emission plane travel. This comes with an initiative for free festival tickets for the first few people to show them their train tickets! Love this blog which has tips on how to do it yourself.
Glastonbury – Shangri-La
Shangri-La Gas Tower
Glastonbury are well known for their commitment to sustainability, championing the most sustainable ways of living in the green fields and beyond since the very beginnings of the festival…
Shangri-La are one of the areas that does this in the most thought-provoking way; “holding a mirror up to the masses, challenging people in politics and play” with their tagline of re-use, recycle, resist.
Recycling was a big topic, present throughout the whole area, and the theme this year was ‘Junkstapostion’. All the set was made out of recycled materials, the pillars of the entrance were made from air beds, broken tent poles and sleeping bags – serving as a stark reminder of the campsite waste problem.
The Gas Tower, which hosted a soundtrack of electronic heavyweights from the likes of Bicep to My Nu Leng, was made from 10 tonnes of recycled marine plastic!
The plastic was collected by volunteers from beaches in the South West as part of a project in collaboration with Keep Britain Tidy and ORCA – how amazing is that? Not only recycling a heap of plastic that would have ended up in the ocean but also creating a huge awareness campaign in the process.
This Thai festival has sustainability woven into its entire fabric, from the infrastructure to the messaging and ethos.
At Wonderfruit, our ethos is to encourage, develop and innovate creative solutions for sustainable living and bring together a global community to celebrate them.Wonderfruit Festival
They are certified carbon neutral, there’s no plastic on-site, food is composted on-site, cutting edge building techniques are used that mean some of the stages are simply slotted together to save materials, the delicious food offering is all locally sourced and the programme is chocka block with thought-provoking talks and workshops around the broad subject of sustainability… and that’s just a selection of their eco-credentials.
Wonderfruit imagine themselves as a pop-up city experiment, a potential utopia where more sustainable ways of living can be explored, discussed and potentially disseminated into the wider world.
Read through their ‘pop-up city’ pages here to find out more about their fascinating ethos.
Over to us….
Festival Sustainability for Attendees
It’s amazing how many festivals are leading the way on environmental awareness campaigns and pioneering initiatives.
Aside from specific festival initiatives make sure you also check out industry-wide campaigns such as the Association of Independent Festival’s ‘Take Your Tent Home’ Campaign, Energy Revolution‘s work towards offsetting festival travel, the Ecowarriorz roaming activists, A Greener Festival awards and conferences as well as Powerful Thinking, a think-do tank for working towards smarter energy management in the events industry.
However, the industry can only do so much, it’s down to us the attendees to all work together to reduce the environmental impact of our festival going as well.
Here are 4 simple green actions you can take to make your festival experience more sustainable:
✔ Festival Sustainability tip #1 : Travel greener
As I mentioned earlier, travel choices can be one of the worst things for your impact on the environment, as well as the local roads around the festival! Why not try public transport? Many festivals offer shuttle busses from their local train stations and dedicated coaches – often with perks like shorter queues at the gates and cheaper tickets. I got the coach to Shambala this year which was the first time I’d done it since I was about 18, and it was awesome! I met some great people and got into the festival super quick.
If you’re really dedicated then you could even hop on your bike. Check out Red Fox Cycling to see if they’re offering a guided ride to your fave festival!
✔ Festival Sustainability Tip #2 : Bring. Less. Stuff.
Less to accidentally leave, less food to waste, less to have to carry to begin with – stick to the essentials!
✔ Festival Sustainability Tip #3 : Use the correct bins
If you’re at a festival that are making an effort to streamline their waste channels then make sure you help them out and read the signs on the bins or else you might contaminate a whole load of recycling!
✔ Festival Sustainability tip #4 : Leave no trace!
This one is the no brainer – if you brought it then bring it home. If you think you might not be bothered, then treat yourself to a pre-pitched option so you don’t have to worry about it.
✔ Festival Sustainability Tip #5 : Ask your favourite festival what they are doing to reduce their impact!
Going to a festival with no green policy? Know that you didn’t see separate recycling bins at your last festival? Ask them what they are doing to reduce their impact!
Make them know that festival sustainability is an important issue to you as an attendee and might impact your ticket buying choices in the future!! This one is especially important if you attend big corporate festivals who often don’t have the environment as their top priority (every festival I’ve mentioned so far in this post is independent).
I’m definitely no green angel and have committed a fair few environmental festival sins in my decade or so going to festivals as an adult – eek! But I’ve pulled my socks up and I’m a full on water bottle carrying, litter picking, second hand wearing reformed character now haha!
I’d love to know what your top tips for being more environmentally conscious at festivals are? x