Music festivals need sustainability now more than ever.

POV: You’re jamming out to the latest bop by your fave artist. Maybe you’re moshing or maybe you’re chilling at the edges. Lights are flashing, the bass is hammering, and you’ve got to scream into the ear of your BFF just to be heard.

You took an Uber to your friend’s house to get ready (6.34 lbs of CO2). Then you and the crew drove hours to get to the concert venue (<6 lbs of CO2). Those flashing lights? Need electricity to run.

That bass you felt in your bones? Needs electricity too.

That artist you love? Took a plane, bus, or train to get there. That trip can emit as much CO2 as eight cars in an entire year in just ten days.

Busy? Try the speed read.

Hot take music festivals need sustainability now more than ever.

What’s the matter The music industry is an integral part of society, but it has some catching up to do in the world of sustainability. With constant traveling, waste production and energy demands, tours and festivals carry a heavy environmental impact.

By the numbers

  • A UK study found that in 2015, five artists collectively generated 19,314 kilograms of CO2 emissions between April and September (the equivalent of 1 million people’s CO2 emission per year)
  • Tours can go through 18,720 plastic bottles a year

Bottom line While touring and festivals may be environmentally harmful now, there are many potential solutions for eliminating single-use plastics, utilizing biodiesel in transportation, recycling batteries, sourcing merchandise made from organic materials, promoting carpooling to the event, and educating fans.

Dig deeper → 2 min

Live music and sustainable practices

Music tours and festivals endorsed utopian, environmentalist mores since the 60s and have only embraced it more with the tutu-touting ravers of today. Nature and music have an implicit relationship, but they lack synergy. 

The phenomenon that started with grassroots and crunchy Woodstock morphed and grew into an industry with over 800 music festivals in the U.S. alone, with millennials representing at least 45% of the 32 million people who attend music festivals. This group prefers to spend their money on ethical and sustainable experiences. Ironically, a ticket for these events contradicts such values.

Removing the Rose-Colored Glasses @ festivals

The reality is that festivals and tours greatly damage the environment and locations they occupy. From the days of Woodstock to modern-day Coachella, the hippie tree-hugging aesthetic is a myth. 

This can be attributed to several factors associated with executing a successful music festival — including fans and bands traveling worldwide to perform, energy consumption from instruments, lights, and the venue, and waste production from food. Festivals can generate more than 107 tons of waste per day.

Logistically speaking, most bands make a large portion of their revenue from touring. Touring requires traveling, catering, energy, merchandise, and more to succeed. On average, tours use 15-20 plastic bags a day and 60 cases of water a month

Odds are that traveling is the biggest source of carbon emissions in your environmental footprint.

A report found UK bands released a total of approximately 85,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions while touring. For industries that rely heavily on long-distance traveling (sports, food, and especially music), emissions from airplanes and other forms of transportation can be the greatest barrier to adopting more sustainable practices. 

Creating harmony between music, community, and earth

To create lasting change, damaging industry practices must be addressed.

Tour itineraries that plan around festival-hopping and exclusivity agreements that temporarily prevent bands from playing in certain geographic regions create the most profitable tours while sacrificing sustainability from an emissions perspective.

Music festivals need sustainability.

Fans have a role to play in the effort to transform this practice. Many artists listen to their fans, who can push artists to think sustainably when creating tour schedules and selecting venues.

While touring and festivals may be environmentally harmful now, many potential solutions exist.

Companies like Reverb, BYOB, Effect Partners, and Sustainable Concerts Working Group work to analyze and offer alternatives to the music industry’s most environmentally harmful practices.

Some alternatives include eliminating single-use plastics, utilizing biodiesel in transportation, recycling batteries, sourcing merchandise made from organic materials, promoting carpooling to the event, and educating fans.

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