Music festivals and sustainability: An unlikely success story

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012 | Our Philosophy

This blog post originally appeared on Melba Foggo’s Logica blog

Thousands of people travelling from far and wide (often in gas-guzzling cars) to be entertained by shows requiring vast amounts of energy while generating piles of rubbish in once green fields; on the surface, music festivals hardly appear to be beacons of environmental responsibility – and we haven’t even mentioned the chemical toilets yet.

But, beneath the surface, music festivals are making great efforts to reduce their environmental impact. Leading the way is American festival Rock the Green, which came to our attention through Logica’s Sustainability Stories campaign to highlight innovative sustainable projects. Incredibly, this one-day festival held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin generated just 10 trash cans of rubbish last year, with 92% of waste being either recycled, reused or composted.

Key to the success of the festival was the involvement of local sponsors and partners who recognised the business benefits of putting Milwaukee on the sustainability map. “The community has embraced Rock the Green,” said founder Lindsay Stevens. “Our sponsors and partners have made it clear that showcasing Milwaukee on the national stage as a leader in innovative sustainability practices is a priority.”

Music festivals in the UK have also made great strides in becoming more sustainable, including the big festivals. Glastonbury festival recycled 49% of its waste in 2010 and last year they launched the Green Traveller package, which granted access to perks such as solar showers to those who made the journey to the festival by public transport rather than car.

It’s not just the obvious candidates like Glastonbury (which has long had a close relationship with Greenpeace), either. A Greener Festival Awards was set up in 2007 to help music festivals around the world become more sustainable. Last year 47 festivals were given the award, with 12 achieving ‘Outstanding’ status. One of those was the Isle of Wight Festival, whose green initiatives go above and beyond the usual advice to refill water bottles and clean up mess from the campsite. Recycling is incentivised by offering eco-friendly freebies in exchange for cans, cycling is promoted through organized bike rides and the Let It Bee campaign highlights the dwindling bee population.

The key aspect of these initiatives at the Isle of Wight Festival is that they go above and beyond simply cutting the festival’s carbon footprint. Instead, they use the captive audience that a music festival creates to influence people’s behaviour beyond the festival’s fields. Rock the Green also took this approach, with a number of interactive areas around the festival site that aimed to educate and enable the audience to be greener in their day-to-day lives.

Of course, festivals could go even further. As welcome as a shower at Glastonbury might be, no doubt take up of the Green Traveller scheme would be higher if the incentive was a half-price ticket instead. More could also be done to involve the musicians in carrying these messages. They are, after all, undoubtedly the people best placed to influence the audience at a festival. Global Cool has produced video interviews featuring over 100 bands talking about green lifestyle choices. These videos gave the green lifestyle messages that festivals want to promote – notably public transport use – a much bigger platform and also amplified them beyond the confines of the festival’s fields via the web.

Are musicians really credible as green messengers? Many of them are working just as hard as festivals to be sustainable and, again, it’s not just the obvious candidates like Radiohead (who have stopped playing large music festivals that don’t have adequate public transport infrastructure in place). Julie’s Bicycle, another UK organisation working to make music festivals and the creative industries as a whole more sustainable, have helped a number of high-profile artists practice what they preach when it comes to sustainability. Their Industry Green (IG) certification has appeared on CD releases by Jack Johnson, Kate Nash, Robbie Williams and many more, ensuring that the environmental impact has been kept to a minimum.

As we approach festival season once more we look forward to seeing festivals following in Rock the Green’s footsteps and taking even bolder steps toward promoting and enabling sustainability.

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1 Comment to Music festivals and sustainability: An unlikely success story

[...] consider the ecological impact of music festivals? Thousands of people driving around the country, buying food and drinks, not to mention all those [...]

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