For Epigreen week, Charlie Gearon discusses the ecological footprint of the UK’s music festival industry and the Bristolian organisation fighting tooth and nail to make a change.
‘Love The Farm, Leave No Trace.’
So goes Glastonbury Festival’s ecological mantra. Michael Eavis – professional shorts-wearer and the festival’s founder – firmly believes that the festival has stayed in touch with its environmentally friendly roots. ‘Glastonbury Festival was founded in 1970, long before people began to become concerned about climate change,’ writes Eavis on the Green Glastonbury section of the festival’s website, ‘yet even then all the milk and cider and the straw came from the farm. We were “green” then, and we are just as green now.’
True, the philosophy behind Glastonbury is evidently based on a belief in sustainability and a desire to confront environmental issues. Greenpeace has locations all over the site, the Green Fields are run entirely on renewable energy and allow festival-goers to learn about environmental issues, and there is a general air of care and concern for the planet which seems shared by the vast majority of its attendees.
According to the Guardian, the 2015 festival saw an estimated 1,650 tonnes of waste left behind, including 5,000 abandoned tents and 54 tonnes of cans and plastic bottles.
But this philosophy only extends so far. The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that a festival the magnitude of Glastonbury cannot entirely put into action the sustainable beliefs which it extols. The massive influx of traffic into a rural area of Somerset, the huge amounts of power needed to construct, run and remove the stages and amenities, and the destruction caused to Worthy Farm every year (barring occasional fallow years which allow the land to recover) are unpleasant, but unavoidable realities. According to the Guardian, the 2015 festival saw an estimated 1,650 tonnes of waste left behind, including 5,000 abandoned tents and 54 tonnes of cans and plastic bottles. This almost incomprehensible amount of waste and emission clearly contradicts Glastonbury’s green philosophy.
It should be clarified here that these effects are not borne out of a lack of consideration on the part of Eavis and the festival’s organisers. A number of initiatives and pledges have been undertaken over the course of the festival’s history which aim to minimise the festival’s ecological footprint. In 2011, they introduced the ‘Green Traveller’ initiative, which provided initiatives such as access to solar showers and discounts on meals for attendees who travelled to the festival by public transport or bike. Three years later, in conjunction with UWE, they undertook an energy-monitoring project which revealed that the generators being used to power the festival were oversized and unnecessarily wasteful, allowing them to rectify the issue and reduce their carbon footprint in the process. Despite these efforts, the environmental impact of the Glastonbury is huge.
There is, however, a ray of hope on the horizon. In 2010, a self-described ‘think-do tank’ named Powerful Thinking was established. Their aim? To limit the environmental impact of UK music festivals.
It’s also worth pointing out that Glastonbury is by no means the sole offender here. While it is the UK’s biggest festival, some 280 others take place every single summer. These collectively use 5 million litres of diesel and produce 20 kilotonnes of CO2 each year. With statistics like these, greening UK festivals clearly presents a genuine and immediate challenge to climate-change activists and festival planners.
There is, however, a ray of hope on the horizon. In 2010, a self-described ‘think-do tank’ named Powerful Thinking was established. Their aim? To limit the environmental impact of UK music festivals. The group was born right here in Bristol after a committee of festival organisers met to discuss energy management in the festival industry. Now, nearly eight years after their formation, Powerful Thinking is leading the way in bringing about a more sustainable approach to festival planning. Their cohesive 2015 report, The Show Must Go On, collated sustainability-related data from over 250 festivals, and is largely to thank for the statistics I’ve been referencing in this article.
New session announced at #GEI10: Campsite Chaos – Why don’t audiences clean up their act? @AGreenerTweet, Teresa Moore @teresaam9 will provide insights into the issue of tent waste at events and the challenge of changing audience behaviour https://t.co/O29vaXplLq pic.twitter.com/QmuOjfK83x— Powerful Thinking (@powerthinkorg) February 12, 2018
Perhaps their most exciting project is the Festival Vision: 2025 Pledge. This pledge ambitiously aims to cut all festival-related GHG emissions in half by the year 2025. Of the nearly 60 festivals which have already committed, several Bristolian events have joined the accord, including Love Saves the Day, The Balloon Fiesta, The Harbourside Festival and Bristol Redfest. As well as these local events, some bigger festivals including Shambala, Bestival, Latitude, Download, and Wireless have signed up.
Even if Eavis and co. believed that the pledge was overly ambitious, Powerful Thinking’s website clearly states that ‘the purpose of the Pledge is simply to show that you are willing to take steps toward becoming more sustainable,’ and that festival organisers should not be put off by concerns about achieving a 50% reduction.
As of February 2018, upon writing this article, Glastonbury – the biggest offender re: environmental impact – has not joined the accord. Fans of the festival may squirm a little at this; surely a festival which purports to have such strong ecological priorities would jump at the opportunity to join the collected effort to create a more sustainable festival industry. Even if Eavis and co. believed that the pledge was overly ambitious, Powerful Thinking’s website clearly states that ‘the purpose of the Pledge is simply to show that you are willing to take steps toward becoming more sustainable,’ and that festival organisers should not be put off by concerns about achieving a 50% reduction.
Even so, the work that Powerful Thinking are doing presents an exciting step forward for UK music festivals. I can’t possibly comment on how realistic the group’s pledge to half emissions is. But, the work they’re doing embodies the environmental, sustainable, tree-hugging spirit which this country’s leading music festival was built on. Hopefully in the not too distant future, ‘Leave No Trace’ will become a reality, and not just empty words.
Featured image: Epigram / Kate Hutchison
Do you make environmentally-conscious choices at festivals? Join the debate: