Continuing our blog series on GreenTech, we’re looking at something that all of us at AndAnotherDay have in common. Back when we had our office, music was the beating heart that kept the blood pumping. Now we’re all remote, there’s no shortage of big headphones or whomping speakers. Music is fundamentally important to all of us, and whilst we all enjoy seeing it live (something we’re only just getting back into the swing of), we know live music comes at a price. And we’re not just talking about the tickets.
For us, GreenTech and music is a match made in heaven. It’s not only the coming together of our passions, but it presents an opportunity to vastly reduce emissions, waste and environmental harm in a sector that so desperately needs it. Whether it’s Rammstein and their elaborate, global eyebrow-singing fireshow, or a father and son act down the local boozer, the technology, transportation and space needed to host music events isn’t something we can turn a blind eye to.
Keiron (AndAnotherDay founder) is particularly invested in cleaning up festivals, metaphorically and literally. Only recently he had a meeting at The Great Escape in Brighton. He also attended A Greener Festival’s ‘Green Events & Innovations’ conference. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s featured in Better Not Stop’s ‘More Than Music’ music festival research paper. Safe to say, he’s the man for the GreenTech job, and we’re eager to help too.
The problem with live music and festivals
We’ve all seen the post-Glastonbury clean-up operation. It used to be a bit of a joke, but the more times you see it, the more you realise there’s something deeply wrong with humanity when we’ll travel hundreds of miles to celebrate music in beautiful, rolling hills, only to leave it looking like bin day apocalypse.
But the problem is more than just paper cups and strewn sleeping bags. Concerts consume inordinate amounts of power, and need an incredibly well-tuned infrastructure just to get the lights on. Furthermore, there’s hospitality, travel, heating or air conditioning (not all festivals are outdoors), crowd control, security, refreshments, facilities, and so much more.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to more Readings, Downloads and even DesertFests than I can count on both hands, and I’ve loved every minute of it. But as we (music fans) and they (them youngsters) become more aware of our impact as a species, it leaves a bitter taste behind.
Litter picks, LED lights and 11pm curfews just won’t cut it. We must do more.
Better Not Stop’s music festival research paper
As research papers go, this one’s pretty bloody exciting, if a little worrying. Hannah Cox, Sophie Zienkiewicz and the team researched no less than 100 music festivals to gather a broad set of data. There’s some familiar names in there too; Latitude, Lovebox, Bloodstock, South West 4, and many more.
It’s worth noting that the purpose of the paper isn’t to expose or criticise the industry, but to accelerate music festivals’ ability to put effective measures in place. It also hopes to act as a catalyst to foster innovation across what can be a particularly siloed sector.
It all begins with purpose
Much like our own sustainability journey, you don’t just change direction over night. You need a formalist strategy and you need to bake it into your brand so that others can see and hear what you’re doing, and ultimately follow you.
Astonishingly, only 49% of music festivals have a publicly available sustainability policy, and less than two thirds are delivering a social impact programme. Worst of all (because perhaps it’s the easiest of all to implement), only 45% of the featured festivals have offsetting measures in place.
This is a bit of a finger in the face of music festivals’ primary audience. It’s no secret that millennials are galvanised in their strive for a better planet, with over 70% of them taking positive actions to reduce their own carbon footprint during an event.
Setting an example
Festivals, much like the artists they sign-up, have a voice. The music industry is hugely influential when it comes to driving change, but rather than a rapper or a rockstar convincing us to wear a particular line of products (the only example that comes to mind right now is Korn and adidas, which is perhaps showing my age), it would be great to see artists driving a greener agenda, particularly around touring practices and festival technology.
Treating it like a business
It’s easy to forget that a music festival is just one great big business. Whilst you’re there in the thick of it, wading through polystyrene burger containers and damp Carling cups, the last thing you’re thinking about is the promoter and their responsibility as a company. Yet if we saw Coca-Cola dumping plastic into the ocean, we’d certainly have something to say about it.
In the age of the B Corp business, it’s fundamentally important that organisations step up and take responsibility for their actions, and divert funds to critical initiatives that can reduce their impact on the planet. Whilst it’s easy to sneer and tut at the torn and tattered tents of yesterday’s Glasto, doesn’t part of the responsibility fall upon the organiser to put more stringent solutions in place?
“By creating, sharing and implementing positive impact policies music festivals can be profitable and deliver benefits to society. In fact, making it easier for attendees to make sustainable choices creates a new way for them to connect and make stronger connections with their audience.”
An appetite for reconstruction
7% of the population visited a music festival in 2019, with 92% of them being Gen Z and Millennial. We don’t like labels as much as the next person, but as we mentioned earlier, these are the age groups who are showing the most interest and commitment to making a difference.
But this is where it gets depressing. UK festivals produce over 23,500 tonnes of rubbish every single year, and release 24,000 tonnes of carbon in the process. Of that rubbish, much of it is chairs, sleeping bags and tents – often synthetic materials where the recycling process is intensive.
Travel is a huge part of the problem too. You might feel at one with nature as you roll out of your hammock after a night under the stars, but how did you get there in the first place? A staggering 80% of the average festival’s carbon footprint is emissions from the audience travelling to get there. Combined with the miles upon miles of coaches, lorries and trailers used by the artists and road crew… it’s hard to comprehend, particularly when you consider some festivals have upwards of 1,000 artists and performers spread across a long weekend.
We need to be careful not to push all the blame to the consumer here. This is something we see often when we talk about sustainability. The tongue-in-cheek take being “thank god I refused that straw” as UK waterways are pumped full of raw sewage. Research by Clean Scene estimates that within the top 1,000 DJs touring the globe, there were over 50,000 flights in 2019 alone. That’s over 3 million litres of fuel and 35 million kgs of CO2.
I don’t think we need to make any smarmy comparisons and clever musical metaphors here. It’s plain to see that even solo artists are dragging a great big, dirty smear across the sky all for the sake of a two hour set.
The paper moves on to share its findings in more granular detail around the fundamentals of festivals such as the campsites themselves, waste, litter, consumables, water and energy. Hannah and Sophie then look at the social impact of festivals, and this is where things start to feel positive and more in-line with what music is all about.
64% of festivals support charities and many are trialling new initiatives around social action and sustainability. In some cases, this is through supporting larger climate change charities, and in others, it’s local initiatives that aim to help and support efforts that are closer to home. A wonderful example is Wilderness Festival supporting the Oxford Food Hub – a place where impoverished communities can find food.
Diversity (not the band)
It’s not all about cleaning up the environment and keeping emissions down. Festivals also have a responsibility to represent marginalised groups. Music is a place where sexuality, identity, age and ethnicity can flourish and be celebrated. But only when those groups are giving an equal shot at taking the stage.
Sadly, there’s an imbalance here that must be addressed. Exactly half of music degree students in the UK are female, but 80% of signed musicians are male, taking up 85% of festival headline slots. This must change.
Access all areas
Cool, you paid extra to go backstage. That’s a huge privilege when you consider that some people can’t even get through the front gate. I’m particularly passionate about accessibility, online and offline, and it upsets me when I know my friends can’t attend the same events or even use the same services as me because they use a wheelchair or are vision impaired. It doesn’t matter if one or 101 wheelchair users turn up to an event. The industry absolutely must put provisions in place that mean they can access the venue or area with ease, and they can remain comfortable throughout their visit.
I have a distinct memory of seeing Slipknot playing London Arena in 2001 (I do listen to much more than turn of the millennium metal) and seeing the ‘disabled stand’ far, far from the stage. That played on my mind ever since, and whilst it’s great to see organisations like Attitude is Everything improving access to live music, we have a way to go.
The paper concludes with some information on how to take action, along with some useful sustainability tools and links. We really do encourage you to check out the paper, which we’ve linked below.
And the beat goes on
Hats off to Hannah and Sophie. This paper really leaves no stone unturned. Whilst it is depressing reading in parts, the anthemic chorus leaves us optimistic. Music has a heart and a soul, and the positive and optimistic energy that you can feel in the air at a concert (even a metal one, trust me) is mesmerising. If we can channel that passion and that lust for life into making festivals and the wider music industry a cleaner, greener experience, then count me in.
We can be heroes.