10 Best Summer Music Festivals to Get Your Eco On


For many folks, summertime means the opportunity to attend any one of the hundreds of large music festivals held across the globe. But when 50,000 to 100,000 people gather for any purpose, there will undoubtedly be large carbon and resource-use footprints. Recognizing that, several large summer music festivals are pushing the envelope in terms of environmental and sustainability initiatives.

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival – Tennessee, USA


(images via Brookage, Yardena 2009, Bonnaroo; Tim Hurst)

In just seven years, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival has emerged as the preeminent music festival in the United States. With festival attendance averaging somewhere around 70,000 people per year, festival organizers have had to come up with some unique ways of making a gathering of that size more sustainable. Ranging from massive recycling programs to traffic improvements and water infrastructure overhauls, Bonnaroo continues to push the envelope in large-scale festival organizing.

Fuji Rock Festival – Japan


(images via chalky lives; tallkev)

The Fuji Rock Festival aims to be “The cleanest festival in the world”. And with a billing like that, festival organizers have their work cut out for them. Held in the last weekend of July on the slopes of the Naeba Ski Resort, Fuji Rock hosts approximately 100,000 music fans. With recyling numbers unmatched anywhere on the festival circuit, and considering the size of the event, festival organizers have done a commendable job keeping the whole site virtually spotless. Organizers also claim Fuji Rock to be carbon neutral by investing in carbon offsets.

Telluride Bluegrass Festival – Colorado, USA


(images via Rob Lee)

Set in a high-altitude box canyon in southwestern Colorado, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival has emphasized a sustainability ethic since its inception 36 years ago. Held every year in mid to late June, the festival attracts dedicated “festivarians” of all ages. One of the cleaner festivals you will ever attend, Telluride also prohibits the use of cars in town over the course of the week (unless you are a resident or have obtained one of the few passes made available to visitors).

Glastonbury Festival – Glastonbury, UK


(images via Matt Cardy; wonker)

Every year the Glastonbury Festival employs a team of 1,200 volunteers – who work for four, six hour shifts for a festival ticket, sorting up to 2,000 tons of solid waste generated during the festival. The recycling of all the cans, plates, cups, plastics and food waste produced by 140,000 festival attendees begins at the outset of the festival, in the last weekend of June, but the complete clean-up of the festival site can take until August.

10,000 Lakes Festival – Minnesota, USA


(images via 10KLF)

Music. Nature. Euphoria. The 10,000 Lakes Festival (also known by its shorthand name, 10KLF) this year will begin on July 22 and run through July 25. The grounds at Soo Pass Ranch are used only 2 weeks out of every year, allowing the abundant Minnesota plant and wildlife to thrive there. Festival efforts to reduce solid waste last year resulted in 79 tons less waste in the local landfill, including capturing over 50 tons of recycling.

ROTHBURY Festival – Michigan, USA


(images via Jeff Kravitz; Tim Hurst; Michael Weintraub)

Bursting onto the scene in 2008, the ROTHBURY Festival in Michigan, held over the Fourth of July holiday quickly established itself as a major player in the U.S. festival circuit. But beyond building a star-studded lineup of entertainers, ROTHBURY organizers have also made sustainability a central theme of the event, organizing a Think Tank with key leaders and thinkers in the environmental movement. In its inaugural year, ROTHBURY’s aggressive solid waste efforts were impressive, but festival organizers hope to improve upon their 2008 showing with stepped-up recycling efforts and more volunteers to help that goal along.

Bestival – Isle of Whight, UK


(images via iJammin; I’mClaude)

Because of its island setting, Bestival faces a unique set of sustainability problems. Festival organizers have clearly stated environmental goals, including: to promote the use of public transport and car sharing; to source local produce and services as much as possible; to reduce energy usage while increasing the use of more alternative energy sources, and; to reduce waste and to utilize the island’s waste facilities as best they can. Bestival is held on the second weekend in September.

High Sierra Music Festival – California, USA


(images via High Sierra Music Festival; Blurt)

Another festival that competes for your Fourth of July business is the High Sierra Music Festival held annually in Quincy, California.  Greening programs at the festival include a “Green Ticket” which adds a carbon offset to the price of your ticket; aggressive recycling and solid waste collection efforts, and; a competition for the greenest campsite.

The Burning Man Project – Nevada, USA


(images via  Tristan Savatier; Savatier)

Though not exactly a music festival, this list would not be complete without a mention of the annual Burning Man Project in the desert of Southern California. No, the burning of the man itself is not a low-carbon activity. But, by and large, the festival’s environmental and self-reliance ethics are promoted throughout the festival community. The Burning Man event has always asked participants to Pack-it-In/Pack-it-out. “This is not a convenience society,” say festival organizers. “There is no daily garbage pick up, and there never, ever will be.”

Coachella – California, USA


(images via rieh; Coachella)

Although a relative newcomer on the festival circuit, Coachella Fest organizers have already received praise for their recycling, carpooling and other sustainability efforts. In particular, carpoolers have the opportunity to win lifetime festival tickets. For those folks who need to charge their cellphones, charging stations powered by bicycles have been a hit since their inception in 2007.