Bestival, Roskilde, Øya, Bonnaroo: We rate the most sustainable festivals

By Tierney Smith

The sun has finally emerged in the UK and as June comes our attention is turning to summer, and even more importantly to festival season.

Today the choice of musical events is endless. In the UK alone over 6 million tickets are sold each year for almost 500 different festivals. But this unfortunately means the environmental impact of our favourite summer past time is also huge and growing.

Julie’s Bicycle – a non-profit company aimed at limiting the environmental impact of cultural events – estimates that a larger music festival, with 40,000 people or more will produce around 2,000 tonnes of CO2e – that’s 500 return flights from the UK to Australia.

That includes the emissions generated on site, and that transporting the audience to the site.

Back in 2008, Thom Yorke of Radiohead told a Friends of the Earth press conference that the band would not play Glastonbury that year as the festival lacked a public transport infrastructure – a sentiment I can sympathise with having made the journey myself by train, no easy task.

Known for its iconic pyramid stage and muddy weather, Glastonbury is one of the UK's biggest festivals - which means it also has a big environmental footprint (© Jaswooduk/Creative Commons)

And the carbon emissions are not the only environmental impact of a festival. Let’s take Glastonbury again as an example. With around 150,000 people descending on the festival – requiring over 3,000 toilets – two thousand tonnes of waste are produced over the weekend.

This includes that going into bins but also waste from traders and food stalls and the tent pegs, tents and clothes that festival-goers leave behind – in 2007 the festival says it collected 20 tonnes left items.

The site also needs 1.5 million gallons of water each day of the festival and two hundred generators supply 30 megawatts of energy over the weekend.

And Glastonbury is in no way unique, similar figures are collected for festivals across the world.

There is a lot that festival organisers could do and are doing to limit the impact of these events, however. If you are looking for a festival this year, but one which will not cost the Earth, here’s a few suggestions to get you started.

Bestival, Isle of Wight, UK

If you are looking for somewhere to go in the UK, you can’t go wrong with Bestival. This year’s line up includes Stevie Wonder, New Order, Florence and the Machine and Two Door Cinema Club, and the yearly theme (this year being Wildlife) offers some great fun and prizes to be won for the best fancy dress outfits.

As for the festival’s green credentials, alongside the usual Green Teams, and recycling initiatives – you can get a free cup of tea for bagging up your litter – the festival has a host of more unusual environmental options.

Bestival's green credentials include solar powered stages, recycling teams, and some unusual low carbon transport options (© prusakolep/Creative Commons)

If you are feeling particularly daring why not try ‘Go Green to Bestival’ by either swimming, kayaking or cycling across to the island for charity. Don’t forget to visit the site’s Tomorrow’s World Field while at Bestival for a host of sustainable food choices, great bands at the solar powered band stand, interesting workshops at the Science Museum tent, and while you’re there carbon cutters 10:10 will charge your mobile phone with cycle and solar power.

Shambala, Northamptonshire, UK

For something a little different, why not give Northamptonshire’s Shambala festival. Taking place the same weekend as Reading and Leeds Festival, Shambala has been voted the UK’s best alternative festival by Student Guide and received an Outstanding ‘Greener Festival Award’ 2011.

Visitors of Shambala will be treated to musical performances from Billy Bragg, DJ Yoda & the Trans Siberian Marching Band and the Boxettes as well as a sustainability plan which includes 98% of the festival powered by wind, sun and waste vegetable oil, free biofuel shuttle buses from local transport links, recycling at every turn, compost loos, and strict rules for traders and food suppliers.

The festival also completes an annual carbon audit to keep on top of their emissions.

Øya Festival, Norway

If you are looking for a European Festival this summer why not give Øya a go. Also a winner of an Outstanding ‘Greener Festival Award’ 2011, acts for this year’s festival will include Björk, the Stone Roses and Black Keys.

Øya also won Europe’s Greenest Festival at the European Festival Awards 2010 with a impressive sustainability plan which includes the four main stages all being 100% powered by renewables – mostly coming from a hydro-electric dam an hour away from the site – run through the site through underground cables to ensure the site’s ancient ruins are not damaged.

Other green actions include staff whizzing around on hydrogen and electric cars and sourcing all food organically and locally.

Roskilde, Denmark

With a line up including Björk, the Cure, Jack White and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Roskilde holds the title of North Europe’s biggest festival. As well as being brilliantly positioned, with public transport links and local buses aplenty for 55% of visitors, the festival also aims to engage its audience in sustainability issues.

The festivals ‘Green Camps’ aim to teach festival goers about sustainability and caring for environment. Those staying in or hosting a ‘Green Camp’ must minimise their waste and CO2 emissions, create fun activities to inspire others and document their green weekend.

‘Green Footsteps’ is another initiative by the festival, this time encouraging visitors to monitor and record their festival footprint. Those that do this prior to the festival can get themselves central camping spots as an incentive.

Bonnaroo, Tennessee

If you’re in the USA this summer, why not join Radiohead, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the Beach Boys at this year’s Bonnaroo festival. Awarded Highly Commended at the ‘Greener Festival Awards’ 2011, Bonnaroo has worked with waste company, Clean Vibes to divert three million pound of recyclable and compostable waste from landfill.

Bonnaroo festival has been awarded the Greenest Festival in America (© Jason Ankinsen/Creative Commons)

This year, hand your rubbish back into the Clean Vibes trading post and trade them in for festival currency. The person who trades the most will also get two tickets to next year’s festival.

Or explore the festival’s Planet Roo, where you’ll find non-profits and charities dealing with the promotion of a healthy planet, learn about issues including water, waste and your carbon footprint, watch short films and documentaries and listen to some great bands of the festival’s Solar Stage.

Lightning in a Bottle, California

Or why not head over to the Greenest Festival in America – the only US festival to get an Outstanding in the ‘Greener Festival Awards’ – and rub shoulders with the likes of Bassnectar, the Glitch Mob and Shpongle.

At this festival you can expect free water for everyone who brings reusable containers and strict policies ensuring all vendors – and encouraging all visitors – to recycle and compost their waste.

The festival also aims to produce as much energy as possible from renewable energy and purchase certified carbon offsets for all remaining emissions, as well as offering incentives for visitors to offset their travel emissions.

The festival organisers also do what they can to protect the wildlife surrounding the festival site, including ground, water and environmental maintenance on the site, planting trees to restore native habitats and turning off amplified sounds at times each night in care of wildlife and neighbours.

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