10 sustainability initiatives to introduce at your festival in 2024
By Ryan Moss
- 13 Feb 2024
- 1 min read
While music festivals are a place to have fun, make memories and deliver unforgettable experiences, their sheer size means that they have a negative impact on the climate.
It’s important to be mindful of the issues they cause and exacerbate, and everyone in the events industry has a responsibility to introduce sustainability initiatives at their event. After all, without the land, we’d have no space to create and enjoy the rich culture that music festivals can provide.
As climate change is an issue that affects everyone globally and in different ways, creating greener festivals not only improves the life of a music fan but also contributes to the health of the world as a whole. One more greener event means more greener events in the world.
In this article, we take a look 10 sustainability initiatives to introduce at your festival in 2024
Reduce waste across the weekend
According to ‘The Show Must Go On’, a report by the Think Tank Powerful Thinking, festivals produce 23,500 tonnes of waste annually, with 68% of that going to landfill. This includes disposable plastics like cups, bottles, food containers and plastic cutlery. Elsewhere, items like toiletries, sleeping bags and fancy dress outfits are unable to be recycled, ending up in landfill sites across the country.
So, what’s our first of our sustainability initiatives? Commit to using recyclable materials. This means encouraging attendees to bring refillable bottles and selling water and other drinks in aluminium cans, which can be recycled easier.
Think about tents
Tents impact waste, too. Like sleeping bags, they end up in landfill sites or incinerators. Compostable tent manufacturer Comp-A-Tent found that 77% of tents are abandoned based on data collected from multiple festivals with more than 50,000 attendees, which it says is over 900 tonnes of waste.
To solve this problem, consider trying to strike up a partnership with a sustainable camping equipment company. You could offer deals to your customers or sell the equipment on-site. Once the weekend is over, encourage attendees to hand in any tents that are still in working condition and donate them to a charity that helps out refugees. You’ll be reducing waste and helping out a good cause.
Encourage alternative ways of travel
The Show Must Go On also states that up to 80% of a UK festival’s carbon footprint comes from audience travel. It’s easy to see why. You’ve got thousands of people, often travelling in cars from various parts of the country and overseas. It’s a concentrated mass of vehicles going to the same place.
This is backed up by Ecolibrium’s Sustainable Travel & Transport Guide For Festivals & Outdoor Events, which says that transport emissions significantly contribute to air pollution. Fuel is now cleaner and more efficient than 20 years ago, but there are more vehicles on the road due to a larger population.
While you can’t control, you can encourage. Set up schemes that incentivize customers to travel via public transport. This could be an increase in coach pick-up points around the nearest city to the site, discounted coach tickets in collaboration with the coach company or coach travel included in the ticket bundle for your festival.
Become energy efficient
Powering a music festival involves a massive amount of fuel usage across a weekend. This includes electricity from generators, stages, sound systems, food stalls and portable toilets. It’s said that festivals can use over 30,000 megawatts of electricity, and The Show Must Go On report states that the total annual fuel consumption for U.K. festivals is 4.96 million litres.
Waste vegetable oil biodiesel and solar power options can be used as sustainability initiatives for your festival. For example, waste vegetable biodiesel emits 85% less Co2, while solar power is 100% emissions-free and can be paired with batteries to power your event’s generators.
Monitoring your electricity consumption can also help. Set a maximum threshold based upon what the studies suggest and see where your event falls on the scale. That way, you’ll have concrete data to work from, getting a better idea of the areas you can work to reduce. Introducing sustainability initiatives to your festival is a long-term process.
Keep up to date with the conversation
Researching every area to make your event the best is paramount, but keeping an eye on the latest debates on sustainability and climate change will give you a better understanding of the subject. You’ll be able to find out about the latest innovations, look at how they are doing and find underrepresented avenues to improve the targets you’ve set.
The more information you have means you can pass it on to other people, and that can only be a good thing when dealing with an issue such as sustainability.
Communicate your ideas
As we said earlier in the piece, you can’t control people’s actions, but you can encourage them. Another way to spur change is to send these messages in your marketing campaign. Create some eye-catching assets to post across your social media campaigns, detailing how you will be implementing the sustainability initiatives you’ve decided to use.
This will give your attendees context and may even teach them things they didn’t know previously. It’s a natural process to react to new information, so somebody hearing about a different way of engaging with the environment may lead them to change something in their day-to-day life.
Consider compost toilets
Ah, the dreaded festival toilets. A sight, smell and subject that can churn the stomach of the most experienced festival goer.
If you’ve got festival promotion experience under your belt, you’ve probably had complaints about toilets. But did you know? Replacing chemical toilets with a more eco-friendly version, like compost toilets, can help your festival become greener.
That’s because they are free of the chemicals used in regular festival toilets, using sawdust to cover the results of a trip to the loo, with the human waste being collected and composted afterwards.
So, fewer chemicals and a better smell for your attendees. Sounds like a win-win to us. However, they can be expensive, so it might be something you introduce on a small scale and expand as time goes on.
Offer plant-based food and drink
Sustainability and food go hand in hand. They’re both hotly debated topics, with studies showing that the production and transport of meat have a massive effect on the climate.
For example, a study reported by The Guardian back in 2021 showed that “The entire system of food production, such as the use of farming machinery, spraying of fertilizer and transportation of products, causes 17.3bn metric tonnes of greenhouse gases a year”.
Now, we’re not advising you to rip up your food strategies and serve plant-based products at this moment. However, the statistics are food for thought. See what we did there?
It might be that you try to strike a balance between meat and plant-based products, trial plant-based vendors and carry out surveys on what your customers want. This way, you can set yearly targets based on research from the experts and your attendees. Starting slow and building up is always a sound idea.
Introduce sustainability deposits
We’ve all seen the rubbish left behind after festivals. After all, you might have been responsible for clearing it up!
One way of incentivising attendees to help leave a festival site in good condition is a sustainability deposit.
It’s a simple concept: attendees pay a fee at the gates, receive a bag, fill it up and return it at the end of the festival. In exchange? Attendees get their money back and your site is a little cleaner at the end of the event.
Collaborate with other groups
While there is a lot you can do to introduce sustainablity initiatives to your festival, sometimes you need a little bit of help.
Why not consider partnering with a group focused on reducing emissions and making festivals greener? For example, Boardmasters have a long-running partnership with Surfers Against Sewage, which has helped them implement environmental strategies year on year.
Of course, it depends on the size of your festival and your resources. But that extra help could go a long way.