Beyond the music: Sustainability initiatives at music festivals

The topic of sustainability at music festivals is an important one, now more than ever. However, it’s also pretty complex. With responsibility for making an event environmentally friendly shared between both event organisers and festival goers, it’s difficult to strike a balance between green initiatives on one hand and enjoyment on the other. 

In this article, we’ll explore the festivals making an effort to ‘go green’, what you can do to help and where electric cars could fit in. We’ll also take a look at some of the most eco-friendly festivals out there at the moment! 


How sustainable are music festivals?

While some large scale music festivals are making efforts to reduce their environmental impact, addressing these challenges comprehensively remains an ongoing issue for the industry. In their current state, these challenges include: 


  • Environmental Impact: Large-scale music festivals generate massive amounts of waste, including plastic cups, food containers, and other single-use items. This waste often ends up in landfills or pollutes the surrounding environment, contributing to environmental degradation.
  • Energy Consumption: Organising music festivals requires significant energy resources for stages, lighting, sound systems, and other infrastructure. This high energy demand can lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and a large carbon footprint.
  • Water Usage: Music festivals, especially those held in hot and arid regions, consume substantial amounts of water for sanitation, food preparation, and attendee needs. This can put a strain on local water resources, particularly in areas already facing water scarcity.
  • Transport Emissions: Music festivals attract attendees from various locations, leading to increased air and road travel. The carbon emissions from transportation to and from the event can contribute significantly to the festival’s overall environmental impact.
  • Noise Pollution: Large music festivals can disrupt local ecosystems and wildlife with loud noise, potentially affecting animal behaviour and habitats.
  • Land Degradation: Hosting music festivals often requires the temporary use of large open spaces or natural areas. Setting up stages, parking lots, and camping areas can result in land disturbance and habitat destruction.
  • Economic Impact on Local Communities: While music festivals can provide a boost to local economies through increased tourism and business, they can also strain resources and infrastructure, leading to negative consequences for nearby communities.
  • Single-Use Plastic: Festivals tend to rely heavily on single-use plastic items, which contribute to the global plastic pollution crisis.

And… breathe! Ok, so this all makes it seem like the music festival industry is the worst thing around right now, which of course isn’t the case. These issues are inherent to all different types of human activity, and being aware of them makes us one step closer to getting rid of them. 

How can music festivals become more sustainable?

According to the Greener Festival report, which examined data from festivals in 17 countries, the average festival generates an impressive 500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, roughly equivalent to the weight of a typical Boeing 747-400 commercial airplane. And each festival attendee contributes approximately 5kg of CO2 per day. Some of the ways in which festivals could become more sustainable include: 

  • Improving Sustainability in Festival Supply Chains:

Large-scale music festivals operate like temporary cities with intricate supply chains involving various stakeholders. To make these supply chains more sustainable, organisers are reevaluating their approaches to manage the environmental, social, and economic impacts of events. Their goal is to achieve zero emissions and waste while maintaining cost projections, complying with regulations, and exceeding attendee expectations.

For example, the DGTL Festival’s organisers are aiming to transform it into the world’s most sustainable music festival by implementing a circular economy strategy. This approach encompasses various aspects such as materials, food, energy, mobility, and water. Initiatives include incorporating renewable energy sources, using reusable cups and tableware, and sourcing organic and local food. Collaboration with partners and suppliers across the supply chain fosters knowledge-sharing and the creation of regenerative projects.

  • Reducing Waste with Sustainable Tents:

Abandoned camping gear, particularly tents, contributes significantly to festival waste. In some major festivals, up to 80% of visitors leave their tents behind, creating an environmental challenge since tents are difficult to recycle due to their complex materials. However, some progress has been made in producing sustainable tent options, such as those made from cardboard. Additionally, attendees at certain festivals have the option to order pop-up tents for pick-up onsite, with the choice to take them home or return them after the event.

  • Using Green Energy to Minimise Carbon Footprint:

Music festivals are energy-intensive events, requiring power for on-stage lighting, audio and video production, campsite and venue management, and more. Sustainability-conscious organisers are implementing energy-efficient practices to reduce fuel consumption and environmental impact. They calculate precise power requirements for the entire festival to optimise energy usage and explore alternative sources such as solar and kinetic energy.

Festival-goers and artists are also taking steps to track and minimise their CO2 emissions during travel to and from concerts. Innovative apps, like the Coldplay Music of The Spheres World Tour app powered by SAP Analytics Cloud, enable fans to select greener travel options when attending shows. Such initiatives not only increase transparency into the environmental impact of tours but also help to foster stronger connections between artists and fans.

Can music festivals ever be sustainable?

Achieving absolute sustainability is far easier said than done. In practice, initiatives can take time to implement and be successful. However, some of the largest music festivals are starting to take considerable steps towards improving their carbon footprint: 


Impressively, research undertaken by the eco experts claims that Glastonbury actually has a net positive impact on the climate. 

From their research, they’ve deducted that if all Glastonbury fans didn’t go to Glastonbury, they would produce 17,260 tonnes of Co2 – as opposed to the -596.25 tonnes of CO2e produced by Glastonbury. 

Graph showing how Glastobury Festival has reduced its environmental impact

From all the rubbish that’s left behind (in bins or other) Glastonbury produces around 2,000 tonnes of waste each year. That’s equivalent to 224 tonnes of CO2e per year – 174.5 tonnes less than it would be without the festival’s green policies. 

So, how have Glastonbury achieved a net positive impact on the climate? 

  • Plastic ban: 

In 2019, Glastonbury introduced a ban on the sale of plastic in any bars, shops, or backstage areas. This meant a reduction from over a million to zero plastic bottles from 2017 to 2019. 

  • Recyclable vs non-recyclable 

According to event organisers, around 50% of the waste created by the festival is either reused or recycled – adding up to 1,000 tonnes of rubbish. Also impressive was the dance arena built in 2019 entirely from plastic found in littering public spaces in south-west England. 

Graph showing recycling rubbish and composting food waste as percentages of total savings
  •  Energy usage and air pollution 

While the festival requires substantial electricity to fuel five days of entertainment, efforts to employ renewable energy sources have been fruitful. In 2010, Glastonbury installed 1,316 solar panels on the roof of its cattle shed, generating 205,700 kWh of renewable energy annually, saving approximately 100.9 tonnes of CO2e. In addition to solar power, the festival has embraced wind power, particularly in the Green Fields section, where stages like Croissant Neuf are entirely powered by wind and solar energy. 

The commitment to sustainability extends beyond the festival grounds. The organisers, Michael Eavis and his daughter Emily Eavis, have been proactive in planting trees in the local area since 2000. These trees now absorb approximately 800 tonnes of CO2e per year, making it one of the most significant carbon-saving measures Glastonbury undertakes.

  • Water pollution and usage 

The festival also takes steps to minimise water pollution and usage. Although Glastonbury experienced an unfortunate incident of water pollution in 2014 due to a sewage leak, measures have been put in place to ensure proper wastewater management. The festival uses over 13.6 million litres of water, sourced from specially built underground reservoirs. However, when compared to the average water usage per person outside the festival, Glastonbury’s festival goers consume ten times less water, saving approximately 128.4 million litres, which amounts to 113 tonnes of CO2e.

  • Noise pollution

Although not directly related to the carbon footprint, it’s a health concern that Glastonbury addresses as well. The festival adheres to noise restrictions set by the local council to ensure that neighbouring areas are not disturbed. Festival attendees are encouraged to take breaks from loud music and are provided with earplugs to protect their hearing.

Overall, Glastonbury’s efforts to combat climate change and prioritise sustainability have proven to be effective. By implementing a variety of eco-friendly practices, the festival sets a remarkable example for other events worldwide and demonstrates that large gatherings can still have a positive impact on the environment with conscious and responsible planning.


Coachella – a festival which attracts over 250,000 people annually – is also aiming to reduce the 1,600+ tons of waste generated inside the venue and grounds. 

In their pursuit of sustainability, Coachella has collaborated with the Galilee Center, a local nonprofit, to repurpose items like sleeping bags, tents, and clothing left behind by festival goers, benefiting disadvantaged families in the East Coachella Valley. As part of their efforts to address waste, Coachella has decided to only allow reusable aluminium water bottles into the festival grounds, a move that promises to significantly reduce plastic pollution. 

Plus, they’ve also partnered with Global Inheritance, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainability, to integrate environmental education into the festival experience. Interactive programming, such as pop-up art workshops and panel discussions with artists and activists, aims to inspire attendees to consider sustainability from a new perspective.

There are also a handful of teams responsible for waste diversion and management that operate around the clock, making sure that trash is handled efficiently and diverted from landfills. You’ll also find a bunch of brightly painted recycling bins, compost enclosures and water filling stations around the venue. 

Whilst the festival aims to achieve its sustainability goals with a continuous focus on health, safety, product life-cycle, and circularity – this isn’t without its challenges. Educating festival goers to be sustainable in their actions remains integral to achieving absolute sustainability, and the biggest challenge faced when addressing the issue.

A Tesla Model X driving along a country road.

Travelling to music festivals in an electric vehicle


If you’re travelling to a festival in an EV, there are some key things to keep in mind – along with all the usual EV-related road trip considerations! 

  • EV Range, Charging Stations & Charging Time: Plan your route and ensure there are sufficient charging stations along the way to reach your destination. Check for charging stations at or near the music festival venue as well. With many festivals taking place in rural parks, farms and estates, getting there and back usually needs some careful planning. To help you out, Gridserve have put together a very useful map of the nearest Electric Super Hubs or Electric Forecourts® to the UK’s biggest music festivals:

Map showing the nearest Electric Super Hubs or Electric Forecourts® to the UK’s biggest music festivals
  • Check Weather and Road Conditions: Weather conditions can impact an EV’s range, especially extreme temperatures. Be aware of any potential weather challenges and plan accordingly. If the festival you’re heading to is somewhere a little more remote, keep in mind road conditions such as hilly terrain which can also affect your vehicle’s energy consumption.
  • Carry Emergency Equipment: This is actually just like any road trip, have essential emergency equipment such as a spare tire, first aid kit, flashlight, and necessary tools in case of unforeseen circumstances.
    • Check Festival Policies: Check if the music festival has specific guidelines or facilities for EV owners, such as designated EV parking areas or charging stations on-site. Some festivals may offer perks or discounts for EV owners.

    If you’ve decided to travel by car, then going one step further and opting to car-share / carpool with friends can be a really effective way of making your festival trip more sustainable. It’s worth remembering that because of the rural nature of many music festivals, access to EV charging may be limited and in some cases incur extra costs. 

    Top 6 sustainable music festivals to check out in 2023

    Equinox Festival 

    “For the people… Not the profit” – Equinox’s tagline exemplifies its commitment to sustainability throughout the festival. There’s a range of measures to reduce their environmental impact and carbon emissions. For instance, they have a completely solar-powered stage called the Soundscape Stage and offer various eco-friendly arts and crafts workshops like green woodwork, flute making, rope work, drum circles, chainsaw carving, and more, showcasing their green heritage. 

    “For the people… Not the profit”

    Additionally, the festival provides a wide array of vegan food options, further demonstrating their dedication to sustainability. Beyond its eco-conscious efforts, Equinox remains a vibrant and outstanding festival, boasting an impressive lineup of music.

    Equinox Festival
    Image source:

    Knockengorroch Festival 

    Knockengorroch, a celebrated festival in the Scottish Highlands, recently marked its 25th anniversary with a remarkable focus on sustainability. At the heart of their efforts lies the Discee Centre, an innovative project that combines sustainable, local food production with music, art, and engaging discussions.

    This year, Knockengorroch collaborated with Oceanallover to commission a captivating display that sheds light on the endangered adder species. In addition to these initiatives, the festival hosts “DIY Knock,” an interactive experience where attendees can gather on the on-site farm, connect with like-minded individuals, and actively participate in outdoor conservation, building, and creative endeavours.

    Knockengorroch Festival
    Image source:


    Kelburn Garden Party 

    Kelburn Garden Party is an eco-conscious festival that prioritises sustainable practices. The festival’s core includes an environmental minimum standard policy, monitoring impacts, enforcing food concessions standards, providing affordable public transport, banning single-use plastics, and recycling 100% of waste. They’re also implementing a tree-planting program, contributing to reforestation efforts.

    Kelburn Garden Party


    Shambala stands at the forefront of eco-festivals, with a deep commitment to sustainability, regeneration, and respect for the earth and life. They’ve had significant achievements in reducing their carbon footprint by over 90%, adopting 100% renewable electricity, eliminating meat, fish, and dairy from their offerings, and eradicating single-use plastics.

    “…significant achievements in reducing their carbon footprint by over 90%

    Looking ahead, Shambala has set a roadmap for 2025 with a goal to ensure that every aspect of the festival, from sourcing materials to food consumption, results in a measurable improvement compared to previous practices. They’re determined to maintain a supply chain free from conflict funding, fossil fuels, unethical employment practices, and environmental harm. The festival is also committed to establishing a circular materials economy, completely eliminating waste from the build-up, break-down, and audience.

    Image source:

    Green Gathering 

    Since its inception, the Green Gathering has been a strong advocate of low-impact alternatives. This event goes beyond mere celebration and serves as a platform for fostering creativity and addressing ecological and social issues. 

    Traders and caterers at the festival prioritise ethical sourcing, promoting responsible consumption. Moreover, the Green Gathering focuses on preserving heritage crafts and teaching renewable technology skills, ensuring a sustainable future.

    Green Gathering
    Image source:

    Isle of Wight Festival 

    The Isle of Wight Festival’s ultimate goal is to become the most sustainable festival in the UK, and they have several effective methods to achieve this.

    The Isle Of Wight Fest ensures that no waste from the festival is sent to landfill. They actively promote sustainable travel options through key ticketing partnerships.

    “The partnership will generate 950,000kWh of electricity using grass from the festival site ”

    Plus, they issue a Strict Environment Requirements document to food and beverage suppliers, setting clear rules regarding the use of plastic, waste, and renewable materials. Only compostable serve ware and cutlery are allowed, reducing single-use plastics.At the end of the festival, all water piping is donated to local farms for irrigation.

    This year, they are taking their sustainability efforts even further in partnership with an Isle of Wight biogas firm. The partnership will generate over 950,000 kWh of electricity using grass from the festival site, almost twice the amount of energy used during the event!

    Isle of Wight Festival
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