Green Festivals: Who should hold the responsibility?
1st March 2016
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…