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Are Music Festivals Sustainable?

Updated: Aug 3, 2019

Glastonbury Festival aftermath

No we don't mean are they finanically sustainable.

I’ve always found that members of the music community, whether it be fans or musicians, are some of the most passionate people I’ve met. Passionate about their artform, about people and about the current problems that affect the way we live. However, it seems like we often forget about the massive impact the music industry has on our planet, in particular music festivals.

Let’s take Coachella for example. On average, the festival creates a whopping 100 tons of waste every single day. So how do we combat this crisis? Well, we can break it down into three parts: what festivals can do, how artists can lead by example and how we, the fans, can take matters into our own hands.

Confetti is fun but is it biodegradable?

Now, I get it, music festivals have got to make their money. It is a business after all but making environmentally conscious decisions doesn’t have to be a monetary sacrifice, and there are many organisations and groups that are there to help festival organisers. Here in Aus we’ve got Green Music Australia, a group backed by some wicked figures in the music community like Missy Higgins, Paul Kelly, Katie Noonan and Montaigne. Their aim is to take the cultural power that the music industry has and use that effectively to lead us into a better and greener world. Anywhere you are in the world, you’ll be able to find a group that can provide tools, resources and support like Reverb who provide ‘RockNRefill’ water stations and ‘Action Villages’ that connect festival-goers with local nonprofits.

There are so many simple switches festivals can make like using compostable dishes and utensils, using LED lights, selling reusable water bottles or non-petroleum silicone cups, and even providing secure bicycle racks to encourage a greener mode of transport to and from the event. Coachella recently offered the novelty feature of phone chargers that you power by riding a bike. While it may not be the most practical idea, it’s more about the mentality that it promotes. Many festivals are even leading the way by letting customers purchase their own individual carbon offset credits with their tickets at checkout.

Despite what your parents might say, we’re not all there for the instagram content, we’re there for the artists. They’re our heroes and idols and they have a massive potential to influence others. We should be encouraging all artists to take a leaf out of books of the likes of Jack Johnson. Johnson will never agree to a performance until he has ensured that in his green room only energy efficient light bulbs are used, single use plastic is entirely eliminated and everything used is able to then be recycled. Gone should be the days of Britney Spears requesting framed pictures of Princess Diana or Van Halen needing someone to sit and pick out the brown M&Ms. Let’s hold musicians accountable and urge them to choose ‘eco riders’ instead.

The dreaded but necessary composting toilets of Splendour In The Grass Festival

While there’s so many important swaps and decisions festival organisers and musicians can make, what people often don’t realise is that we are the ones that can make the biggest difference. In the words of writer and activist Alice Walker, “the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any”. If we start making sustainable choices, it forces everyone else to comply, and there’s so many ways we can do this.

For example, choosing an outfit that doesn’t feed into the fast fashion machine. The textile industry emits more greenhouse gas than international shipping and aviation combined and they just love exploit festival season; creating items that you’ll wear once and never touch again. Next time, maybe consider borrowing clothes from a friend, finding something cool in an op-shop or even try and create something new from what’s already in your wardrobe! (Ethical clothing stores are popping up, singer Lisa Mitchell runs one such shop in Melbourne). Other changes you can make are replacing glitter with a biodegradable alternative, carpooling with friends or taking public transport and of course, saying no to single use plastics.

All revolutions start with the people, and what better group to make waves across the world than passionate music fans? The power is in our hands to not only change the way we run our music events, but make ourselves an example for the rest of the planet.


Bring a reusable water container!

Venues will allow an empty container for water and there will be water stations at any given event.

Don’t leave your tent behind!

This should go without saying, but if you purchased a cheap tent just for the weekend — it’s not trash. Either reuse it, take it to a donation center

Wear bioglitter!

Music festivals attendees are known to glitter up at events. Unfortunately, much of the cosmetic glitter available to purchase online and in stores contains microplastics.

Carpool or take a bus!

Make travel plans with friends, take the bus or carpool, or try not to leave the car running. Electric cars are coming but there's still lots to iron out.

Check out the Climate Change Declaration signed by Artists such as Paul Kelly, Missy Higgins, Montaigne and more.

There is also now an artist investment fund for renewable energy called FEAT. (Future Energy Artists) started by band Cloud Control who has investors such as Jack River, Midnight Oil, Vance Joy and Peking Duk.



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