Environmental consciousness is nothing new but the emphasis on festivals to take a leave-no-trace approach is more prevalent than ever.
From Small World and Shambala to Portugal’s mighty Boom Festival, certain ‘transformational gatherings’ have kept a tight rein on event capacity by refusing to grow beyond their means in order to live up to an ethos for environmental sustainability.
Taking inspiration from such events, The Giving Tree Festival is the latest to emerge on the circuit.
The first edition of the one-thousand capacity festival will take place this year on a small green field in Hertfordshire, where a dedicated team works all year round on set designs and stages for high profile events.
The space has doubled up as a production unit where structures for the festival’s main stage, chill out and holistic areas are being built from recycled materials.
Compost toilets, recycling systems and LED lights will be in place. Attendees will also be encouraged to use steel cups instead of plastic.
The festival’s director, Joey Soden, said 85 per cent of the timber used will be recycled
or from wood obtained from local tree felling companies.
He said: “Only 15 per cent of materials will be fast growing pine and imported from Norway and Denmark, so we are aiming to start with a really low carbon footprint.”
Other actions contributing to sustainable practice include recycled perspex, using steel wire instead of cable ties and upcycling of sheet materials, some of which will be donated to charity.
Plans to power the festival using solar energy next year are also being discussed.
Joey said there are plans in the pipelines to grow organically, thanks to help from The Greener Festival, which has been contracted to map out the event over the next few years.
He added: “These guys will help us leave as little impact on nature as possible, to analyse what we’re doing and to show us how we can do it even better next year.”
Boomtown Fair began with a similar number of punters as The Giving Tree just over a decade ago, and has since grown exponentially to a whopping 66,000.
Last month, Winchester Council granted the event a licence to increase its capacity to almost 80,000 in 2020 – something organisers say is crucial to the event’s survival and a “massive step forward… Only granted because of watertight operational and infrastructure systems the team have implemented.”
The capacity to grow also means the opportunity to reach more people though, said one festivalgoer, who did not want to be named.
“A conscious message reaches a bigger pool of people; it educates and empowers them during an era in which leaders are making catastrophic decisions that are impacting the environment.
“Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement and Bolsonaro denying deforestation says enough. We’re at breaking point and we’ve been warned. It’s a critical time to get the message out, and increasing event capacity is a powerful way of doing that.”
But is economic growth compatible with environmental sustainability?
“Changing the mindset of 66,000 people is a mammoth task and it won’t happen overnight, as Boomtown never began with a culture of sustainability,” said Joey.
Smaller festivals though, he said, have the advantage of “outlining clearer goals with achievable targets and it will be much easier to see the results post production.”
Glastonbury’s ban on single-use plastic did not prevent punters from leaving mountains of rubbish for eco-teams to clear up at the end of the event.
So is it safe to presume there is a clear distinction in festival goers’ mentality between transformational gatherings and more mainstream events like Glastonbury?
This distinction is seemingly underscored by Portugal’s Boom Festival, a global transformational mecca for a diverse international crowd that continues to reiterate that it is a “limited capacity event”.
To grow beyond its 30-40,000 capacity is simply the antithesis to being environmentally sustainability, organisers have said.
The 22 year old event has spent 50 per cent of its life-span developing plans for becoming increasingly sustainable, contributing to social welfare programs, the creation of jobs for locals in an area known for high levels of unemployment, raising environmental awareness and providing empowering tools for making ecological life choices.
The event has become not just a festival to party, but a space in which to discover new life skills for environmentally conscious living, meaning it’s not all about hedonism, but about learning something that can impact life choices post-festival as well.
Following her MBA project on sustainable festivals, music industry researcher and DJ, Tara Hawes, said while some theorists such as Newbold et al. have argued that festivals by their nature can never really be considered “sustainable,” others, have said they make great environments for transformation.
She said the likes of theorists like Johnson (2015) have supported this idea too and have said festivals also have the power to “reach the decision makers of tomorrow” – a profound statement for a rapidly changing world.
But how can festivals measure sustainability? Tara applied the Triple Bottom Line to her research, (as outlined by Johnston et al., 2014), comprising social responsibility, the environment and economic performance.
She also identified a fourth pillar, cultural diversity, as defined by Jones (2014), who said it contributes to “enhancing sustainable human development.”
Is the celebration of such cultural diversity enough to show the difference between festivals like Reading and global gatherings like Portugal’s Boom Festival? And if so, does this correlate with differing levels of environmental consciousness?
It’s a point in question and a convincing one for some. But tangible measures that assess our carbon footprint are just as crucial as raising the consciousness vibration.
And as Tara adds: “We’re living in a time when festival organisers are increasingly scrutinised. And with music festivals being such high risk ventures, it’s more crucial than ever for them to be transparent about their practices and supply chains if they are to walk the talk as environmentally sustainable events.”