Europe's Festivals Are Increasingly Eco-Conscious, But Is It Enough?

Article by: Marcus Barnes|@mgoldenbarnes

Wed May 11, 2016 | 00:00 AM

Our planet is under great strain, there’s no doubt about that. It’s been cited time and again by a variety of scientific and governmental sources that climate change is putting greater pressure on numerous ecosystems across planet Earth, contributing to future changes that we are unable to fathom or predict. Just recently it was reported that five islands in the Pacific have disappeared due to rising sea levels and coral bleaching is posing a serious threat to some of the world's most famous reefs, including The Great Barrier Reef in Australia . Some of the main causes of the change in our atmosphere, C02 levels for instance, are man-made and becoming irreversible. Energy usage continues unabated and world leaders are burying their heads in the sand when it comes to taking action and acknowledging the dire future of our planet.

We All Have A Duty Of Care To Our Planet

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Photo by: Skyler Greene/Courtesy of EDC Mexico

When we look at the task in hand – save Planet Earth – it feels very big, way too big for an individual to grasp. However, if we consider the notion that every little bit makes a difference, we can start to feel a bit more optimistic. In the festival world there is no doubt that putting on events uses a hell of a lot of energy; the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere via flying in performers alone is difficult to ignore. Imagine how much energy is used to power the stages at Tomorrowland or EDC for instance, too.

In the fest world our sense of community is strong. Many of us are switched on, eco-conscious, mindful, even vegan… and there are lots of events doing their utmost to curb CO2 emissions, to encourage festies to recycle, to leave no trace, to be mindful of how they treat the environment and to carry that into their everyday lives. If we’re going to handle this situation, it’s through working together, pulling our weight and integrating eco-conscious ideals into every aspect of our lives.

Shambala Festival Goes Meat-Free

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One of the shining lights in the UK is Shambala , an earth-loving and awakened festival based in Northamptonshire. The organizers have always maintained an eco-friendly ethos that has been increasingly staunch and no-nonsense. This year they go meat-free, which is a bold move by anyone’s standards, but one which makes a serious statement of intent.

“If we’re serious about being the most sustainable festival on the planet, we can’t ignore the indisputable evidence that a diet predominantly based on meat and fish is having a devastating effect on this little blue and green marble we call home,” they say. Shambala will not only be a totally meat-free event, but they are also providing festies with alternative cuisine, much of it sustainable, together with programming packed full of workshops, classes and talks focused on food with contributions and appearances from leading experts/activists in the field of the future of food.

One of their novel alternatives – novel to most of us in the western world, that is – will be an Insect Café . As the name suggests, they will serve a selection of edible creatures from the insect world because they are packed full of goodness and touted by many as the "sustainable super food of the future." Shambala says, “As much as the squeamish amongst us may balk at the thought of a cockroach canapé, the reality is that 80 of the world’s cultures regularly eat insects – when you think about it, it’s actually far less gross than the over processed, poor quality, factory-farmed meat in a supermarket chicken nugget.”

A fair argument, as one critic commented on their website, states “Either way creatures are being harmed... all you are doing is changing the animal you're killing. Just make it healthy, sustainable and tasty by making everything vegan/veggie.” That said, the point Shambala is making is that there are plenty of alternative sources of nourishment for us and, as climate change really takes hold and our agricultural industries potentially begin to suffer, perhaps this is one avenue we should explore. Shambala isn't the only festival going meat-free this year. In Amsterdam in 2016, DGTL Festival did as well.

Shambala's general outlook is very much focused on sustainability and the festival has worked tirelessly to maintain this ethos by introducing a variety of unflinching policies that are all centered on caring for the environment and reducing on-site waste. The festival site is powered by 100% renewable energy (wind, solar and waste vegetable oil). They have banned on-site disposable plastic, with reusable cups at all their bars; last year 120,242 cups were reused. They sell their own branded, stainless steel water bottles to try to get people away from single-use plastic bottles in their daily lives. These are just a few of the ideas Shambala is using to help reduce emissions and the damage that's being done to the environment.

Secret Solstice Achieves Carbon Neutrality

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Photo by: Ross Silcocks

In line with Shambala’s strong ethos, another European festival has laid claim to an impressive achievement. Secret Solstice , a three-year-old music festival that takes place in Iceland, say it will be carbon neutral this year, for the very first time. In an effort to reduce the harmful effects that a large-scale music event can have on the environment, Secret Solstice has made a big effort to offset its CO2 emissions with a series of initiatives and policies that have allowed the fest to be certified as CarbonNeutral®.

Iceland’s supply of geothermal energy, which comes from volcanic activity in the region, has allowed Secret Solstice to power its entire site without the need for fossil fuels. In tandem with this, it has signed a deal with Toyota Iceland to utilize the company’s hybrid vehicles, which deliver lower carbon emissions than normal cars. A fleet of nine has been acquired by Secret Solstice to run operations this year. The fest has also implemented a comprehensive recycling scheme to make sure that there is as little waste as possible produced by the festival. "Knowing we’re making a difference in minimizing the impact Secret Solstice has on the planet is a big deal to us," said festival director Fred Olafsson. "We are proud to have Natural Capital Partners on board to help us offset our carbon emissions for the first time to make this year’s event as environmentally friendly as we possibly can."

Which Non-Festival Entities Are Contributing?

Dgtl Festival 2015 Art Human Power
Photo by: DGTL Festival

An association linked to festivals called TheTicketSellers , has become the first festival industry ticket seller to encourage the use of a travel carbon calculator, in conjunction with a community of festies called the Energy Revolution Project . The calculator gives ticket-buyers the chance to calculate their carbon emissions when traveling to an event. They are then given the opportunity to donate money to "balance" out their emissions. All of the donations that come from people who use the carbon calculator are invested in renewable energy projects. 17% of Shambala's attendees who drove to the festival last year donated to the scheme, raising £4,282.

Energy Revolution's project helps to convert travel miles powered by fossil fuel into a positive investment, which will hopefully help towards changing the world. The first festivals that have joined up to TheTicketSellers eco-conscious service are Subsonic, Shindig, Moseley Jazz & Folk Festival, Lunar, Illusive and Nozstock. They will join the eleven festivals who joined and helped to get the project off the ground in 2015, including Bestival , Camp Bestival, Standon Calling, BoomTown Fair , Kendal Calling, Secret Garden Party , Starry Skies, Shambala Festival, and Love Saves The Day.

An organization named A Greener Festival has set itself up as a go-between and go-to for festivals – both those hoping to integrate environmentally sound policies into their ethos, and for those already deep into their eco-friendly work to submit and/or exchange ideas. A Greener Festival gives out information to festival organizers and also holds an annual award ceremony, dishing out trophies to those who they deem to be leaders in the ecological awareness community. It's an important organization purely because of what it does to raise awareness within the festival industry and allow the channels of communication to flow between those who are fighting the good fight and those who want to join the frontline. 

And just recently an organization called Hubbub launched "Ballot Bins," which aim to stop people dropping cigarette butts through clever, topical voting mechanisms. The filters contained in cigarette ends are made from plastic that degrades very slowly and are toxic to wildlife. Holly Smith, a representative from Hubbub, spoke to Fest300 about the challenges festivals face in the battle against litter.

She said, “We are all shocked by the photographs of Glastonbury being buried in rubbish and a couple of friends on clean up at Green Man testify to the seemingly endless waste that gets left behind. Organizers have a grim, Sisyphean task trying to clean up festivals. No festival-goer wants to think about clearing up and being orderly – it goes against the freewheeling, unconventional atmosphere that these events create.

"There has to be a balance between getting attendees to do the right thing with their rubbish and keeping the uninhibited, spontaneous vibe that draws attendees in the first place. At the moment there are some great startups working to use the waste dumped at festivals for good causes, but not much is being done to prevent guests from plunking their junk in the first place.

"We at Hubbub believe exploring the fun theory and nudge psychology is the way forward with waste, because let’s face it, trash isn’t trendy. The Ballot Bin moves the issue away from littering to the question at hand: the poll on the bin. It is so easy to overlook the cigarette butt; it is the most littered item in the world and casually flicking the butt to the floor seems so normal. Yet we’ve managed to shift behaviors by creating something interactive and topical. Organizers obviously don’t want the litter aftermath of festivals, in which case waste management shouldn’t be an afterthought. There are plenty of emerging litter interventions and great designers calling out to be trialed. Experimental bins can enhance the atmosphere of adventure by taking something so commonplace and making it novel and surprising."

But Is It All Enough?

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A myriad other festivals are also adopting policies that are eco-conscious, but is it enough for the festivals themselves to take responsibility for everything? Of course it isn’t. It’s up to us, the general public, too, to make a difference and to work towards more energy efficient, eco-friendly ways of traveling to festivals, better ways to deal with our rubbish, initiatives to create less waste, and so on. We must also use people power to lobby festivals and those in positions of authority to influence those that aren’t pulling their weight, and to make them change their ways sooner rather than later. Not enough is being done, by both the ticket-buying public who continue to remain ignorant to the effects that their actions have on the environment, and most of the biggest festivals to raise awareness amongst their clientele.

As a long-time festival goer I’ve witnessed first-hand how utterly ignorant other festies can be, and festivals themselves, too. Discarded tents, piles of beer cans, bin bags full to the brim but not taken to the designated disposal’s disgraceful sometimes, but both sides are to blame. Festival organizers need to be strict – uncompromising, in fact – with their policies and fine people if they don't abide by the rules. Hit people where it hurts, financially, and they'll soon start to be aware of their actions. Name and shame festivals that aren't doing enough, or aren't doing anything at all. 

We as a festival community, both here in Europe and across the rest of the world, need to wake up and start to realize our duty to be responsible for our impact on the world. It’s totally unacceptable to go to a festival, splurge a load of money on petrol, burgers, beers, party favors and so forth without a care for what effect it all has on the environment. We have been warned time and again by experts that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached dangerous levels, not to mention the depleted rainforests, animal extinctions, and melting ice caps… it’s all happening as we speak. But we can start to make a difference, right now.

With that in mind, here are some other European festivals that are doing their duty and implementing green policies into their ethos.

Wood Festival, Oxfordshire (May 16 - 18)

  • 100% powered by renewable energy (biodiesel to solar power).
  • Organizers have invested in sustainable infrastructure, including the main Green Oak stage.
  • Plans to become a zero-waste festival.
  • Promotes the use of public transport schemes, especially cycling and car sharing.

Le Paléo, Nyon, Switzerland (July 19 – 24)

  • Public transport is prioritized over private vehicles.
  • All on-site waste is sorted and recycled.
  • They source and sell local, organic and vegan food.
  • The festival runs on 100% green energy.
  • Composting toilets installed across the site.

Hebridean Celtic Festival, Isle of Lewis (July 16 - 19)

  • Has committed to reducing carbon emissions and waste on site.
  • Encourages more responsible forms of transport.
  • Sustainably managing festival resources like energy and water consumption.
  • In 2013, it was one of the first festivals to trial the Recycle and Reward scheme, in order to incentivize festival-goers to recycle.

Larmer Tree Festival, Wiltshire (July 13 - 17)

  • Works to improve recycling initiatives during the five-day event.
  • Encourages the use of public transport to and from the site.
  • Supports the local economy by utilising local suppliers as often as it can.
  • Festival’s official charity partner is the children's hospice charity Julia's House.

Cambridge Folk Festival, UK (July 31 – August 3)

  • A 2009 report, commissioned to measure the carbon footprint of the festival, found that 42% of staff walked, cycled or used public transport to get to the event.
  • In 2010, the festival saw a recycling rate of 71% for all waste.
  • Also in 2010, its bars generated minimal or zero landfill waste.
  • Linked with environmental charity Friends of the Earth.
  • Was highly commended by A Greener Festival in 2013.

Les Vieilles Charrues, France (July 14 -17)

  • Stringent recycling policy.
  • No mass flyer distribution.
  • Compost toilets are used across their site.
  • Reusable cups thanks to Eco Charrues.
  • They only sell organic and Fairtrade food.

Green Man Festival, Brecon Beacons (August 14 - 17)

  • Uses music and art activities on site to raise awareness of environmental issues.
  • Also uses creative pursuits to promote a sustainable lifestyle.
  • In Einstein’s Garden, the three stages are powered by sustainable sources of energy.
  • The area also gives festival-goers the opportunity to engage with innovative low-carbon technologies like solar power and hydrogen fuel cells.

Welcome To The Future, Holland (July 23)

  • The only Netherlands-based festival to have been awarded the Greener Festival Award of Excellence by A Greener Festival.
  • Whole site is powered by a biodiesel exclusive festival power grid.
  • They employ roving “Green Teams” who make people aware of how to be more eco-conscious and keep the site free of waste.
  • They are a member of the 10,000 hour project for environmental sustainability.

Greenbelt Festival, Essex (August 22 - 25)

  • Caterers on site are required to use reusable or biodegradable food packaging.
  • Greenbelt Festival produce their own branded clothing, manufactured using Fairtrade cotton.
  • The festival uses energy efficient bulbs.
  • Has been supported by partners including the sustainable bank Triodos and ethical retailer Traidcraft.

End Of The Road Festival, Wiltshire (August 29 - 31)

  • The festival program is printed on recycled paper using eco-friendly ink, sourced from vegetables.
  • Over half of their non-catering traders offer eco-friendly products.
  • The event has partnered with FRANK Water, a Bristol-based charity, since 2010. Its FreeFill initiative provides filtered drinking water at the festival, which then goes on to fund clean water projects in developing countries.
  • Festival travellers by car can opt to purchase a tree in order to restore ancient woodland and wild forests in Scotland.

We Love Green, Paris, France (June 4 - 5)

  • They only produce a limited number of flyers and programs.
  • Compost toilets are installed across the site.
  • They source organic, local and seasonal food.
  • Excess food is redistributed to charities thanks to the festival’s partnership with Phenix.
  • Renewable energy reliant: Solar power and recycling biodiesel generators.
  • Food waste is separated and turned into compost.
  • Hybrid-electric shuttles are available for festival-goers’ transportation.

Le Cabaret Vert, in Ardenne, France (August 25 - 28)

  • Compost toilets installed across the festival site.
  • The festival showcases organisations that are engaged in ecological and humanitarian sectors.
  • The cups they use at their bars are recyclable.
  • They only source and sell local food.

Øya, Oslo, Norway (August 9 - 13)

  • All food is organic, vegan and gluten free.
  • They put an emphasis on using recyclable materials across the site.
  • Transport to and from the festival is eco-responsible.

Boom Festival, Portugal (August 4 - 11)

Over the course of its 17 years of life, Boom Festival has developed several pioneering projects in the following areas:

  • Sustainable energy resources.
  • Sanitation (Compost Toilets).
  • On site Water Treatment.
  • Reuse of materials for building and reduced consumption.
  • Regeneration of habitats and ecosystems.
  • Recycling and composting of waste.
  • Promotion of public transportation, cycling and car-sharing to reduce CO2 emissions.
  • Eco-Art.
  • Bio-Construction and bio-fuel
  • Social sustainability: Integration of minorities and people with special needs; develop a credible alternative to the models of mainstream culture.
  • Education in the principles and practice of permaculture and other environmental designs.
  • Hosting of presentations by leading opinion makers and project leaders in the area of environmental consciousness.
  • Awards: Outstanding Greener Festival Award 2014, 2012, 2010 and 2008, European Festival Award 2010 – Green’n’Clean Festival of the Year, European Festival Award 2012 – Shortlisted as one of the three greenest festivals of the year and Green Inspiration Award 2012.
  • Member of the United Nations Music & Environment Stakeholder Initiative.