Music Festivals and their Ecological Footprint

In the midst of environmental destruction worldwide, how can we approach sustainable methods on smaller scales such as music festivals? With any event that brings thousands to hundreds of thousands together, there is room for harmful environmental impacts. Some of the main issues regarding music festivals and sustainability are carbon emissions, noise, literal waste such as plastic and non recyclable materials, and the overall ecological footprint. In recent years festivals have seemed to prioritize sustainability and understand the need for change, but is that enough? I wanted to look at what festivals are currently doing to be more “green” as well as what must continue to change to ensure we are not destroying our environment.

Waste/ Recycling:

This is probably the most common form of sustainability implemented by festivals. Over the past 10 years festivals have heavily upgraded to recyclable and compostable utensils, cups, plates… etc. Festivals like Outside Lands and Coachella, alongside many more require their vendors to use solely compostable containers for serving food. According to the Outside Lands website they created “close to 375,000 pounds of waste last year, but diverted 87% of that waste through composting, recycling and reusing.” These are pretty remarkable numbers, Outside Lands works alongside Clean Vibes and the San Francisco Department of the Environment to achieve the highest possible diversion rates. Alongside this, they provide an educational forum for sustainability and social consciousness on festival grounds. Now even though Outside Lands does a great job and is very transparent about their waste. It is important to take into account that having compostable and recyclable materials is only important if they are discarded properly. Currently, the US has the capability to recycle 75% of its 292 million tons of waste. However, the US only recycles about 30% of its annual waste due to trash and recycling being mishandled. People need to be educated and made more aware of how to properly compost and recycle so that the recycling and compost at these venues does not get disposed of incorrectly.

Energy & Carbon Footprint:

One of the largest harms is the carbon footprint created from these music festivals. There are many factors to this including the vast amount of energy required for large stages, lighting, sound systems, and facilities on the festival grounds. A key factor is the transportation into these festivals that exudes far too much carbon emissions. To combat this, many festivals are implementing renewable energy like wind and solar, as well as promoting public transportation. Renewable energy sources are being increasingly integrated into festival infrastructure, which helps to reduce the festivals reliant on fossil fuels. In the past decade there has been a heavy push for carpooling, and encouraging attendees to use public transportation to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Coachella is notorious for having many attendees drive and fly from everywhere around the world, creating a giant carbon footprint. Coachella encourages attendees to use energy-efficient technologies such as LED lights, solar-powered electric generators, and electric cars. The festival also has shuttle buses to decrease individual car travel. They incentivize carpooling with Carpoolchella, which allows cars of four or more to win prizes. Even with this more could be required considering an estimated 650,000 people attend throughout those two weekends in April.
Although Coachella is being used as the main example due to its grand scale, many festivals could make improvements on the amount of cars and transportation waste created from traveling to their festivals. More free shuttles, extended public transportation and carpool initiatives would help to make sure the amount of individual cars and uber’s gets rapidly reduced.

Getty Images

Ecological Footprint:

It is important that we preserve the land. Trash, balloons, and confetti cause harm to the wildlife that lives within these environments. Sound pollution is a growing problem affecting a number of wildlife species. Sound pollution is disruptive because it drowns out or masks the animals noises, making it hard or impossible for them to communicate. The pollution from trash that isn’t disposed of properly leads to waste in plants, soil, and surrounding water. Inevitably improper waste disposal leads to residing wildlife ingesting the harmful trash and chemicals. On top of this the societal pressure for fashion forward festival outfits only perpetuates the harmful fast fashion cycle, leading to extensive environmental degradation worldwide.
Festivals such as Burning Man have 10 principles, one of which is “leave no trace”, meaning they require everyone to clean up after themselves. By 2030 Burning Man has three main goals to lower their environmental impact.
1. No Matter Out of Place. Handle waste ecologically.
2. Be Regenerative. Create a net positive ecological and environmental impact.
3. Be Carbon Negative. Remove more carbon from the environment than we put into it.
Having environmental goals, such as these, is what more festivals should aim for. It’s important to take this all into account before entering these spaces to make sure you do your individual best to leave the space cleaner than you found it. Transforming our practices, to preserve the land we celebrate music on is of utmost importance. After all, it’s about ensuring Mother Earth strives, because without her none of our favorite festivals could exist.

Historical Context:

As we speak about protecting the land from trash we must also acknowledge the land and its history. Historically it’s always important to remember whose land we occupy, and the history of indigenous people. Indigenous communities have always used music as a means to bring communities together. Music is used in ceremonies, mourning, celebrations, and traditional gatherings. It is a vital aspect of Native communities. Burning Man festival is held on ancestral Paiute land, The Agua Caliente Indian Reservation encompasses approximately 28,000 of land in the western Coachella Valley, Outside Lands in golden gate park is aboriginal lands of the Ohlones (also called Costanoans)… just to name a few. As we all come together to enjoy music and community we must educate ourselves on the historical context of the land.

Creator: Christopher Polk
Copyright: 2018 Getty Images

Top Tier Sustainability:

Several music festivals around the world are implementing sustainable methods, and innovative practices to reduce their environmental impact. Here are some of the most sustainable music festivals:
Glastonbury Festival (United Kingdom): Glastonbury has made significant efforts to reduce its environmental footprint. They have banned single-use plastics, use renewable energy sources, and promote public transportation to and from the event. As one of the largest festivals I hope they continue to move forward and improve in sustainability.
Roskilde Festival (Denmark): Roskilde Festival is known for its commitment to sustainability and social responsibility. With composting facilities throughout the festival, there is a comprehensive waste management system in place. Roskilde also invests in renewable energy and has initiatives to reduce their carbon emissions.
Shambala Festival (United Kingdom): Shambala Festival aims to be as sustainable as possible. One of few because it is powered by 100% renewable energy which is a huge accomplishment. Shambala has a strict policy against single-use plastics and also promotes sustainable transportation options.
Boom Festival (Portugal): Boom Festival focuses on art, culture, and sustainability. The festival is aiming for carbon neutrality. Boom has implemented using renewable energy sources, promoting organic food, and providing composting toilets.

A lot has changed over the years, but in all seriousness changes must be made at a faster pace. At the end of the day Mother Earth needs to be the number one priority because none of these festivals would run without our reliance on the land. More festivals should run solely on renewable energy and require attendees to follow more strict guidelines around waste reduction. Festivals must continue to work with local organizations that handle sustainable methods, recycling, compost, etc. I hope to see more initiatives implemented within the next 10 years that are aligned with the dire need to protect our earth. Research the festivals you attend and see what rules or initiatives they have in place regarding sustainability.

By Ferg

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