On the back of the entire 210,000-capacity Glastonbury Festival being powered by renewable energy for the first time in its 53-year history, Access caught up with Emily Eavis to discuss the challenges involved and what the next steps are.

While 7.6 million BBC TV viewers and many thousand festivalgoers watched Elton John’s farewell show at Glastonbury this year, few will have appreciated that the remarkable show production on the event’s iconic Pyramid Stage was powered entirely by green energy.

At this year’s event, all generators across the Glastonbury Festival site, including those that power the Pyramid Stage, were run on sustainable, renewable palm oil-free HVO fuel, made from waste cooking oil, helping to reduce lifecycle CO2 emissions by up to 90%.

Other measures included Arcadia’s giant fire-breathing spider being run entirely off recycled biofuels while a new wind turbine in Williams Green provided clean sustainable power to market stalls, and all production areas were powered by electricity from fossil fuel-free sources or solar PV and battery hybrid systems.

How challenging was it to power Glastonbury Festival entirely by renewable energy and what were the key learnings?

Sustainability has always been at the heart of Glastonbury. Our Green Fields area has always been completely powered by solar and wind energy. Being able to power the entire festival without having to rely on fossil fuels this year has been a real breakthrough, but it is the culmination of lots of baby steps that have seen us steadily increase our use of renewable energy – both from the grid as well as from our own onsite sources like our solar PV array on our cowshed roof and our anaerobic digester that turns waste cow manure into biogas. We’ve been trialling alternative and renewable fuels for over a decade. And after some successful trials with virgin, palm oil-free renewable HVO at the last couple of festivals, we decided to use it – in place of fossil oil-based fuel – in all our generators for this year’s festival.

How will that mix of power source usage, (HVO fuel, batteries, wind turbine, solar etc), evolve in the coming years in terms of the solutions that are being prioritised?

This year’s switch to renewable fuels is just another step on our journey. In the long term, we’d like to be using more renewable energy from mains power, ideally generated onsite from solar and wind, and make more use of technology like our anaerobic digester.

What aspect of the festival’s sustainability programme are you most proud of and excited about?

The fact that we were able to power the festival this year without needing to rely on fossil fuels is just incredible. I think it gives us hope that we, as a society, can make changes to the way our world works and that we can all move closer to finding energy alternatives to fossil fuels, harnessing the potential of solar and wind power. Climate change is a real challenge for our generation. We need to take action now if we are to arrest the damage that has already been done. And by avoiding the use of fossil fuels we can help show that there really are alternatives.

Audience travel is always a huge issue with greenfield sites, Glastonbury has worked hard to encourage public transport. Realistically, how far can that be pushed, and are there future goals in terms of increasing the percentage of the audience travelling by public transport?

We do work really hard to encourage our festivalgoers to arrive by public transport and try to make it as easy and convenient as possible for those who do. We prioritise the sale of our coach + festival ticket packages and run free shuttle buses from our nearest train station. We also try to encourage people to cycle to the festival – we have secure bike lock-ups on site and set aside a campsite with showers for those who ride here. Around 40% of our audience travel by public or low-carbon transport, which we’re really pleased about. We would love to see even more people arriving by train and coach, so we are working with stakeholders to improve local and national public transport infrastructure to make that possible. We are actively working to increase coach use and over the years we’ve worked with rail providers to steadily increase the number of trains – and carriages – that serve the festival.

How successful has the banning of single-use plastic been and are you happy with the current alternatives used, such as paper cups?

Our ban on the sale of single-use plastic drinks bottles at the festival in 2019 has been really successful, and we think as many as 3 million plastic bottles may have been saved from being used at the festival since then. I think the greatest impact of the ban is that it highlighted people’s unnecessary dependence on single-use disposable items; what a waste of resources they are and how damaging they are to our environment. Just by asking people to use refillable water bottles seemed to help change our habits and make us consider our choices and the impact they have on our world and environment.

Other single-use plastic or non-recyclable items had already been banned from the site, at that point. For example, all serveware has had to be compostable or reusable for many years now and the cups used by our bars are paper-based and plastic-free, so they can be either recycled or composted.

We have trialled reusable cups – including plastic and stainless steel – and we’ve had some success with those, but they do present a challenge from a logistical point of view due to the size of the festival. We are exploring alternative options with reusables, and many of our staff catering outlets use crockery and reusable serveware.

When it comes to suppliers – do you vet them based on their environmental credentials?

We do, and not just our suppliers but all those who apply to trade on site.

What sustainability enhancements can we expect at the next festival?

For now, our plan is to push forward and extend our development of renewables and grid energy but the biggest thing for us is to continue raising awareness of what all of us can do to improve our environment and work in harmony with it and each other. This is the central crux of our Worthy Pledge which we ask all ticket holders to commit to. Glastonbury Festival was established to celebrate music, culture and togetherness. And this notion of inclusion – this love for the arts, all people and the land – still underpins the festival today and I think it is a big part of what makes Glastonbury so special.