Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Music Festivals Offering a Greener Listening Experience

• April 16, 2010 • 9:00 AM

Music festivals, like the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, provide a model for reducing the carbon footprint of large events.

When you put thousands of people in one place, whether for the Republican National Convention or Bonnaroo, things are bound to get ugly — for the environment, that is. Between the energy employed to power sound equipment, the paper products used to feed the masses and the water bottles necessary to keep people hydrated, concerts and political rallies are hardly climate-friendly events. And that’s not even taking into account the fuel it takes to get attendees, staff or performers to the venue.

Although some assemblies, like President Obama’s inauguration, have been criticized for doing relatively little to offset their impact on the environment, in recent years the mantle of eco-consciousness has been taken up by musicians and politicians alike.

This year, music festivals may provide valuable clues as to how large gatherings can offset their carbon emissions without sacrificing the lights and glamour that draw crowds (and profits) in the first place.

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., this weekend is just one example of the environmental ethos of the 2010 festival season. The three-day jamboree, which last year attracted more than 160,000 guests, boasts numerous green initiatives, ranging from “Carpoolchella,” which rewards a few lucky carpooling concertgoers with VIP access to Coachella for life, to the Energy Factory’s “Sweatshop Mixer,” a chance for aspiring DJs to perform people-powered 30-minute sets.

At an event known for heat exhaustion and dehydration — in 1999, temperatures reached 120 degrees — keeping a crowd hydrated (but not swimming in disposable water bottles) is a tall order.

Coachella takes a two-pronged approach: one, provide incentives for recycling, and two, sell reusable water bottles. To encourage people to pick up trash, the promoters, since 2007, have teamed up with Los Angeles-based nonprofit Global Inheritance to offer thirsty attendees one free icy cold water bottle for every 10 empty bottles they turn in for recycling. And to promote reuse, Coachella sells souvenir water bottles that can be refilled at water stations throughout the venue for free.

The Sasquatch! Music Festival at the Gorge Amphitheater in Washington state is another gathering-gone-green. It has paired up with Esurance to offer carpooling incentives; in 2009, this partnership brought recycling to the venue, keeping 4.5 tons of waste out of landfills.

For 2010, Sasquatch! has been certified carbon neutral by Carbon Harmony, a clean-energy consulting firm. It will be 100 percent wind-powered, and Carbon Harmony will offset the greenhouse gas emissions the event produces by funding methane collection and combustion projects in the Pacific Northwest that convert methane gas from animal waste into clean electricity.

As likely a candidate as any to go green, given its location, San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival boasts an “Eco Lands” component. What the program lacks in name, it makes up for in substance: The 2009 festival included a solar stage, solar-powered cell phone charging station, refillable water program and cell phone recycling drive. It also had a TRASHed recycling store where festivalgoers could swap bags filled with compostable cups or plastic bottles for Outside Lands merchandise, concert tickets, Odwalla juice, Dasani water and other treats.

Last year’s two-day Golden Gate Park takeover included something for locavores, too. The festival hosted a farmers market, and its prepared food came from Bay Area restaurants. The Outside Lands Web site notes that even the burgers sold there were made of organic farm-raised meat and topped with locally grown lettuce and tomato.

These standouts are hardly alone. Explicitly green music festivals include Chicago’s Green Music Fest and Project 30-90 in New Orleans, both set to take place this year. And festival circuit staple Bonnaroo boasts a “greening” page, too, as does 2010 returnee Lillith Fair.

The economic climate may have postponed the super-sustainable Rothbury Festival, but eco-friendly politicians up for re-election in November might want to look at the music-festival model before they plan rallies to discuss their plans for improving it.

Elisabeth Best
Former Miller-McCune Fellow Elisabeth Best is currently pursuing a Masters of Pacific International Affairs at the University of California, San Diego School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, where she is the editor in chief of the Journal of International Policy Solutions. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara in June 2009 with a BA in global studies and a minor in professional editing. As an undergraduate, she wrote for The GW Hatchet and Coastlines magazine and hosted “The Backseat” on WRGW.

More From Elisabeth Best

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.



November 21 • 6:00 AM

What Makes a City Unhappy?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dana McMahan splits time between two of the country’s unhappiest cities. She set out to explore the causes of the happiness deficits.


November 21 • 5:04 AM

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends’ perceptions suggest they know something’s off with their pals but like them just the same.


November 21 • 4:00 AM

In 2001 Study, Black Celebrities Judged Harshly in Rape Cases

When accused of rape, black celebrities were viewed more negatively than non-celebrities. The opposite was true of whites.


November 20 • 4:00 PM

Women, Kink, and Sex Addiction: It’s Not Like the Movies

The popular view is that if a woman is into BDSM she’s probably a sex addict, and vice versa. In fact, most kinky women are perfectly happy—and possibly healthier than their vanilla counterparts.


November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.



November 19 • 2:00 PM

Egg Freezing Isn’t the Feminist Issue You Think It Is

New benefits being offered by Apple and Facebook probably aren’t about discouraging women from becoming mothers at a “natural” age.


Follow us


Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

The Big One

One company, Comcast, will control up to 40 percent of Internet service coverage in the U.S., and 19 of the top 20 cable markets, if a proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is approved by regulators. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.