As the music industry continues to face-up to its staggering environmental impact, more and more music festivals are taking moves to minimise their ecological-footprints and promote green and sustainable initiatives; from going plastic-free to promoting shared transport and utilising renewable energy sources.
Here we talk to Ste Chester of One Tribe Festival in Worcestershire - one of the forerunners in the UK eco-friendly festival movement - about the realities of going green, the move to go fully plastic and meat-free, and saving cats and dogs in Malawi, amongst other things.
At their worst, how bad are music festivals for the environment?
SC: "One of the main contributing factors is food and drink consumption, and the other is travel. Plastic bottles and waste is obviously a massive issue. Let's say you've got a festival of 10,000 people and everyone buys ten small bottles of water, that's 100,000 plastic bottles. Can you imagine 100,000 plastic bottles stacked in a mountain?
"There is also car transport. I run another company called Tuned in Travel, we do festivals like Shambala, Gottwodd, Houghton, Bluedot, Kendal Calling, and we work with energy revolution to offset all the carbon via carbon balancing - we've actually donated about £15,000 to the cause.
"Obviously you have a lot of international festivals as well, which require flights. There are certain events in Croatia which predominantly book British artists, so you get British artists and British ticket buyers flying to Croatia, producing a massive carbon footprint.
Tell us about going fully vegan...
SC: "In 2013 we were vegetarian, and then in 2015 we went full vegan. We're very proud of the fact that we've been one of the leaders in promoting veganism at festivals. All the alcohol we do is all vegan too.
"We have a lot of people say to us, 'It’s a five day festival, how can I be vegan?' and then when they actually do it they send us messages like 'oh wow it’s absolutely fantastic'. I'm proud that we've probably converted a lot of people to veganism.
We’ve all seen things like Cowspiracy and know about the carbon footprint eating meat creates, so we’re promoting veganism not just for the body, but for the environment as well."
How have you become a more sustainable festival?
SC: "Certainly from the veganism and plastic side of things. In 2017, when we moved site, we became a bigger festival and did all the bars ourselves, which meant we could completely cut plastic out.
"One thing we want to do is to advise everyone coming to not bring any food or plastic with them. Imagine you came to a five day festival and didn't bring any cans or bottles or food. The environmental impact from that would be massive, if we could just get everybody using the vendors - we try to make the food as cheap as possible - and everybody using the bars, instead of having all of this waste at the end.
"We don’t allow meat on site... in an ideal world we wouldn't allow any type of product on site."
How do you go about making a festival plastic free?
SC: "When we actually did it in 2017 people were like, 'what no plastic, what do we do?' One thing we did is offer water pouches, which people are still bringing now, and they can fill them up with water and reuse them. One of the main things, if you’re going to do that, is to have really visible water points - that's one of the things other festivals don't do right.
"The other thing we do is not allow traders to bring any plastic on site. We put it in the contract that they have to bring reusable knives and forks, some bring proper knives and forks and plates, give them out and have tables and wash them. Others use hemp, or wooden, or plant-based. It's the same with the other traders, we don’t allow feathers or any animal products or anything at all which has a negative impact.
"We reclaim most of our materials. I don't think hardly any other festivals can say they reclaim or reuse their own materials for the whole festival. But we go to timber merchants and other festivals and reclaim all of the wood we can. Another initiative we're bringing which is going to cost but needs to be done is bringing in a team of people who can come in and break down the build, taking all the screws out, packing them away and storing them for future festivals.
"We deal with lots of riders. We won’t name the artist, but someone wanted two bottles of Patron and fried chicken, but we won't give them meat. When they came on site we said "here’s your chicken, it’s vegan". He was like “what?”
"The other thing is that all of our profits go to charity. It’s a charity called Green Paw Project. We’ve got an initiative set up which we’re trying to fund at the moment."
The Green Paw Project section of your website mentions projects in Ecuador and Malawi - can you tell us about those?
SC: "It’s called Mission Malawi, we’re looking at setting up a sanctuary. Stage one of that is setting up an education centre and a 24 hour patrol team, but we’re also working with another which protects forests. Not just planting trees but protecting the trees that are actually there, so the profits from the festival sort of has a full circle effect. Instead of someone using those profits to buy something materialistic, we're using them to help the environment.
In Ecuador, we found an area that had lots of dogs and cats. People who've been travelling will have seen areas that have hundreds of dogs. They don't spay or neuter, they roam around and have puppies, those puppies have puppies then all of a sudden there's a problem. Generally what they'll do then is poison all the dogs, scoop them up, put them in a van, burn them, and the system starts again. So we're going over to spay and neuter the cats and dogs.
"We managed to do 550 dogs and cats over a two week period. But it’s not sustainable unless you keep doing it, hence why we set something up with Green Paw. You can keep pumping tens of thousands of pounds into these projects, which are great and we will do more in future, but we want to do a fully sustainable animal charity. I also want to get something set up in the UK for exotic animals, a sanctuary for things like scarlet macaws and parrots.
"This festival is the fundamental way of funding the charity. The goal is to get the festival generating £50,000 to £100,000 a year and to use that money solely for charity and other green projects. Any profits that show on our account have to be legally transferred from Audiofarm Limited to Greenpaw Project. It’s hard to get funding now as the charity sector is very saturated, and it’s hard to ask people for donations, hence why we put time and effort into doing the festival."
You mention on your website that at present compost toilets are too expensive for your budget - is sustainability an expensive pursuit?
SC: "That’s something we want to move towards. A normal Portaloo costs us about £30 for the weekend, a compost one will cost us about £250 - so when you have fifty toilets its a massive difference. We're taking things step by step and one of the final things will be compost loos.
Carbon offsetting often involves planting X amount of trees in order to balance out emissions. Is this something the festival would look into when booking overseas acts?
SC: "It’s not something we’ve thought about much as yet, but I’ve talked to other music festival organisers about setting up an initiative to offset that - so again that's one thing we want to do.
"We all love Detroit techno and we've always booked the likes of Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, But to get them you have to put them on flights. But it’s about being able to work with the agents to try and offset their carbon, and if they can’t do that, then to do it ourselves."
And what about festival goers - what steps can they take to reduce their environmental impact?
SC: "The thing about this is that people are aware of it and can act upon it. So say someone buys a festival ticket, we’ll send out an email about an initiative to all our ticket buyers telling them how much on average it’s going to take to balance the carbon, then go into these sustainable projects and make it an optional thing. We can't force people into doing it, but things we can do is offset our own carbon with crew and staff that come onsite. We’d love to do the DJs, and I’m going to do the calculations on that so we can offset the travel of everyone coming on site."
So what steps can artists take to reduce their environmental impact? Air miles
SC: "The world is becoming more conscious and the industry is becoming more conscious. Flights are such a big thing, and we try and book artists who've got flight shares. Actually, this year, we don’t have anyone coming from Europe. It's just sort of happened that way, but a lot of our artists are from the UK, or coming on a small flight.
"They (artists) need to set a schedule themselves. There has been a lot of talk about how we can do this. Say they’re on a tour through Europe, instead of us going, 'we've got a festival going on, can you just fly over for that?" It should be 'we’re in Europe for this amount of time, you can only book us for this period of time', which will keep the carbon footprint down."
Apart from the music, what else can people do at the festival to get in touch with nature?
SC: "We have one area in the walled garden where we have all the music with this amazing energy and eclectic world of music going on across five stages. Then outside of that there's a lake and next to that is the Healing Space with an acoustic tent, kids area with kids yoga and crafts. We have the 'Tender Cemetery' which is everything from shamanic journeys to sunrise yoga, then we have the talk area. The energies in the different areas are amazing, some people come just for the healing side of things and some people come for the music. Some people like both.
"The classes go on from Friday morning until Sunday night, and we’re bringing back what we call 'Magical Monday' when all the main, high tempo music stops and we only open the Healing Space and the Nest. Instead of people getting smashed until the early hours of the morning, then getting kicked off at midday, even though we've been playing banging techno 'til 3am - where's the safety in that?
"We look at it as a sound wave in effect at the festival. You get there on the Thursday and it's all 'Hi how’s it going? Nice to see you.' Then it's party Friday, Saturday, Sunday, then the Monday is all about the healing space, lots of yoga, meditation and all nice acoustic, folk music so you wake up Tuesday feeling refreshed."
What goes on in the 'Talk Area'?
Sc: "There's talks about plant medicines, environment, and animal welfare. So we have badger sabs (saboteurs) who will talk about fox hunting, things about DMT, Ayahuasca, how to be sustainable in the forest, foraging. All of the talks are about consciousness and the spiritual side of things as well as environment. Mind, body, soul and environment."
Finally, what would you say is the overall ethos of One Tribe Festival?
SC: “We invite everyone to open your mind and your hearts to what the One Tribe Festival offers, as we use our platform to spread seeds of positive change. Prepare for a magical, meat-free, guilt-free weekend, surrounded by like-minded festival friends.
"We go against the grain and stand up against the corporations of festivals, which is something I’m always vocal about. Corporations, unfortunately, are ruining festivals, they come and see it as money. We're non-corporate, non-corporate sponsored, and basically taking it back to the roots of festivals and what festivals should be; music, love, wellbeing, and a gathering of humans."
You can find One Tribe Festival tickets below (note: as of time of publishing this event is due to go ahead)