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Festivals are making an eco-friendly comeback

After a difficult 2020, music festivals are beginning to make a comeback – and they’re bringing a new, greener approach.

Many music lovers are desperate to return to live performances now lockdowns are lifting.

Although some festivals must wait until 2022, this summer promises the likes of Reading and Leeds, Green Man, and Bestival. But with concerns about climate change becoming increasingly pressing, festivalgoers and organisers are not only looking for festivals to be Covid-safe, but planet positive.

Many are calling for the relaunch of festivals post-lockdowns to #BuildBackGreener – and festivals are working to make this happen.

Just how bad for the environment can festivals be?

Without good sustainability practices, festivals can have a vast carbon footprint. The total UK festival industry emissions are estimated to be around 24,261 tonnes of CO2 per year.

The main problems lie in three areas: transport, fuel, and waste. Many festivalgoers in previous years have used high volumes of single-use plastics and low-quality camping gear which they leave behind at the festival site.

UK festivals produce an estimated 25,800 tonnes of waste annually, much of which ends up in landfill and does not biodegrade.

Although festivals present an environmental challenge, they don’t have to be so damaging, and things are looking up. In recent years, festival organisers have made substantial efforts to tackle environmental concerns.

In 2020, Powerful Thinking estimated that the sector had reduced relative emissions per audience member per day by around 23% from 2015. One watershed moment was in 2018, when over 60 festivals pledged to go ‘drastic on plastic’ and eliminate single-use plastics on their sites by 2021.

We’ve already seen some creative solutions to making festivals sustainable. Innovative approaches to festival waste have been crucial at festivals like Green Man. They collaborate with Help Refugees and Newport to Calais Aid Collective to donate unwanted but usable camping equipment, as well as leftover food, to refugees for whom it might make a real difference.

Some festivals are even working towards being fuelled entirely by renewable energy, and Green Man’s ‘solar stage’ shows it can be done. Making festivals truly green will take a substantial, industry-wide effort however, rather than one individual event.

Festivals are using this moment to come back greener

The pandemic has provided a moment to build on this work and initiate a bigger change in direction, as festival organisers reflect on how they operate in a post-Covid world.

Shambala festival, for instance, used 2020 to develop a 5-year vision for positive action. Already a leader in festival sustainability (in 2018, they sent zero waste to landfill), Shambala recently launched a 25kx25 campaign which aims to inspire 25,000 actions for social and environmental good by 2025.

While Shambala haven’t been able to return on full scale this year, they are implementing new sustainability measures at their smaller event for 2021, Shambino. At previous Shambala festivals, single-use coffee cups have been a sustainability problem since they can’t be recycled.

This year Shambino will eliminate them and instead ask people to bring their own reusable coffee cups, building on their success in removing single-use plastic bottles and cups from previous festivals.

These kinds of innovations are supported by industry-wide organisations like A Greener Festival and Vision: 2025, which have been key voices calling for festivals to make the pandemic a turning point in sustainability.

A Greener Festival provide the outdoor live events industry with the information, resources, and connections they need to improve sustainability.

Industry network Vision: 2025 are similarly important in supporting festivals’ eco-friendly goals. Last month, they launched a new knowledge hub to help festivals prepare for a greener return to operation.

Groups like this will be crucial in the next few years if festivals really are going to achieve big change – by linking together organisations and professionals in all different parts of the industry, they are essential to overcoming problems like finding green suppliers.

How can we help?

This drive towards sustainably organised festivals is an important improvement, but not everything is down to the organisers.

If you’re planning to celebrate the return of live music by heading to a festival this summer, there’s a few simple things you can do to help, like recycling anything you can and bringing a reusable water bottle.

Rethinking how you travel can also make a big difference.

Many festivalgoers come by car, but with an estimated 4.9m UK festivalgoers every year, that’s a lot of car trips. Indeed, travel to and from festivals is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions related to these events.

Reducing your footprint is a simple as taking the coach or train instead. To make things more affordable, festivals like Green Man have partnered with transport companies to subsidise tickets.

There’s a long way to go, but the initiatives of festivals like Shambala and Green Man, as well as the support of not-for-profits like A Greener Festival, are reasons for optimism. While people might initially have been sceptical of whether an eco-friendly festival was anything other than a contradiction in terms, recent projects have proved there certainly are ways to make festivals green if we think big enough.

If everyone contributes, then the return of festivals this summer could be a pivotal moment for sustainability in the industry.

This article was originally written by Charlotte Moberly. ‘I’m a Marketing and Outreach intern at Thred. I studied History at Oxford University, and am about to begin a masters in American History, researching the 1980s women’s music movement.’ View her LinkedIn.


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