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Why Festivals Need to Think Sustainably to Survive

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Why Festivals Need to Think Sustainably to Survive

If you’re one of the 32 million music fanatics who attend at least one U.S. music festival each year, then you have likely beared witness to the environmental impacts that come from tens of thousands of fans traveling far and wide to set up a temporary home for a weekend of live music.


With the popularity of music festivals growing rapidly and the number of attendees increasing per festival each year, there is a massive need for strategic sustainability efforts to become a primary focus for organizers. These efforts should not only ensure that the festival grounds are taken care of well enough to host the festival for years to come, but also aim to reduce food, material and carbon waste from what are essentially the biggest and most immersive parties in the world. The logistics and overall success of planning these events comes only from extreme dedication by the organizers and thousands of hours of hard and strategic work.


One study by Harvard found the average CO2 emission from attendee transportation alone, when looking at a 40,000 person festival, amounts to a whopping 188 metric tons. Another study by UK nonprofit Powerful Thinking stated that though surveyed attendees say environmental responsibility is important to them, only 5% of UK summer festivals have a comprehensive sustainability initiative.


Implementing sustainability is an additional challenge to take on in this process but is shaping the future of music festivals and the culture that stems from them throughout society.


Some festivals are leading the charge in greening efforts, and the movement has not gone unnoticed. Festival producers are making changes to align with the changing values of millennials and are are building sustainability into the bones of new festivals. Veteran festivals are restructuring operations and logistics to follow suit. Many festival goers are seeking out cleaner festivals because of the high cost of passes and the overarching desire to enjoy themselves without suffering the distraction of poor sustainability practices and trashed festival grounds.


Since 2013, Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington, VA has been home to LOCKN’ Festival. This festival provides recycling options across the entirety of the grounds, locally sourced food options and compostable materials.


LOCKN’ also provides shuttle services for those who are not staying on site and partners with established local recycling companies to more efficiently monitor and encourage reduce, reuse and recycle practices. These companies compact the aluminum nightly and display the block to show how much waste was saved from the landfill each day at LOCKN’. The sculptures are quite large and impressive by Sunday.


San Francisco’s Outside Lands, which first debuted in 2008, is amongst one of the greenest festivals in the United States and is also one of the largest in attendance, soaring up to 70,000 fans. Outside Lands continues to be an industry leader in diverting waste. With over 300k pounds of waste, it was able to divert upwards of 270k pounds from the landfill for an impressive 88% waste diversion rate, according to their green initiative ‘Ecolands’ page.


Outside Lands provides only 100% compostable utensils. They also help guests understand where  items should be disposed of by assigning staff to monitor trash bin sites to oversee that waste is going in the proper recycle, compost or landfill bin. It offers rewards to festival goers picking up bottles, cans and cigarette butts at the Clean Vibes Trading Post, and provides guests with pocket-sized pouches for cigarette disposal throughout the weekend.


Outside Lands also offers urban gardening workshops and uses recycled grease for their locally-sourced food and vendors. In addition, its Panhandle Stage is the largest solar-powered hybrid stage in the country.

panhandle stage outside lands festival

Panhandle Stage in 2011 // Photo by Alejandro De La Cruz


Euphoria Music Festival, which has been operating just outside of Austin, TX since 2011, has created an entire movement behind festival greening. “Ecophoria” is the festival’s green initiative that goes beyond traditional greening methods by offering education and workshops for those who want to know more about sustainability and environmental safety. Throughout the year, Euphoria hosts five creek cleanups, including one during the festival, to ensure the river that runs through the grounds stays beautiful and clean for years to come. They tapped Wysidio to make this year’s Ecophoria initiative bigger and better than ever before; learn how we changed the sustainability game at this year’s fest here


This is a non-comprehensive list; there are numerous other festivals that recognize the importance and economic benefit of reducing waste, such as Lightning In a Bottle, Grass Roots, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and Lollapalooza. Some festivals provide reusable containers with the purchase of a ticket in efforts to eliminate the use of thousands of plastic water bottles. Others fests work exclusively with specialized energy companies to combust methane and CO2 from the waste that does end up going into the landfills.


coachella recycling

Painted Recycling Cans at Coachella 2010 // Photo by Bryan Gonzalez


Each year innovations become more impressive and extravagant. Festivals and their sustainability partners are inventing new processes to manage waste, utilize clean energy and get festival goers involved. The latter can be the biggest challenge but can also make the biggest impact.


With so many attendees, festivals truly have the opportunity to create positive change in the lives of the attendees and society as a whole. But why should festivals choose to make moves toward sustainability, besides moral obligations?


Sustainability efforts that call for ticket buyers to participate, be educated, and be conscious about the grounds, the people, and the planet creates a space for fans who value these things to connect and build communities that stretch beyond the festival itself. Festivals who choose to take the environmentally responsible route and implement green practices throughout the experience are creating a truly beautiful experience for fans that can keep them coming back year after year — turning ecological sustainability into financial sustainability.


“Music festivals are expressions are some of the best aspects of culture. We don’t want to tarnish that experience by not being good stewards to each other and our planet.”  -Clay Young, Wysidio’s CCO, Founder and Sustainability Director  


At Wysidio, we believe the future of music festivals will focus on two things: 1) A more immersive and experiential experience for attendees and 2) sustainability.


An event focusing on sustainability addresses both of these future truths. Attendees are becoming more environmentally and socially conscious and are aligning their values with the events they are attending. Sustainability also gives producers a new lens to which to assess risk and costs which will give them a competitive edge in a market growing more saturated by the day.

waste at music festivals

Talk about a vibe killer…


Event sustainability poses a unique set of problems for any organizer because it encompassess a wide range of topics to address. A music event holds most of the same components as a small city, and sustainability needs to be incorporated throughout the decision making process for the event to be truly sustainable, rather than a mission statement tacked on at the last minute. Even individuals that have a background in general sustainability will have a hard time addressing the issues, opportunities, and impacts specific to event sustainability. Enter the event sustainability director role.


A festival’s sustainability director (PS: this position can be taken on by a dedicated partner like Wysidio!) should be in a place of management that allows them to be a part of all decision making processes. From deciding where an event should be held, to writing and enforcing vendor policies, the SD is the person or company to advise for organization in the best decision for people, planet, and profit. A good sustainability director should have knowledge in sustainable event management and the many components that make up the specific management approach.  


Wysidio’s co-founder and CCO has experience specific to sustainable event management and has successfully integrated sustainable decision making and programming into large-scale events across the country.


Interested in learning how your event could up their sustainability game? Contact us using the form below or email Clay@ltd-brands.com.

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