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AGF report reveals festivals’ carbon impact

Based on data from 17 festivals around Europe, the findings of the Festival Carbon Footprint challenges assumptions on the subject

By James Hanley on 28 Aug 2023

AGF/GEI's Claire O'Neill

Claire O'Neill

A new report released by sustainability not-for-profit A Greener Future (formerly A Greener Festival) has offered a fresh insight into festival carbon footprints.

The Festival Carbon Footprint study, which is based on data from 17 festivals around Europe, reveals that audience travel is the largest source of emissions, contributing to 41% of the carbon footprint on average when a more complete account of scope 3 emissions is included.

When including wider travel such as production, traders and artists, travel and transport represents closer to 58%, with food and drink responsible for an average of 34%.

The study notes that while audience travel is commonly stated as 80% or more of a festival’s carbon footprint, most studies omit the impacts of food & drink, materials purchased, or trader travel. In some cases, production and artist travel are also missing from the picture.

Moreover, when accounting for more complete emissions sources the breakdown is more nuanced – with many emissions generated as a result of production and planning decisions – rather than through audience travel choices alone.

“We love festivals, their contribution to culture, and their potential to show alternative ways of living”

“We love festivals, their contribution to culture, and their potential to show alternative ways of living,” says AGF CEO Claire O’Neill. “It’s important to have a fuller picture to understand their carbon footprints. Focus for event sustainability is often on waste, cups, and audience travel. Whilst clearly important, this is a narrow view missing broader impacts. This can delay important decisions at the planning and design stage, such as moving away from animal and other high impact food and drinks.”

Authors note that broad carbon footprint averages should be treated with caution, as the disparity between the variety of festivals is significant. For instance, audience travel emissions ranged from around 20% to 75% of a festival’s footprint, depending on scale, location and nature of the event.

As more events collect this type of information, it will become more accurate and will help identify further improvements.

The report also highlights that carbon footprints do not provide insight into other impacts such as light or noise pollution, direct habitat disturbance, or pollution on site, which require biodiversity and environmental impact assessments. It also shows potential for time spent at a festival to create fewer emissions than time spent at home.

The analysis is based on festivals and events that are already taking significant sustainable actions.

For the next phase of the study, AGF invites interested industry groups, festivals and sustainability organisations to collaborate with shared information, for a clearer picture for the festival and events sector as a whole.

The full report can be downloaded from A Greener Future’s website here.


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