Why it’s expensive to make music festivals greener

Hannah Love
Image caption,Hannah Love would rather go to a festival than on a traditional holiday

By Suzanne Bearne

Technology reporter

Hannah Love is a lifelong festival goer.

She counts her first festival as the Sidmouth Folk Festival, when her mum was eight months pregnant with her. Now a baby sleep and parenting expert, Ms Love tells me she has attended festivals every one of her 46 years.

“My children and I would choose a festival over a holiday,” says the mother of three. She says when she’s bringing her children along, she looks for festivals that entertain the whole family.

“For example, I love Wilderness as there’s woodland crafts, swimming, good headline acts, plus there’s playing fields for the kids who can go off and explore. We feel safe.”

While the acts and activities are the main attraction, she says the values of a festival are important as well.

“I think the kind of festivals I go to place a big emphasis on sustainability and attract people like us who do think about the environment. Going to a festival has a much lower carbon footprint than travelling abroad.”

It’s something the whole festival industry is thinking about. It takes a lot of electricity to run a festival, and they are often in remote areas where there’s no connection to the national grid.

Many festivals rely on generators that run on fossil fuels, which pump out carbon dioxide, the main cause of climate change.

The UK festival community alone uses in excess of 12 million litres of diesel annually, according to research by A Greener Future, a sustainability consultancy, and industry think tank Powerful Thinking.

Transport is another big source of emissions, and includes people getting to the event, and goods being ferried to and from the site.

A wind turbine at Glastonbury 2023 installed by Octopus Energy
Image caption,Glastonbury 2023 featured a wind turbine which powered market stalls

Festivals are making an effort to improve their environmental impact.

For example, last year’s Glastonbury Festival hosted a 20-metre wind turbine to supply selected market stalls.

Installed by Ocotpus Energy, the turbine, along with solar panels and a battery, supplied a small grid with enough electricity to run 300 fridges a day.

More festivals are investing in greener energy options, including solar power and battery storage.

One of the driving forces when it comes to green festivals is Chris Johnson, co-founder of the Shambala festival in the UK, which has adopted a range of eco measures over its duration.

It only serves up vegan and vegetarian food, and has switched from diesel generators to sourcing power through sustainably-sourced hydrogenated vegetable oil, solar and hybrid units, and introducing energy tariffs for traders to encourage greater responsibility for energy consumption.

Mr Johnson says there’s been a “complete culture shift” at Shambala.

He adds: “What we’ve realised… is that we need to reduce demand, so a large part of what we’re doing is working with everybody across the festival who uses power, for example food traders, and trying to reduce demand and power.”

Mysteryland music festival in the Netherlands
Image caption,The Mysterland festival sources 80% of its electricity from a solar farm

Mysteryland is a three-day electronic music festival in the Netherlands attracting 130,000 party-goers each year.

Its head of operations Maarten van’t Veld says they have taken a number of steps to become less reliant on fossil fuels.

Now 80% of its power is generated by solar panels on a nearby farm. The festival and its partners also dug electricity cables into the ground to connect the festival to the national grid.

“It [connecting to the grid] was a big investment, but in 10 years, we will get back the investment, and then we have no extra costs,” says Mr van’t Veld.

He says connecting up to the grid can be a big challenge.

“There is scarcity of power capacity in many areas in Holland, meaning that some companies cannot get a new grid connection or an expansion of their existing connection.

“We started this project in 2017 and ordered this new connection some time ago. If we’d start this project now, it would probably not be possible.”

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Over at Shambala, Mr Johnson says that investing in sustainability is worthwhile.

“Audiences are increasingly expecting their festivals to take action. The primary driver of ticket sales is still where your friends go, and also the line-up. But audiences are expecting their festivals to be sustainable, so I think there’s increasingly a business case for being a more sustainable business.”

Reducing fossil fuels was one of the key points made in the European Green roadmap, a sustainability checkpoint list for the festival and events industry created by A Greener Future, and the European Festival Association (Yourope), which was revealed at the Amsterdam Dance Conference late last year.

With many festivals reliant on diesel generators, the report states that “energy generation from non-renewable, fossil fuel sources is not sustainable and must be phased out”.

Dave Grohl on a GWR train
Image caption,Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl and rail staff member Brendan Cropper on the way to Glastonbury 2023

Claire O’Neill, co-founder and chief executive of A Greener Future, and co-author of the European Green roadmap, says all industries have to change, including the festival sector.

“The Green Deal in the EU is setting the target for 55% emissions reduction by 2030. The festival sector doesn’t have any such roadmap, and a lot of the actions we’ve been working with festivals on for nearly 20 years on sustainability can be quite ad hoc. Nothing really fundamentally changes over time.”

She says that establishing grid connections is important but concedes that it is expensive.

With transport making up the bulk of emissions, Ms O’Neill says it’s crucial festival organisers work with transport providers to ensure that people travel in the greenest way possible to and from the site.

Sometimes performers themselves can set the example – Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters took the train to Glastonbury last year.

While there is limited regulation of music festivals’ greenhouse gas emissions, most of the progress in the industry is the result of voluntary action from festival organisers, points out Sophie Tuson, environment and climate change practice lead at international law firm RPC.

However, she warns that any festival organisers planning to promote the sustainability of their events should review their green claims carefully.

“Regulatory scrutiny of green marketing claims is at an all-time high, and the UK’s consumer regulators are taking proactive steps to tackle greenwashing through increased enforcement action.”https://lepassaja.com/

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