Dancing in the rain covered in mud. Wearing glitter and neon leotards. Swaying to your favorite tunes in the middle of a field. The unspeakable horrors of the portaloos. Socially acceptable day drinking.
There’s so much that’s unique about festivals and it’s easy to see why they’re such a big hit. But as fun as festivals are, they do generate a lot of waste and carbon emissions. Rubbish bins overflow with single-use plastic cups, strobe lights and booming speakers guzzle energy; fans and artists drive and fly from all over the planet.
In fact, according to The Show Must Go On, a report by festival industry steering group Powerful Thinking, the UK music camping festival industry emits 24,261 tons of CO2 per year. That’s equivalent to greenhouse gas emissions from over 60 million miles driven by an average gasoline-powered passenger vehicle. Now imagine what that looks like if you include festivals in the rest of the world too.
What’s even more terrifying is that that figure excludes travel to and from the site. Artist and fan transportation is actually the most environmentally taxing aspect of a festival.
Festivals also generate a huge amount of waste, most of which isn’t sorted into recycling, according to Festival and Event Tourism Impacts, a book which studies how mega events affect their host communities and the environment.
But there is hope. More events overall are reporting and addressing their carbon emissions. In the UK, the benchmarks for camping music festivals show a reduction in waste per audience member per day from 2.8 kg in 2014 to 2 kg in 2019, driven by initiatives like reusable cups, biodegradable glitter, eco-toilets, climate-conscious food traders, and the use of renewable energy sources.
If, like us, you love a good romp in melody-filled fields but you also want to do right by the planet, there are sustainable options happening all over the world. Here are our top eight.
When: June 22-26
Where: Pilton, UK
2022 Lineup: Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish, Kendrick Lamar, Diana Ross…
The mother of all green music festivals, Glastonbury Festival has seen millions of festival-goers trample through muddy fields to witness iconic moments in live music.
The Worthy Farm festival's list of green policies is extensive; from the solar farm that covers the cow sheds (one of the largest privately-owned solar systems in the country) to their observance of fallow years to allow the land to recover. They’ve even got a field called “Green Futures” where the most inspiring green ideas are on show. Attendees are also required to sign a “Green Pledge” when they pay for their tickets in which they vow to “leave no trace.” To tell the truth though, not everyone abides by it.
But with a history firmly rooted in activism, the festival’s environmental creds extend beyond its Somerset walls and have seen it donate millions of pounds to Greenpeace, Oxfam, and WaterAid.
2. Burning Man
When: Aug. 28 - Sept. 5
Where: Black Rock Desert, US
2022 Lineup: Burning Man does not have any fixed lineup or schedule, it is a collection of multiple events and happenings.
Arguably the mecca of progressive festivals, Burning Man has had 10 commandments since it was founded in San Francisco in 1986. The most important one? Leave no trace.
According to the Black Rock City bonanza: “Burners are environmentalists. It’s just our nature.”
The distinctive thing about the original Burn is that responsibility — whether that’s for recycling or food — is the individual’s. There are no trash cans at Burning Man which means festival-goers are expected to dispose of any waste they create and everyone is expected to pitch in at the post-event clean-up effort.
3. Global Citizen Festival
When: Sept. 24
Where: Accra, Ghana and New York, US
2022 Lineup: Watch this space!
From the moment the inaugural Global Citizen Festival hit the scene in 2012 — with The Black Keys and Neil Young among the headliners — we’ve been incorporating principles of sustainability, getting greener every year. Our goal? Zero everything — from waste and emissions to environmental harm.
As an advocacy organization that campaigns on defending the planet — and writes extensively on the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss — we like to practice what we preach.
Instead of traditional diesel, Global Citizen uses an alternative that results in 90% less greenhouse gas emissions to keep the lights on at each festival location, partners with groups to offset the estimated emissions of the events, has a single-use plastic ban, and there are composting and recycling bins galore.
When: July 1-3
Where: Milan, Italy
2022 Lineup: Lafawndah, Mc Yallah & Debmaster, COMMON PEOPLE, Sofie Birch, DJ FATi, Paquita Gordon…
Terraforma is named after an ecological process in which life on a planet becomes possible through the creation of an atmosphere. The 3-day event aims to do the same, creating “a timeless center of gravity for energies, with a breaking point from which sounds and images create a sense of suspension capable of pointing us towards new perceptions.”
Taking place in a wood just outside of Milan, Terraforma aims to encourage a “respect for the environment” and to take attendees back to “natural frequencies”.
The stages themselves are made out of wood and designed to have as minimal impact on the environment as possible. There are recycling stations, green stewards, durable cups, and all dinnerware and cutlery is 100% biodegradable. They even have electric fleets for artists and their teams, and have developed a low impact lighting system for the campsite that uses recycled materials and is powered entirely by solar energy. What’s not to like!
5. Green Man Festival
When: Aug. 18-21
Where: Wales, UK
2022 Lineup: Michael Kiwankua, Kraftwerk, Beach House, Metronomy, Bicep…
Taking place in the lush and pristine national park, Brecon Beacons, Green Man Festival aims to keep it that way.
As its name would suggest, festival-goers are advised to be as green as possible. No glitter. No disposable plastic cups. Local tipple. Cigarette butt pouches and only compostable wares.
They also team up with Help Refugees and Newport to Calais Aid Collective who collect unwanted camping equipment and food that goes to refugees around the world and support FRANK Water’s initiatives for sanitary and safe water.
Green man? Yes please.
6. Splendour in the Grass
When: July 22-24
Where: North Byron Parklands, Australia
2022 Lineup: Gorillaz, The Strokes, Tyler, The Creator, Glass Animals, Yeah Yeah Yeahs…
This Australian number takes its responsibility to Mother Earth seriously. So seriously that in 2019, Splendour in the Grass won a green gong at the NSW Government Green Globe Awards, which recognize sustainability leaders in the event space that encourage others to achieve positive change for the environment.
For a few years now, they’ve been working with local renewable energy companies Enova Energy and COREM. For just $3ASD, you can choose the “Green Offset” option when you buy your pass to the festival and help fund pioneering climate initiatives. It’s less than the price of your oat latte and way better karma.
7. Pohoda Festival
When: July 7-9
Where: Trenčín, Slovakia
Festival Lineup: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, The Libertines, Metronomy, Lianne La Havas…
Named Europe’s most environmentally-friendly festival, this Slovakian open-air festival is for the hardcore eco-warriors.
For over 25 years now, a commitment to implementing progressive environmental actions has been at the forefront of Pohoda's ethos.
They have vacuum toilets that save water, there are charging stations for electric cars in the parking lot, compostable dishes, reusable cups, and a mobile solar power station, which all help to keep the environment green and the eco-conscious festival-goers keen.
Where: Oslo, Norway
When: Aug. 9-13
Festival Lineup: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Gorillaz, Florence + the Machine, AURORA, Michael Kiwanuka, First Aid Kit…
One of Oslo’s largest music events, this Norwegian gem puts as much energy into sustainability as it does curating a popping lineup.
Since the festival's maiden voyage in 1999, they’ve been purveyors of eco-friendly efforts such as sustainable food experiences, green purchasing policies, fossil-free transportation, emission reductions, and sophisticatedly sustainable resource management.
Their eco-friendly ideology has paid off: they were awarded the International Greener Festival Award and the AGF Circular Festival Award in 2020.
Boogie on down to Global Citizen’s Climate Action NOW page and see how many actions you can take today to defend the planet.