You Can Party and Be Eco-Friendly at Music Festivals This Summer

Environment Friendly Living

Photo via Flickr user anax44.

Summer is festival season, a time of fun things that are terrible for the planet. The mass exodus of cars, the diesel-powered stages and light shows and ferris wheels, the apocalyptic volume of trash, the generators burning around the clock for tens of thousands of people and their tens of thousands of plastic water bottles, the odds that you will have to listen to The Chainsmokers — all bad. The good news is at least that with

sustainability being increasingly mainstreamed

, things are not entirely as shitty as they could be.

Burning Man, man

Burning Man

emphasizes recycling and composting, and is widely known for its

Leave No Trace

policy — you carry out everything you bring with you, trash included. The festival’s organizers have

suggested that the biggest environmental cost it incurs is from transportation

. Whether or not that was a redirect from the

rest of the issues it could stand to to work on

is for another day, but transportation remains one of the biggest carbon footprints left by festivals across the board.

Leave n trace at Burning Man (Photo via Wikimedia Commons).

A lot of the bigger names have made nods toward mitigating this, if only to deflect bad PR.


(not exactly a trailblazer in this space but

less disastrous than it used to be, all things considered

) has efforts like


, plus cutesy on-site features like phone chargers you power by riding a bike or a see-saw.


, among the most

environmentally friendly

of the larger festivals out there, has made a big push to establish


as part of its brand.

Buy a ticket…and your carbon offset

One of the best growing trends among festival organizers is the purchasing of carbon offsets. Some, like

Firefly Festival

— which

offers shuttles


emphasizes recycling and clean energy

— allow you the option of buying your own individual carbon offset along with your ticket. (I’ve been twice, and if memory serves this purchase nets you a free reusable water bottle, which, hey.)

A number of them outsource the job to the expanding market of companies that will take care of the logistics for large events like these.


, for instance, has partnered with Green Mountain Energy Company, which has also done the carbon offsets for

South by Southwest

. Sasquatch, another festival that offers carpooling incentives, has worked out its offsets through

Carbon Harmony


Outside Lands in San Francisco has a whole program dedicated to sustainability (Photo via Wikimedia Commons).

Lightning in a Bottle

, often touted as one of the more environmentally conscious festivals, offers not just carbon offsets and the like but

sustainability workshops

, as does



Outside Lands

has a number of sustainability and waste-reduction efforts under its umbrella

Eco Lands

program. Meanwhile, event-greening org Clean Vibes, which (among other things) helps organize and haul off recycling and residual waste, has by now worked with festivals like



High Sierra

, Bonnaroo, Outside Lands,

Governor’s Ball

, and



Put on a festival, go green, get an award

There are even

awards for festival sustainability

, for which organizers must nominate themselves. There was a time when such branding might have been considered uncool, but now a large contingent of the nation’s most popular festivals are eager to get green-certified in some capacity, lest they be caught on the wrong side of the public-relations tide. (See, for instance, Thailand’s

now-notoriously shitty

Full Moon Festival, which has increasingly become the kind of thing you only attend if you are someone without a soul. This festival is not to be confused with NYC’s

Full Moon Fest

, which at least puts

$1 from each ticket purchased

toward planting trees around the city.)

Free refills

It’s always good to know which organizers are doing what, but it’s not like people decide their attendance based on these things. Festivals aren’t exactly interchangeable. So the best thing you can do wherever you do end up is to make sure your own footprint isn’t any larger than it has to be. This means the individual offsets if the festival offers them, and I assume you already don’t litter because you are a nice person, but also bringing your own (empty, reusable) water bottles and biodegradable food.

Lots of festivals offer free water refills if you bring back your own bottles, which is a good idea that is still not as good as just not fucking having them in the first place (also, plastic water bottles at these things are so absurdly expensive that I dunno why you wouldn’t just bring a reusable one even if you cared nothing for the planet). Coachella has the free-refill deal, and yet my memory of the chaotic mountains of empty bottles can still best be described as distressing.

Clean vibes, brah (Photo via Flickr user Shannon McGee).

To that end, try to see how much of your haul you can make not just recyclable, but biodegradable. The bummer with events on this scale is that a lot of what you think you’re recycling will never actually get that far; there’s too much contamination from the trash piles, plus organizers just aren’t often equipped to handle the sheer volume.

Bonnaroo, another festival firmly in the top tier of sustainability, uses

100-percent compostable food-service items

. It’s a good move to model your own packing after this, and also to bring much of your own food as you comfortably can — in addition to racking up more waste (and again, the prices, jeez) the Instagram-bait lobster rolls and whatnot you find at festivals these days aren’t doing much for the planet either.

Carbon offsets are great, not least because at this scale they show developers that there’s a demand for them in the market. But the best thing would be to, you know, not rack up so much damage in the first place; guidelines like Leave No Trace go only as far as people are willing to bother with them.

Festivals are wonderful, and there’s no reason each of us can’t work harder to make sure we’re not paying for the magic by making the planet hotter and more garbage-y. I’ll see you at Panorama, trying to soak up all the clean vibes.

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