Organisers claim they’re committed to creating a fair and sustainable future for all – so how does one of the world’s largest festivals achieve this?
After two long years and what must have felt like an eternity to some, Glastonbury opens its doors once again to festival-goers seeking five whole days of pure escapism and a celebration of the arts.
The scale of the event is unimaginable. Boasting capacity for 210,000 people and with artists performing across 31 different stage areas. In addition, Glastonbury features 500 food stalls, 900 shops, and 5,000 toilets, all of which are enclosed in a perimeter fence eight miles long.
Like many aspects of life, the festival experienced hardships due to the Covid-19 pandemic and was cancelled for two consecutive years. As a consequence, in accounts for the year ending March 31, 2021, the organisers recorded a loss of £3.1 million after taxation, a far cry from usual gross profits of £45 million.
So, why are we talking about an arts festival?
Our goal at Sustainable Future News is to shine a light on those working towards sustainable practices and helping businesses with that transition. Glastonbury is, after all, just another business. And the preparation to host such a large event is staggering, with the festival employing 50 full-time employees along with thousands of volunteers, security, and vendors.
It can be helpful to see how others are implementing sustainable change, so let’s do just that.
To begin with, what are the organisers thoughts when looking at hosting a sustainable event? As listed on their Ecology page, they state: “we are passionate about improving the world we live in. We want to make the Festival as sustainable as we can and aim to be frugal with resources, minimise our impact on our environment and commit towards improving the wellbeing and welfare of all who work at and come to enjoy the Festival.”
Does this hold up? Well, despite producing more than 2,000 tonnes of waste and consuming a huge amount of energy, Glastonbury festival saves nearly 600 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, according to analysis by the environmental advisory group The Eco Experts. But, it’s worth noting, that while the study is comprehensive, it does exclude some important statistics and factors, more on that later.
Still, the reduction methods implemented at Worthy Farm are commendable and can be translated into other business practices. So, let’s run through some ways Glastonbury festival works to avoid, or offset, its CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions.
It’s worth noting that in this article I’ll mainly address CO2e emissions resulting from the festival. However, the organisers also work hard to implement fair and equitable treatment for people and environment through either direct actions, or through charitable donations. You can read more about this on their website.
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The first thing to consider when looking at the carbon footprint of Glastonbury is how it takes a large number of people out of their normal day-to-day lives.
The capacity of Glastonbury is around 210,000 people, so that’s 210,000 people who aren’t living out their normal carbon emitting lives. According to the study by The Eco Experts, if the pundits didn’t attend the festival for five days, they would be producing 27,397 tons of carbon dioxide.
You can see these savings by looking at water usage at Glastonbury. The study estimates around 13.6 million litres of water are sourced and used during the festival from two nearby reservoirs. I know that sounds like a lot, but it’s actually a large reduction on the volume that those attendees would typically use in the ‘real world’.
The average water usage of one person is 142 litres per day, according to the Energy Saving Trust, which would work out to 149 million litres over the course of the five-day festival. That means that attendees of Glastonbury would use over 10 times less water during their time in the festival ground. It’s worth mentioning, however, that in reality, ticket holders don’t always attend for the full five days, some will arrive on Friday when the majority of the acts begin.
Furthermore, what the study doesn’t consider is that most of the water used at Glastonbury isn’t heated. According to the Energy Saving Trust, 89% of UK carbon dioxide emissions actually come from heating water in our homes, it’s a very intensive process. So, not only is less water used at Glastonbury, but the amount not being heated elsewhere is also much lower.
According to the study, the festival consumes an astounding 30,000 kilowatt-hours of energy. For comparison, a typical domestic household in the UK consumes 3,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, around 10 times less.
To meet this enormous demand for energy, Glastonbury relies on a few different technologies.
In 2010, the festival installed over 1,300 solar panels on the roof of its cattle shed. According to Glastonbury’s website, this is one of the largest privately owned solar energy systems in the UK, generating 205,700 kilowatt-hours each year.
The festival has also long used wind power, having first installed a 150 kilowatt-hour turbine in 1994. The pro-environment Green Fields section of Glastonbury, which includes the 1,000-capacity Croissant Neuf stage, is entirely powered by a combination of wind and solar.
The festival turns around 4,500 litres of used cooking oil into biofuel every year, which powers 10-12% of the event and helps reduce CO2e emissions by up to 90%.
Where possible, battery systems are deployed and charged directly by on-site farm renewables, through the mains power grid, or via temporary solar power systems. This helps to provide the power when needed.
After investigating the use of their generators, Glastonbury and the University of West England (UWE) discovered that many of the machines were too large and kept on much longer than necessary. To address this issue, they deploy generators only when there is a demand for energy. Additionally, some generators are also now hybridised with battery systems, which reduce run times and further reduce fuel use and CO2e emissions.
A five-year partnership with The University of the West of England (UWE) has brought festival-goers such innovations as the Pee Power toilets, which uses attendees’ urine to produce electricity for a phone charging station, lighting, and information panels.
The organisers also state that they “continue to invest in the Festival’s infrastructure to incorporate new and innovative technologies”.
As mentioned above, one of the largest savings when it comes to transport will likely be that while at the festival, 210,000 people will be off the roads and not commuting for up to 5 days.
But, of course, guests, equipment, and artists still need to travel to and from the festival site, which has its own impact. To address this, the organisers increased the cost of parking tickets by 50% over a four-year period, and partnered with National Express to offer transport for people directly to Glastonbury from around 75 places across the UK. They also incentivised bus travel to site by bus by selling their combined ‘festival and coach’ ticket packages before the notoriously hard to obtain standard entry tickets.
Additionally, to reduce on-site emissions, this year BMW will be providing the event with a small fleet of electric vehicles which will be used to transport artists around the site to their performances.
According to the organisers, in 2019 the event produced a city-sized 2,000 tonnes of waste. To combat the emissions generated from the handling of this waste, it’s all processed on-site at Glastonbury’s own recycling centre.
“We wanted to expand our recycling effort to improve our recycling rates.” explains Robert Kearle, Waste and Farm Infrastructure Manager at the Glastonbury site. “It’s absolutely vital to our operation because recycling facilities in the real world just aren’t capable of taking what the Festival produces. We produce a large amount of heavily mixed – and at times heavily mud-contaminated! — material in a very short and limited time frame. Without our own processing facility, we would not be able to recycle as much of the waste produced as we do.”
Over the years, the organisers have made several decisions to increase the amount of waste that can be recycled in the on-site facilities, such as:
- From 2019, single-use plastic drinks bottles have not be available to purchase at the festival
- Only plate and cutlery made from compostable or reusable materials are allowed. This includes drinking straws
- Disposable single-serving sachets, like those used for sauces or sugar, are not supplied or available anywhere on-site
- All bags used to collect compostable food waste are made of compostable cornstarch and processed into compost
- In 2017, 20,000 reusable stainless-steel water bottles were sold as an alternative to single-use plastic bottles
- All the bin bags used to collect recycling and general waste are made of recycled plastic, which will again be recycled into more bin bags
As a result of these changes, the organisers claim they managed to recycle or reuse 50 percent of all waste in 2019, which is over the national household average of 45.7 percent, as recorded by the UK government in 2017.
Until this point, we’ve been discussing how the organisers try to avoid producing unnecessary carbon emissions. However, the biggest carbon “saving” is undoubtedly the work they’ve put into offsetting the carbon they do produce.
Since 2000, Glastonbury Festival has planted over 10,000 trees to support and enhance the local environment. The Eco Experts study suggests these trees absorb 800 tons of CO2e per year – the biggest carbon saving Glastonbury makes.
But, it’s difficult to calculate the total carbon saving, as trees absorb different amounts depending on their stage of development. Nonetheless, this method is a great way to help offset the carbon produced as part of the event’s operation in the long run.
In recent years, Glastonbury has partnered with Water Aid, Oxfam, and Greenpeace, and has also supported over 750 local charities. And since 2000, has contributed over £20 million to charities.
While it’s not possible to know the direct impact this has had on emission reduction, it seems like a worthy achievement to include.
Carbon calculations require many data points to develop a true understanding of a business’s overall emissions. The study by The Eco Experts does a good job in highlighting the commitment of the festival organisers to run a sustainable event. However, the claim that the event produces a carbon footprint of -596.25 tonnes of CO2e seems to miss out on some factors, such as the daily attendance numbers, or the disposable consumer behaviours of visitors before attending the event itself.
It’s nonetheless valuable to see the variety of options available to reduce emissions across the entire festival’s operation. This highlights that there is often no single solution to reducing a business’s emissions. When considering how to reduce their organisations footprint, decision makers need to take stock of all aspects of their operations, only then can they determine how to make long term wins. When working towards a net-zero goal, tackling the small causes of emissions will compound over time to significantly work to that goal.
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