What environmental impact do music festivals have?

In the height of festival season and the shadow of Glastonbury, the UK’s biggest festival, Groundwork Sustainable Business Consultant Dominic Simpson considers some of the challenges festival organisers face.

The major environmental impact of festivals

According to research conducted by Brighton University the negative environmental impacts from festivals are primarily related to transport, waste, energy and toilets.


Transport is the biggest issue and largest carbon emitter for festivals with most people arriving by car. Improving public transport links to festivals is one of the best ways of reducing the emissions generated by a festival.

In addition, organisers could encourage employees working at the festival, stewards or food/bar providers, to car share, use active travel methods or they could provide shuttle buses from local towns and villages to further reduce emissions.


Festivals with camping facilities find that up to 80% of their total waste will come from the campsite.

In 2014 Buckinghamshire New University and Love Your Tent surveyed 1,200 festival goers‘ with 60% of them admitting they discarded their tent at the end of a festival.

Driven by the fact that tents and camping equipment have become so cheap they are now seen as disposable items. On top of this, a cheap tent is more likely to break and less likely to fit easily back in its bag when users have finished with it.

Despite campaigns to re-purpose tents, using them in refugee camps or passing them onto the homeless, there is still a waste based culture at festivals.


With all the lights and sounds it’s no surprise that a large music festival can use up to 30,000 megawatts of electricity over a weekend, the equivalent of that of a small city.

It is estimated that music festival’s main energy source is lighting, followed video and closely audio production. Making sure that the lighting is LED and the video and audio production equipment is energy efficient is key to reducing the energy demand. Closely monitoring the energy consumption of these areas is key to first understanding where savings can be made.

It’s often difficult to source ‘cleaner’ sources of energy for festivals with pop up locations but more interesting options such as hydrogen, solar, wind and batteries are emerging as potential replacements. Currently diesel and biodiesel remain the best option for the power requirements of festivals. Experimenting with powering some areas, e.g. food stands, smaller stages etc, by using alternative options is a great first step to promoting cleaner energy at festivals.


Huge amounts of energy and water is required to support festival ‘pop up settlements’ especially when considering toilet and showers.

Festival goers’ who sneak into bushes instead of joining the renowned long queues can cause damaging effects on wildlife through the excess ammonia released, especially to fish in nearby streams. (Telegraph, 2013)

Festival best practice

Vision 25 and Green Deal Circular Festivals are initiatives that many UK and European festival organisers have signed up to in order to create a blueprint for resilient, low-carbon and circular festivals.

As a result of this new way of thinking BoomTown Fair has introduced an EcoBond in recent years. A £10 deposit is added to the ticket price and on the final day of the festival, festival goers have the opportunity to exchange a bag of either recycling or waste to festival organisers in order to get their £10 deposit back.

Latitude festival encourages festival goers’ to pay a £1 deposit for a souvenir cup, which provides something more substantial to drink from throughout the festival weekend and reduces the number of single-use cups thrown away.

In addition, festival organisers and indeed performers, should consider festivals as platforms to educate the general public on how they can improve their environmental impact within their daily lives.

This year, Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters made headlines by taking the train to Glastonbury! Check out the post below: