Body & Soul – the sustainable summer festival

With the summer festival season now in full swing, we thought we’d look at how music festivals are addressing the issues of social responsibility and environmental sustainability.

The Body & Soul Festival 2013 (Copyright: Irish Times)
The Body & Soul Festival 2013 (Copyright: Irish Times)

Despite their origins in the Hippie folk scenes of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, modern music festivals have arguably evolved into events that can be highly problematic – even destructive – for their local environments.

They produce tons of rubbish from fans, food vendors and artists. They create a huge carbon footprint due to the tens of thousands of car journeys that festival-goers must make to get to what are often rurally-secluded events. They generate a similarly massive eco-footprint from the need to fly in cavalcades of musicians, roadcrew and their huge piles of equipment, and from the necessity to power elaborate sound and light systems. And any vibes  of ‘Peace & Love’ and ‘getting back to nature’ these events might want to exude are undermined when you see previously pristine festival fields buried under mounds of discarded tents, beercans and Styrofoam cups.

The Big Clear Up Begins After Glastonbury 2009
Rubbish left on the campsites after the Glastonbury Festival in 2009

The CSR & Sustainability strategy of Glastonbury Festival

Some of the major summer festivals, however, have been making efforts to become more sustainable. The annual Glastonbury Festival in the UK consistently attracts an audience equivalent to the population of a mid-sized UK city. The latest element of Glastonbury’s commitment to sustainability involves the installation of ‘super-loos’ that will run on water recycled from on-site showers and that will eventually generate enough compost to fertilise local farms for more than two years. Another UK-based event, Sunrise, differentiate themselves in the crowded UK summer festival market on the basis that their event is fully powered by renewable energies.

While the U.S. summer festival circuit has not quite grown to the saturation level of the European festival scene, some American festivals such as Pickathon and Lightning in a Bottle have carved out niches as being the sustainable alternatives to mega-fests like Coachella. We’ve even seen the emergence of organisations like ‘A Greener Festival’  – non-profit sustainability agencies committed to “helping music and arts festivals around the world adopt environmentally efficient practices”.

Back here in Ireland, the festival that has shown the strongest commitment to sustainability and social responsibility has been Body & Soul.

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Body & Soul’s ‘US&You’ Sustainability Strategy

Body & Soul: a more sustainable festival event?

Now in its fifth year, Body & Soul is an annual three-day boutique festival that takes place at Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath, scheduled to coincide with the summer solstice. Taking its inspiration from alternative festivals like ‘Burning Man’, Body & Soul say their event is about creating a unique experience for their guests – rather than being just another generic festival – and the organisers claim their event is based on an ethos of sustainability.

The event organisers declare that their mission statement is one of “giving something back to the earth” and the dedicated sustainability section of the Body & Soul website lists the many ways they aim to fulfil this ethos: “through our sustainable stage structures; replanting trees to offset our carbon footprint; recycled art installations; scheduling inspiring workshops on better livings; and vigorously promoting greener travel”.

Body & Soul - Hanging Angels Images
The Body & Soul Main Stage, 2013 (Copyright: Body & Soul)

Perhaps the most significant part of Body & Soul’s sustainability strategy is that they invite festival-goers to participate in it as well.  Attendees are encouraged to show their support for Body & Soul’s initiatives by committing to being responsible ‘festival citizens’ and by registering for the ‘US&You’ campsite. This latter facility is a dedicated ‘green campsite’ that festival goers can access by signing up to a “positive code of practise” to keep their camping space clean, separate and recycle all their rubbish, and take home all of their camping equipment and materials after the end of the festival. Festival-goers are also encouraged to sign up to become ‘Earth Guardians’ so as to encourage other ravers to help preserve the natural beauty of the site for the duration of the festival.

In return for the commitment of their attendees, Body & Soul pledge that they will make a donation to a forestry initiative called ‘One Million Trees In One Day’ and that they will also donate a portion of ticket sales to the replanting of the local forests that surround the festival site.

Body & Soul’s commitment to CSR and Sustainability has helped them scoop a number of awards since the inception of their festival, but the one caveat is that they remain a relatively small scale event (given they cater to approximately 7,000 attendees). Is it possible that their sustainability initiatives could be scaled up to a mega-festival like Coachella or Reading-Leeds? It might be naive to think that such events could ever be completely carbon neutral, but many of the mainstream music festivals could undoubtedly do a lot more to promote social responsibility – particularly if they follow the lead of Body & Soul in fully engaging their audience and getting them involved in their sustainability initiatives.

Know of another summer festival who have a forward-thinking CSR or Sustainability strategy? Why not let us know about them in the comments section.

 

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