Earth Day Report: How Green Are Our Music Festivals?

(Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Coachella) Coachella

It’s no secret that the live industry has room for improvement when it comes to environmental impact—from the carbon footprint created by fleets of trucks zig-zagging around the country (not to mention the thousands of fans traveling to each event) to the mountains of discarded plastic and paper goods at events.

The good news is, festival organizers have stepped up: Just about every major music festival offers some kind of recycling or composting program, and most organizers are moving toward banning sales of single-use plastic such as bottles, straws, and cutlery. Here’s a look at some of the more innovative, sustainable ways the biggest festivals in the US are managing their environmental impact, in honor of Earth Day.


Sustainability initiatives at the desert extravaganza include a 10-for-1 bottle exchange, hydration stations, “Carpoolchella” contests aimed at reducing traffic at the event, and an “energy playground” where attendees power mobile devices through kinetic energy.


Chicago’s mammoth music fest—the recipient of the 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award—offset 2.4 million pounds of CO2 emissions in 2018 alone through its green efforts, which included refilling 1.2 million water bottles onsite and recycling and composting 125 tons of materials.

Outside Lands

Last year, San Francisco’s Outside Lands diverted 92 percent of its waste from landfills. This annual event in Golden Gate Park makes sustainability a priority through its Eco Lands festival; other green programs include a ban on plastic straws and prize incentives for festivalgoers who pick up trash.


One dollar from every ticket to Bonnaroo goes toward the organization’s sustainability work. Its programs are making an impact: Last year, the festival diverted 52 percent of its waste from landfills; composted 140 tons of material; collected and donated 4 tons of tarps, tents and other left-behind goods; and diverted 4.7 tons of used cooking oil for processing into biodiesel.

Austin City Limits

ACL’s sustainability programs include Rock & Recycle, which awards festival attendees with specially designed t-shirt when they pick up a bag of recyclables. Divert It! enlists volunteers to encourage and educate fans by helping them compost, recycle, and send less waste to landfills. Since 2017, the festival’s green initiatives have offset 15,153,413 pounds of carbon dioxide created by production emissions.


Miami’s massive EDM event has made many strides toward reducing its environmental impact: Last year its hydration stations provided more than 120,000 liters of water, saving 227,000 bottles. The event banned the use of polystyrene, plastic straws, single-use plastic cups, balloons, confetti, and streamers; requires that all vendor food packaging and cutlery be backyard compostable; and recycles all vegetable oil waste from food vendors into biodiesel fuel.

Sarah Jones is a writer, editor, and content producer with more than 20 years' experience in pro audio, including as editor-in-chief of three leading audio magazines: MixEQ, and Electronic Musician. She is a lifelong musician and committed to arts advocacy and learning, including acting as education chair of the San Francisco chapter of the Recording Academy, where she helps develop event programming that cultivates the careers of Bay Area music makers.

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