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

October 31 • 4:00 PM

Should the Victims of the War on Drugs Receive Reparations?

A drug war Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of post-apartheid South Africa is a radical idea proposed by the Green Party. Substance.com asks their candidates for New York State’s gubernatorial election to tell us more.


October 31 • 2:00 PM

India’s Struggle to Get Reliable Power to Hundreds of Millions of People

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known as a “big thinker” when it comes to energy. But in his country’s case, could thinking big be a huge mistake?


October 31 • 12:00 PM

In the Picture: SNAP Food Benefits, Birthday Cake, and Walmart

In every issue, we fix our gaze on an everyday photograph and chase down facts about details in the frame.


October 31 • 10:15 AM

Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.


October 31 • 8:00 AM

Who Wants a Cute Congressman?

You probably do—even if you won’t admit it. In politics, looks aren’t everything, but they’re definitely something.


October 31 • 7:00 AM

Why Scientists Make Promises They Can’t Keep

A research proposal that is totally upfront about the uncertainty of the scientific process and its potential benefits might never pass governmental muster.


October 31 • 6:12 AM

The Psychology of a Horror Movie Fan

Scientists have tried to figure out the appeal of axe murderers and creepy dolls, but it mostly remains a spooky mystery.


October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”


October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.


Follow us


Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

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