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Sustainability specialist A Greener Future (AGF) has provided new insight into the carbon footprint of festivals. Using data gathered from 17 European festivals, its latest report suggests that audience travel is the largest source of an average festival’s carbon emissions (41%).

The AGF Festival Carbon Footprint report found that when wider travel associated with festivals is taken into account, such as the movement of artists, production and traders, festival transport emissions represent an average of 58% of their carbon footprint, while food and drink is responsible for an average of 34%

AGF (formerly A Greener Festival) said audience travel is commonly stated as being responsible for 80% or more of a festival’s carbon footprint but most studies omit the impacts of food and drink, materials purchased, or trader travel. In some cases, production and artist travel are also omitted.

Average emissions per person per day at a festival were found to be 11 kg CO2e. Waste disposal, water use, and sewage treatment account for only 4% of average footprint. However, AGF said these create other impacts on biodiversity, local ecosystems, and resource consumption which carbon analysis alone can overlook.

AGF said the report reveals that 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.

AGF CEO Claire O’Neill said, “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, while popular, should be treated with caution as 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 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, with a comparison of emissions per person at festivals against average national emissions per resident, which is an area for further research.

The full report can be downloaded here.