May 18, 2015

How Green are Music Festivals?

Summer is finally here! For many, this means a fun roadtrip to their favorite Music Festival. Cars are packed up, friends are picked up, and everyone heads out the event. Good times are had by all and memories were made. But what happens after the music festival? What happens to all the waste that was created? What happens to the area where the festival was held? The question begs to be asked, how green are music festivals anyway?

In most cases, the damage left behind after a major music festival is a case study of an environmental catastrophe. Garbage seems to be the primary export of music festivals with literally tons of waste being created by fans, artists, and vendors. Add to that the hefty carbon footprint of 100,000 fans driving to the event and the mass energy consumption during a three day time period and you can easily see how problematic these festivals are to our environment. In addition, the bigger music fests have added an extra weekend to their schedule, resulting in twice as much waste.

A little known problem is all the tents left over after a music festival. With 1 out of 6 people leaving tents behind at a recent 100,000 attendee festival, over 10,000 mostly brand new tents were left behind. These tents are perfect items for charity and the homeless population.

A few years ago, scores of responsible fans started noticing the devastation after each event and started complaining to the organizers. Fortunately, this has resulted in many music festivals stepping up their eco-programs and cleaning up their act. At about the same time A Greener Festival was created to combat this issue. The UK based non-profit is “committed to helping music and arts events and festivals around the world adopt environmentally efficient practices.” The organization routinely audits over 120 festivals around the world each year and gives out awards to the events that offer the greenest festival.

As you would expect, the larger music festivals like Coachella and Sasquatch have been chastised as the worst. Sasquatch has a history of being especially horrific. Event goers have complained each year that Sasquatch has not provided enough garbage cans and only a fraction of recycle cans at the festival. Add 200,000 single use water bottles to the mix and you could see the issue at Sasquatch. And what has been labeled as a complete failure, the event only picks up waste at night, leaving piles and heaps of trash scattered about during the event each day. Coachella, on the other hand, has made great strides to reach out to concert goers to do their part and use innovative programs and incentives to encourage green practices. Unfortunately, the number of Coachella festival goers and the great distance they drive to get there, will never make it a green event and doesn’t even get an honorable mention from A Greener Festival.

One large festival however has attained the “Highly Commended” award from AGF and is a shining example at how a big event can be green. The Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee received the coveted AGF award last year for their huge improvements in sustainability. The 100,000+ attendee event offers an annual report detailing their waste diversion efforts (336+ tons diverted from landfill in 2014 alone!), an increasing percentage of solar power, has a huge carpooling contest offering VIP upgrades and other prizes to cars with over 4 people in them, offers free water for reusable containers, uses 100% compostable food service packaging and materials, and boasts The Greening Village and Planet Roo – an eco and social activism village dedicated to promoting a socially responsible lifestyle. While other big events claim that being green costs too much, Bonnaroo has quickly shown that it can be done with minimal extra costs.

Sadly, there aren’t too many festivals from the USA that made the awards list from AGF. Out of 45 awards only 4 American music festivals made the cut, with only one festival – Lightning in a Bottle – making the “Outstanding” top ten list. This 15,000 person festival in Temecula, CA is aggressively eco-conscious, has an army of over 120 volunteers to meticulously sort recyclables, uses solar energy, punishes solo drivers with a $50 fee (carpoolers have no parking fee), has rideshare buses from Los Angeles, San Fran, and San Diego, and boasts stages made from recycled materials! They also have options for ticket buyers to purchase carbon credits to offset their carbon footprint from their trip to the festival.

By far the worst eco-minded events are the electronic music festivals. The world’s largest electric music fest, the Electric Daisy Carnival, is an utter disaster each year with event goers having little to no concept of eco-responsability. Education was increased last year, but since it’s a younger crowd, the effort has gone largely unnoticed.

The annual indie and new music fest South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas also gets bad marks for their lack of green initiatives. Because of the sheer size of the festival and the fact that it is on city streets makes it’s harder to contain and pick up after. Festival attendees complain that bands trying to promote themselves leave literally hundreds of thousands of flyers everywhere on the streets.

  • green_music_festivals
    Good vibes at Coachella. A normal day at Coachella produces hundreds of tons of trash.

Here’s the list of awards from the A Greener Festival for 2014:


Boom (Portugal)
Cambridge Folk Festival (UK)
The Falls Music and Arts Festival, Marion Bay (Australia)
Ilosaarirock Festival (Finland)
Island Vibe 2013 (Australia)
Lightning In A Bottle (USA)
Oyafestivalen (Norway)
Shambala Festival (UK)
We Love Green (France)
Welcome to the Future (Netherlands)


Bonnaroo (USA)
Bona Nit Barcelona (Spain)
DAS FEST (Germany)
Glastonbury Festival (UK)
The Falls Music and Arts Festival, Lorne (Australia)
Freifeld Festival (Germany)
Global 2000 Tomorrow Festival (Austria)
Heart of Glass, Heart of Gold (France)
Malmo Festivalen (Sweden)
Mysteryland (Netherlands)
Northside (Denmark)
Rocking the Daisies (South Africa)
Splendour in the Grass (Australia)
Splore (New Zealand)
Wood (UK)


BBC Radio 2 and Proms in Hyde Park (UK)
Beloved (US)
Body and Soul (Ireland)
Bluesfest (Australia)
Calgary Folk Music Festival (Canada)
Canmore Folk Festival (Canada)
DGTL Festival (Netherlands)
End of the Road (UK)
Extrema Outdoor (Netherlands)
Greenbelt (UK)
Hadra Trance Festival VII (France)
Maifeld Derby (Germany)
Northern Nights Music Festival (USA)
Nozstock The Hidden Valley (UK)
Planeta Madrid (Spain)
Plissken (Greece)
Sled Island (Canada)
SOS 4:8 (Spain)
T in the Park (UK)


Festival 2014 (UK)


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