The UK is home to a bunch of brilliant music (and cultural) festivals – fact. But how many of these fantastic festivals are actually doing their bit for the environment? Liz Wootton explores the best sustainable festivals in Britain, so you can enjoy all the festival-vibes without destroying the atmosphere.
It’s estimated that roughly 23,500 tonnes of waste are produced annually at UK music festivals – which isn’t surprising when you think of all the plastic cups, plates, discarded tents, bottles, food wrappers and glitter (yes, even the glitter) that a visit to a festival generally involves. The mountain of, dismally-sparkling, debris being left behind after your weekend of revelry is probably pretty far from your thoughts at the time, but really it’s something we should all be considering when booking our tickets for festival season.
Luckily, plenty of festivals in the UK have really started to sit up and take notice of the mess they’re making and how they could improve. Here are the top 10 who’ve worked hard to make sustainability their headline act this year.
Mad Hatters’ Affair
When: 6-8 September 2019
Where: Polegate, East Sussex
The new kid on the sustainable festival scene, Mad Hatters’ Affair is making its debut at the beginning of September, and we’re pretty excited for it. Not only does all their profit go to charity (there’s never been a better excuse to have another drink), they have also unequivocally banished single-use plastics from the festival site and will be powering the festival using renewable energy sources.
As well as amping up their own eco-credentials, Mad Hatters’ Affair has also partnered with some great companies, including Sapling Spirits – a British-based vodka company which plants a tree for each bottle produced – and KarTent who, shocked at the great swathes of tents discarded at the end of festivals, have created the perfect solution: a recycled and recyclable cardboard tent. “Cardboard tent!?!”, we hear you cry, “But what happens when it rains?” Which is a perfectly valid question, given the morose-tendencies of the clime on this cloud-shrouded isle. According to the clever chaps behind KarTent, however, this magical cardboard invention will withstand rain showers for a few days at least – more than enough for all your festival fun.
As well as having a great eco-rating, this utterly fabulous festival also has a weird and wonderful line-up, featuring a great medley of tastes and genres. Reaching through the (quite normal) sounds of reggae, folk and funk, the musical offering then takes a dive down the rabbit hole with the slightly more unusual genre of ‘Witch music for animals. Animal music for witches. Familiar music for witches’ animals.’ – we can’t even begin to guess what this sounds like.
All in all, we must admit that we’re thoroughly intrigued by the eclectic eco-wonderland which Mad Hatters’ Affair is offering.
When: 1st – 4th August 2019
Where: Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire
Combining great music, delicious food, art, theatre and wellbeing with the great outdoors, the aptly-named Wilderness festival is a nature lover’s paradise. Here a long night spent dancing by the main stage, and diligently sampling every concoction the bar has to offer, can be cured the next day by a fresh woodland hike, spot of wild swimming or a good long soak in one of the half barrel hot tubs at the Lakeside Spa.
With nature playing such a big part at the festival, it’s good to know that their environmental policies are up to scratch too. The team behind Wilderness are very aware of the waste and carbon emissions born from a few days of festival revelry and are determined to do their part to reduce this.
Their policies include water refill stations, a cup deposit scheme, a ban on plastic straws, exclusively biodegradable eco-friendly glitter being used and sold on the site, and a series of campsite deposit stations – for ‘left-over’ tents, tarpaulins, sleeping bags etc. which will all go to Help Refugees.
The Hay Festival
When: May 21st – 31st 2020
Where: Hay-on-Wye, Wales
Every year, the pretty little market town of Hay-on-Wye comes alive with visitors and locals alike, all coming together to celebrate their favourite books, authors, actors and musicians (as well as discover plenty of new ones too). Described by Bill Clinton as ‘The Woodstock of the mind’, this is the ultimate festival for book lovers.
Over the years the Hay Festival has grown substantially: from its humble beginnings in the back room of a British Legion to selling nearly 280,000 tickets this year, sustainability has always remained at the heart of the festival. As well as employing every trick in the sustainability book (not sorry): e.g. recycling, reducing waste and using a renewable energy supplier, the festival actually goes one step further and actually opens up the floor for learning and discussion. A series of ‘Green Events’ run through the programme each year, debating current issues, exploring new developments and applauding technical advances.
If you’re looking for a festival which does sustainability by the book (still not sorry), whilst giving you some hope for a more eco-future, then the Hay Festival is just the place for you.
When: 2nd – 26th August 2019
There’s one thing Edinburgh Fringe definitely doesn’t joke around with, and that’s the environment. In fact, they are uncharacteristically sober when it comes to this topic. The Scottish Government aims to cut down carbon emissions by 42% by 2020 and expects all public bodies to implement and review their own strategies to help achieve this target – which Edinburgh Fringe actions in a variety of ways.
Firstly, through ‘The Fringe Guide to Sustainability’, they encourage all participating stalls and performers to go green and reduce their impact on the environment. Secondly, in partnership with Creative Carbon Scotland, the Edinburgh Festivals have created the Green Arts Portal – an interactive database full of ideas, guides and support for all art organisations wishing to pursue sustainability. They have also been working with countless communities and charities across the city of Edinburgh, helping people access the festival who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to experience it (or performing arts in general).
When: 24-28 June 2020
Where: Worthy Farm, Somerset
Whilst a giant festival like Glastonbury is always going to have some sort of negative impact on the environment (there were over 200,000 people visiting and working on the site this year), the underrunning philosophy of the festival is ‘Love the farm, leave no trace’, and the organisers are really trying to live up to this motto as much as possible.
And they are certainly paving the way forward in the festival world, with their decision to ban single-use plastic bottles this year making the headlines – actually a pretty avant-garde decision when you consider the sheer size of the operation. In addition to cutting down on plastics, they also champion sustainability in myriad ways: encouraging punters to travel there by public transport (which an impressive 40% of festival-goers did this year), engaging their traders with a sustainability survey (which ideally incentivises them to be more eco-friendly) and even running a ‘Pee-Power Project’ on-site which creates electricity from urine (“what’s wrong with just using solar panels?”, we hear you mutter).
As well as promoting sustainability at the festival itself, Glastonbury makes sure it provides a long-term benefit to the planet by partnering with (and donating huge sums to) charities such as Greenpeace, Oxfam and WaterAid. Leaving you free to let your hair down and enjoy the music and incredible atmosphere of the festival, safe in the knowledge that a healthy portion of the money you’re spending is ultimately going towards a great cause (as if we needed an excuse to party!).
When: 22nd – 25th August 2019
Where: Secret Country Estate, Northamptonshire
Committed to being as sustainable as possible (ASAP), Shambala certainly has plenty of things to brag about in the eco department. Not only has this lovely little festival has reduced its carbon footprint by over 80%, banned single-use plastics and achieved 100% renewable energy, but it has also been meat and fish free since 2016 and doesn’t stock Coca-Cola (or any mass-produced beverage for that matter).
And that’s just the tip of the (melting) iceberg really. In 2018 they managed to achieve the incredible and didn’t send any of their waste to landfill – which is pretty mind-boggling when you consider how much waste even a small festival generates.
As well as an impressive and eclectic music line-up, they are also hosting a jam-packed schedule of brain-stimulating talks, through which the ‘environment’ is a running theme. guaranteed to get the climate juices flowing. In addition to the talks and debates, there are also a host of workshops and classes where you can learn great new skills, including bread making, fermentation and an art & crafts session where you’ll make new (and fabulous) festival accessories with recycled art supplies.
Shambala dubs itself as ‘utopia’ and it definitely is if you’re a festival-loving eco-warrior, looking for a good time for both you and the planet.
The Green Gathering
When: 1 – 4th August 2019
Where: Chepstow, Wales
Set just outside the pretty Welsh border town of Chepstow, The Green Gathering (somewhat aptly, considering its name) is set on a hill with phenomenal panoramic views across the Severn estuary and Wye Valley, with the atmospheric ruins of Piercefield House in the foreground. The local area, with its ancient woodland, secret grottoes, mysterious standing stones and hidden caves, is shrouded in beauty, myth and legend.
The Green Gathering is energetically committed to low-impact living, with sustainability being at the heart of everything they do. From using renewable energy throughout the site, to encouraging crew, artists and the public to travel light and reduce the emission-cost of their journey to the festival, The Green Gathering is very serious about cutting down on its carbon footprint. It also sources all the festival food locally, ensuring that it’s all 100% meat and fish-free and aiming for at least 30% of the food stalls to be completely plant-based, with the rest stocking both vegetarian and vegan options.
As well as an amazing range of music, it also has a spoken word and cabaret stage; a craft area where you can learn an array of traditional crafts; The Solar Vinyl Lounge where you can listen to your favourite vinyls, courtesy of the sun; a ‘permaculture’ community; and a Sacred Activist Sanctuary, complete with drumming tent and sacred dance workshops. As well as grown-ups, it’s also a wonderful festival for families with kids – with a dedicated ‘Children’s Area’ with plenty for the little ones to learn, see and do.
When: 16th – 18th August 2019
Where: Kentchurch Estate, Hereford
A stalwart presence in the sustainable festival scene, Sunrise has always championed green practices. Located on a beautiful estate in Hereford, this is a little festival with a big heart.
All the food served at the festival is locally-sourced and plant-based, as well as being organic where possible, the compost toilets are chemical-free and they ask festival-goers to refuse single-use items in general. Furthermore, they ensure that everything traded, or even used, upon the site is ethically sourced and make a point of boycotting large/unethical brands in favour of the little, more conscientious, businesses.
There’s also plenty of opportunity to learn, discuss and debate about all things eco and sustainable, with social activists, plant-based fitness instructors and many more experts holding talks and sharing their knowledge. We especially love the ‘Well-Being Wood’, where they’ll be running healing workshops in the middle of nature. Finally, we’ve found a festival which soothes both the planet and the soul!
Green Man Festival
When: 15th – 18th August 2019
Where: Brecon Beacons, Wales
Set amidst the beauty of Brecon Beacons, a week at Green Man is just what the (eco) doctor ordered! Although the festival itself is only four days long, there’s the option to stay from the 12th of August, giving you some time to explore the mountains, forests, streams and waterfalls surrounding you.
Not only is this festival a nature-lovers paradise, it’s also a haven for the eco-conscious too. Being green is fundamental to Green Man – as they point out, it is half their name after all! And they respect this part of their identity in numerous ways. For example, they don’t use plastic straws (and never have!), refuse to serve drinks in single-use cups (every festival goer will have to purchase their own reusable stacking cup at the beginning of the festival) and all the food traders packaging and cutlery will be certifiable compostable.
Sustainability is a key theme throughout the festival’s line-up too. From foraging, medicinal herb and natural paint making workshops to ‘Mission: Save The World’ – an interactive performance workshop which unlocks six steps to save the planet – and a mud pie workshop – in which you’ll learn about soil conservation (as well as flinging mud around, of course!) – they really do have plenty of creative activities to stimulate the eco-conscious and eco-curious.
When: 18-21st July 2019
Where: Henham Park, Suffolk
With a lovely location, stellar line-up (including George Ezra, Lana Del Ray and Stereophonics this year), a dedicated arts stage and a ‘theatre of food’, Latitude is a great all-rounder – everything you’ve ever wanted in a festival and more!
What’s more, they have been doing pretty great things when it comes to the environment. Focusing on the fact that travelling to and from a festival makes up 80% of the total carbon emissions generated, Latitude offers festival-goers numerous ways to reduce this footprint. By setting up their own lift-share site, partnering with Big Green Coach and encouraging people to use public transport to get to the festival. The last (and definitely our favourite) option is cycling there. Yes, you heard that right! Latitude is partnering with Red Fox Cycling to provide a dedicated cycle ride straight to the festival. The route will start in London (with an overnight stop) or Ipswich, and will take you through the verdant rolling hills and pastoral panoramas of the Suffolk countryside.
Latitude’s dedication to protecting the environment doesn’t stop there. It can be seen everywhere throughout the four days of the festival. From the volunteer-run ‘Green Team’, who are on-hand throughout the festival to encourage recycling and lend a hand with logistics, to the integrated recycle, compost and waste system and the fact that all food is served in compostable wares – sustainability runs deep in the veins of the festival. Furthermore, their partnership with NiftyBins (who provide bright, obvious covers for the bins) helps encourage people to use the recycling system properly) and they donate any discarded tents and camping equipment to charities working with refugees.
As well as winning in the eco-department, Latitude was also chosen as the Best Family Festival at the UK Festival Awards last year. Making it the ultimate festival for eco-conscious families.
Bus, cycle or walk – however you decide to get there, Latitude promises to be bags of eco-fun.