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In 2021, Boardmasters used an onsite waste sorting and recycling plant to increase recycling rates by minimising contamination and maximising efficiency. The plant also reduced HGV vehicle movements from site by 85% helping to cut Boardmasters’ overall carbon footprint. Kevin Moore, festival director at Vision Nine, shares Boardmasters’ approach to sustainability and its progress toward the live show being carbon neutral by 2023.

Sustainability and an awareness of our impact on the local environment and community has been part of our ethos at Boardmasters since the beginning. With a capacity of 53,000 at our Watergate Bay festival site and 20,000 people a day heading down to Fistral Beach for our surf competition and trade village, it can be a real challenge to deliver the show whilst continuing to commit to our pledges on sustainable event planning and delivery.

We’re far from perfect and there’s a long way to go but we’re committed to ensuring Boardmasters continues to be one of the most environmentally conscious, low impact festivals in the market.

Our approach over the years has been one of consolidation, refinement and growth. No event is going to become single-use, plastic-free, or carbon neutral overnight. It takes time to plan, communicate and gain buy-in from stakeholders (audience, staff, budget holders, contractors and local community) and we’ve always been wary of kneejerk solutions as sometimes they are worse than the problem they’re attempting to fix.

Trying to make your event sustainable can feel hugely overwhelming at times. There’s so much you can do, and feel like you should be doing, but it can be difficult to know where to start or what measures can make the biggest difference most quickly.

To help with our planning we distilled our strategy down into four key areas:

  • Eradicating all non-essential single-use plastic
  • Reduction in overall waste and increase recycling
  • Reduction in carbon footprint
  • Be an event that works harmoniously with the local community and local environment

By keeping our strategy topline, it’s allowed us to focus on the details of delivery. What can feel like the smallest and most insignificant of initiatives at the time, when consolidated within one of the categories above, can actually end up making a huge difference. Before long you realise that you’re actually achieving a huge amount, which can give you the confidence to push on to tackle larger, more complex issues.

For example in our efforts to eradicate all non-essential single-use plastic from Boardmasters we went from banning plastic straws and service-ware in 2015, to introducing a re-useable cup scheme across all bars in 2018, and in 2021 we banned all single-use plastic bottles from sale across the show.

In our goal to reduce waste and ultimately increase our recycling rates, we started with a focused campaign to encourage our audience to pick up their litter and use recycling bins. From there we introduced a £10 litter bond across all camping tickets, which saw a record redemption rate of 48% in 2018. This year we implemented our own onsite waste sorting and recycling plant – a UK festival first and something we’re all extremely proud of.

All waste and bags of litter collected at the festival were taken to the temporary facility and put onto a conveyor belt picking line where it was sorted by hand, separating waste into individual waste streams including; ferrous metal, aluminium cans, cardboard, glass, clothing, camping equipment, timber and food waste.

All recyclable material was processed on site where, once sorted, it was either compacted and baled ready to be sent to bona fide recycling and reprocessing facilities or shredded and sent for energy recovery. This has the double positive impact of firstly aiding the increase in recycling rates as it minimises risk of recyclable material being contaminated and rejected and secondly, and most impressively, it also maximises efficiency by allowing more recyclable material to be baled and efficiently transported to end processors.

Shredding the residual waste and loading it into a moving floor ejector lorry meant that skip wagon movements were dramatically reduced, taking 70 truck journeys off the road. This dramatically reduced HGV vehicle movements from site by 85%, minimising the impact on local road networks and reducing our overall carbon footprint. Most waste streams were taken for processing locally or were sent to specialist recycling facilities.

It’s important to acknowledge that these initiatives don’t always go to plan in the first year of implementation, so it’s necessary to make a long-term commitment and to refine and consolidate over subsequent years.

Next on the horizon for Boardmasters is to become a more carbon neutral festival through a combination of efficiency, reduction, and offset of our carbon emissions, which we see as a 3-step process:

  • Step 1 is to work towards making the 5 days of Boardmasters live show carbon neutral by 2023
  • Step 2 is to include the build and break of the show taking into account all staff and contractor transport by 2024
  • Step 3 will account for all audience travel to and from Boardmasters by 2025

Work on all three of these steps has begun in earnest. While our initial objective is to focus on the five days of live show, it hasn’t stopped us from working with Big Green Coach or Red Fox Cycling to promote sustainable audience travel to Boardmasters.

It’s important to stress how key collaboration is for events to work towards being more sustainable. Make your contractors and suppliers aware of what you’re hoping to achieve and more often than not they’ll come to the table with fantastic ideas and solutions to problems you may have thought were insurmountable. Boardmasters also works with sustainability consultancy Hope Solutions and their sister company ZAP Concepts who have been invaluable in helping us achieve our goals.

The future of sustainable events is a really exciting space to be working in. There’s a lot you can achieve really quickly and see demonstrable results which is a real buzz.’

To look at a more detailed overview of everything Boardmasters has achieved to date you can head to our community website HERE.

This guest blog originally appeared in the Vision: 2025 newsletter.