Green Festivals: Who should hold the responsibility?

The festival organiser or the festival attendee?

As much as festivals are an ever-growing aspect of the events world, the ‘greening’ of such events is an increasing concept in the environmentalist world. Today, the UK festival industry accounts for a massive 23,500 tonnes of waste and 20,000 tonnes of carbon emissions (not including transport) each year, and whilst festival organisers are supposedly doing all that they can to reduce this, is it time that festival goers started taking more responsibility for the destruction that they are causing?

Nowadays, the majority of festivals claim to be taking a ‘green’ approach. But despite efforts to increase the use of public transport or stop using single-use water bottles, when an on-site diesel generator accounts for up to 70% of the event’s carbon emissions, surely the greenest thing to do would be to not run the event at all? When the cost of rubbish disposal for Glastonbury Festival is enough to enable 52,000 people in third world countries to access safe drinking water, maybe the ethical thing to do is to stop producing festivals altogether?

Although many of the more ‘mainstream’ festivals such as Glastonbury and Latitude are upping their green game by providing reusable beer cups or exchanging drinks tokens for bags of collected rubbish, we could say that it is down to the festival goers themselves to take action and responsibility in order for this to successfully work. Smaller festivals, such as Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, have amplified their green status by banning plastic bags and bottles. Other festivals, such as Wood Festival in Oxfordshire and Shambala Festival in Northamptonshire, seem to have the right idea by being 100% powered by renewable energy. But with claims as big as these amongst similar claims by larger festivals, consumer concern seems to be growing over greenwashing by organisations. Is there proof of these green claims?

So if what they’re  saying is true and festival organisers are doing their bit to create a greener festival, why shouldn’t attendees? Some feel that because they have paid for a ticket, they have a right to do whatever they want… Others fall under the social pressure of following the trend and avoiding looking ‘uncool’. Whilst their intentions may be good, their actions seem to differ. It’s all well and good having a coach or shuttle bus running to and from the festival, but what use is it if the majority of individuals travel by car? Especially when travel typically equates to approximately 80% of the UK festival industry’s CO2e emissions (according to Powerful Thinking). And whilst festivals may provide incentives for rubbish collection and recycling, what good is it when one person throwing an empty can on the ground has a snowball effect into thousands of people thinking that this is an acceptable thing to do?

In theory, we could say that festival goers have already done their bit simply by attending the festival in the first place. Why? Because the carbon footprint created at festivals by attendees is actually less than it would have been if the festival goers had stayed at home watching the show on TV. And maybe if the use of public transport was included in the ticket price, less cars would be driven to and from the festival? Maybe if portaloos were kept clean, people wouldn’t find it more appealing to do their business outside, causing harm to the soil? Maybe festival goers can only take responsibility once the organisers themselves have made a drastic difference?

An audience is an audience. They’re there to have fun, not to make a vital contribution towards the environment. Responsible behaviour at a festival is a paradox. Festival organisers need to work within their means… Create an endgame, a motivation, or an atmosphere that makes it almost impossible for attendees to drop a piece of rubbish without feeling like everybody is about to judge them. After all, out of the tens of thousands of festival goers camping over a weekend, not one of them is using an electrical TV, hair dryer or CD player.

Making a festival more green or sustainable is definitely not something that can be done overnight. It takes time, effort and dedication. It requires festival audiences to be aware and it requires festival organisers to be responsible.

As event managers, what are you doing to step up your green game?

In our modern world, who should hold the responsibility over greener festivals?

Do attendees need to become better educated, or is it time that everyone made a contribution? After all, we do share the same planet…


Interesting subject. Totally agree that attendees need to take responsibility of their actions whilst attending music festivals, and that this responsible behaviour needs to be backed by responsible festival organisers. Do you think as well as incentives, their should be punishment for people who are not responsible? For example fining people for littering? Or a step further, banning them from the event in future, showing people that it is not tolerated and eventually only allowing responsible people to attend. This is an extreme view but something to think about.

Hi Jennie, thank you for your comment. That’s an interesting idea – I think incentives are a great idea for festival organisers to encourage attendees to be more responsible, however, I believe that some festival organiser’s would be against punishments as this creates a negative vibe. People often attend festivals to escape the ‘real world’ and to experience an atmosphere where there are few ‘rules’ or ‘boundaries’, so to punish people or ban them for not behaving ‘greenly’ or responsibly would completely change the atmosphere and sense of freedom. It’s a great thought and I’m sure it could be very effective in a non-festival environment, I just don’t think it’s something that would work at a festival.

Maddie says:

Festival goers should be responsible for their waste and any destruction they cause at events surely? However festival organizers should push for attendees to take a greener and less intrusive approach on the environment. Over all it would make sense for the festival organizer to take primary responsibility. There are several channels which they can take to manage this such as, advertisement, increased staff to monitor this and even incentive schemes.

Hi Maddie, thank you for your comment. Interesting thoughts, and I think that many would agree that both the festival organisers and the attendees need to take some responsibility. Perhaps if the organiser created a more sustainable environment, attendees would become more responsible… I think that incentive schemes are a particularly effective idea too.

Maisy says:

Very interesting blog. I believe festival attendees should be responsible for their own waste and their own actions. If a person chooses to attend a music festival it should be their own responsibility to clean up after themselves. However saying that, I think it would also help matters if the organisers of such events pushed and encouraged attendees to respect the environment by, for example, providing more accessible waste bins at events. What is your personal opinion as an events manager?

Thank you for your comment, Maisy. Your thoughts are interesting and from research, I think a fair amount of people have similar views. Personally, I believe that it’s all about balance – I think that festival organisers need to create an environment that makes it easy for attendees to be more responsible. If there are more incentives, accessible waste bins, etc. along with banning of plastic bags and single-use water bottles then perhaps festival goers would act in a ‘greener’ manner.

Steve says:

This is a really interesting read. It’s shocking that Glastonbury Festival’s waste equites to that much, in a sense you could say that cancelling festivals altogether would be the most sustainable thing to do. It’s difficult to put responsibility on one group of people as festival attendees have paid for their ticket and are there to have a good time and escape reality, so they would not necessarily think about being responsible. I think that festival organisers definitely need to start becoming more responsible and prove their claims.

Thanks for your comment, Steve. It is shocking, isn’t it! Although festival goers have paid for their tickets, do you think it really gives them the right to harm the planet? Just because they’re at a festival, does that make it okay? It’s strange because if the same person bought a ticket to go to the cinema, for instance, would that then give them to right to throw their rubbish on the ground and go to the toilet outside in the car park? I agree that festival organisers do need to start becoming more responsible, and ‘greenwashing’ is an issue that means that event managers should have evidence to back up their ‘green’ claims.

Cathryn says:

Very interesting blog. We enjoyed reading it as we’re also studying sustainable events.
love – Coventry University MA students x

Sally B says:

Interesting article. As a small festival organiser i think that a lot of big festivals actually exaggerate how green they really are so agree with your point about ‘greenwashing’. From a festival managers point of view i would say that it is becoming much harder to remain sustainable and to enforce rules like no plastic bottles. A good idea is to include a reusable bottle in with the ticket price and to take tent deposits. Sally

Thank you for your comment, Sally! It’s interesting that you feel the same way about potential greenwashing. Thank you for giving us your festival organiser based opinion!

thinkgreen says:

great blog and interesting read. what are your personal views?

Thank you for your comment. Personally, I believe that it the responsibility should be held by all. However, I think that festival organisers have much more power and the ability to put their power into action by creating an environment that makes it difficult for attendees not to be responsible. For events to become greener, both organisers and attendees need to work together. What are your opinions?

thinkgreen says:

I agree with you but it depends on the costs to go sustainable and whether the festival organisers actually care enough to pay and make a difference. without the audience there isn’t a festival, so they need to think of a fun and encouraging way for attendees to be more responsible

Emily McDonnell says:

I agree that green festivals is becoming more substantial in the event world. I assist with small sustainable events answe always make sure that when customers are purchasing their tickets that they are aware that plastics bags, bottles are banned and no food can be taken onto site. Luckily our events are small day events only so not too much waste but it really helps and I don’t understand why all outdoor events don’t do this

Hi Emily, thanks for your comment! It’s great that you’re doing that – can I ask what the name of the company is or the name of the events you assist with? I think for larger festivals it’s a little bit more difficult to do things like this due to the masses of attendees and costs it would encur to check all bags etc, however, for smaller events I agree it should definitely be the case!

Mark - Green Machine Events says:

I think it depends on numerous factors and audiences to be honest with a big dose of the organisers of festivals making it look like they are green but in reality aren’t at all and are playing the green game.
It’s easy to put a few different bins in a field and separate it out or in some cases it gets separated when it gets to a depot that would normally separate household waste. For some this is enough to cal a festival green.
If you look at audiences then somewhere like latitude has a much bigger recycle rate than Reading. The reason being, in my opinion, age groups, audience and responsibility. Latitude is pro active in giving bags out as people come in to separate waste. Has enough bins where the food is and has an audience of “middle to upper England” whoa re more mature and more family orientated and a lot genuinely want to reduce waste as this is what they do at home for the other 51 weeks of the year when using their own bins.
Reading audience, where the average age is now about 16.5 to 17 havent yet learnt hat responsibility and basically think that a weekend in a field watching bands gives the carte blanche to behave how they iike, ignore all rules etc . There was some success when beer tokens were given for bags and there is still the reusable pint pots etc but a lot don’t care as they have disposable income for the weekend.
Same applies to leaving tents and stuff etc. 60 quid for a 4 person tent etc is only £15 each and so not worth packing up etc and carrying home usually wet)
There are no real incentives for people to be green. How could you enforce people being green? Organisers should be using alternative methods for electric or promoting stuff like at Bestival where there is a stall you can cycle to recharge a phone.
I have no idea what the answer is and yes Galstonbury has got worse for rubbish over the years but where are 230,000 people for5 days with not enough bins , not enough collections etc then you will get that much waste. Many organisers do not put bins in main arenas now (V have none , Reading have few but not enough and so where do you put your rubbish other than on the floor?
Not enough is made of other things like volunteers etc as organisers cannot be bothered. we have worked at a few festivals where if staff are put by bins and seen to be collecting more is collected and people do use the correct bins.
Yes some now use all recyclables for food packaging etc but if you allow food from supermarkets on site it sort of makes it pointless but a necessary evil as too expensive etc on site.
Organisers need to use the resources they are offered but many just cannot be bothered as they all tend to see profits, which is the botttom line, and hassle of sorting new people, incentives etc s just too much so they go with the bare minimum.
Can we get people to change , yes but I do feel we have to be realistic and target certain festivals and age groups ins an appropriate way

Hi Mark – thank you for your comment! A very interesting and detailed view and I couldn’t have put it better myself! I absolutely agree that some festivals claim to be green by putting a few bins out whilst others are genuinely working hard to be more sustainable – it’s great that smaller festivals like Shambala Festival is 100% powered by renewable energy, but perhaps bigger festivals just don’t have the capacity to do this? However, I think that, along the same lines as what you have said, most festival organisers just can’t be bothered with the effort and organisation and often the cost that is involved in becoming fully, or partially, sustainable. And an excellent point is that the blame could be put partially on the audience, however, the demographics of that audience will make all the difference! When it comes to the decision of attracting an audience that will potentially spend more money or attracting an audience that will be more sustainable, festivals will always be profit driven and perhaps that is where the main issue lies…

Mark McDonaghy says:

Fantastic article! This is an issue that is definitely not thought about enough within the Events world. I manage an Events Team in the South West and we are constantly working to try to develop aspects that may lead to increased participation in making our events more sustainable. I think for events like festivals, organisers need to start taking more responsibility. Mark McDonaghy

Thank you for your comment, Mark. I agree that this is becoming a much more prevalent issue and hopefully something that will be thought about much more in the future. It’s great that there are teams like yours trying to make a difference!

Jessica L says:

I think that both event managers and attendees need to take equal responsiblity

Thank you for your comment, Jessica!

Jasper O'Brien says:

Event managers need to be more responsible. In my eyes too many festivals nowadays claim to be green but really don’t do a lot to fulfil this claim. I like the idea of calling this greenwashing. Great read

Hello Jasper, thank you for your comment! It’s a shame that so many festivals aren’t able to fulfil there claim – perhaps they need to start taking more responsibility!

Janet Peterson says:

Back when I was younger I went to many music concerts and festivals and never had a second though about making sure that my actions were environmentally friendly. Looking back that was very naive of me but it just shows that being green is not a priority for the audience. For this reason I think it should be up to the festival managers to make their event more environmentally friendly.

Thank you for your comment, Janet! It’s great to have the opinions of festival goers as well as organisers. It’s a shame that this isn’t a more prevalent issue in people’s minds, and perhaps we all need to work towards creating a more sustainable future!

Jaz J says:

this is an issue that i had never really thought about – as a regular festival goer i think its about time that we all (including festival staff) started being more responsible, as like you said – we do all live on the same planet!!!

Hi Jaz, thanks for your comment! It’s great to have the opinions of festival goers as well as organisers. I agree, it is about time we all started being more responsible!

Jacqui P says:

I am in absolute shock that glastonbury festival have that much rubbish and could use to do make such a difference to 3rd world countries!!!! Because such an impact is happening because of these weekend events, i think really they must just stop!!!!

Hi Jacqui, thank you for your comment! A rather drastic, yet fair view. It’s crazy that festivals this big have such an impact on the world, and perhaps they would be more effective cancelling their events and using the money saved to improve the world!

Mike Powell says:

This is a very interesting blog and you make some good points. There is interesting discussion, however, I do not think that this is as simple as one or more groups of people deciding to take responsibility. I think the issue goes much deeper than this, and ethics, profits, cost of sustainability and the festival experience need to be thought about before making a decision.

Hi Mike, thank you for your comment. I agree that it is not a simple question, and various factors must be taken into consideration! Thanks for your thoughts and interesting comment.

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