When Chris Johnson first started putting on outdoor parties with his mates, they were small, impromptu and shambolic – or “really good fun”, as he puts it. Seventeen years later and he and the same four university friends are still pioneering in their field of partying, albeit Shambala is now a four-day festival in rural Northamptonshire with 15,000 people that has set an industry standard for its eco-credentials [Source: TheGuardian.com].
“We’re a purpose-led organisation, the point of it existing is to contribute something to the world,” says Johnson, “and the environment is an important part of our outlook; we have a responsibility – but also an opportunity to experiment.”
The festival now uses 100% renewable power from a mix of vegetable oil and solar power units, has eradicated disposable plastics, and became fully meat and fish free in 2015. “It caused a storm initially,” says Johnson, “but the appetite is there. This year we’ve got 1% of our audience coming by bike and 25% by coach. It might not seem much, but 80% of the carbon footprint of a camping festival is made by travel down to the site.”
If the cultural conversation around festivals in recent years has focused onshaming organisers into booking more female musicians for their lineups or making them less white, the buzz this summer is on sustainability: how can festivals go green?
For one, the war on plastic seems to have proliferated: this year, Glastonbury has banned the sale of single-use plastic drink bottles across the site. Co-organiser Emily Eavis estimates “the ban will save the million bottles that we would have otherwise sold” and is in line with the festival’s ethos to tread lightly on the land. Instead, the 200,000-strong audience will be served by 850 water taps and dozens of water kiosks, using Worthy Farm’s purpose-built water reservoirs.