Festivals are more popular now than ever before. Not a week would go by earlier this year without a different press release turning up in my inbox proudly announcing the birth of a 'brand new UK festival'. On top of this are the established big names that just seem to grow year after year, plus every type of music you can think of from folk to thrash metal and dance to punk having an event, somewhere in the UK to keep lovers of that type of music entertained for a weekend.

Clearly on the face of it this is a great thing, OK so we can argue about the saturation of the market point another day, but in short, all is rosy in the festival garden, or is it?

The question is, are festivals damaging the very metaphorical garden they live in? What about looking at the whole festival experience from an environmental point of view. Is it just another part in this ultimate planet damaging jigsaw which we're being made more aware of in the twenty-first century? Or are they an easy target for those who simply don't understand the way festivals work and should we be looking elsewhere for aspects of life in 2006 that needs to clean up it's act.

I can't answer categorically yes or no to any of these question, although I have a pretty good idea based on six years of attending festivals (for the record I covered five for Room Thirteen in 2006), but I know a man who's able to give a more informed opinion than I.

Ben Challis is an entertainment lawyer and part time lecturer at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College and it was here that the idea for AgreenerFestival.com was born. I went to meet Ben at his flat in London to find out more about the site, the research it's based on, it's aims and ultimately, what they're encouraging festival organizers and us who go to enjoy them to do to lessen any negative environmental impact.

So why him, why is he doing this?

"I did it because no one else is doing it. My background is I'm a music business lawyer, my main client is Glastonbury and obviously Glastonbury is a fairly green festival. I suppose like many others over the past few years I've become more interested in the environment, I've always been a very keen gardener and composter, grow vegetables which not many people believe I do but I do. I've always recycled and eventually scare stories do start to have an effect, somethings are just scare stories but it's hard to argue that we're not substantially damaging are planet in some way.

"I teach part time at Buckingham Chilterns University College, and one of my students came to me and asked me to look at their dissertation which was all about greening festivals and I thought "what a great idea". Then she graduated and most dissertations get locked in a cupboard never to see the light of day again, I asked her what she was doing with it and when she said nothing I said "It's brilliant we should do something with it". So using her research and some of her findings we decided to build the site. I payed for what needed to be payed for, stole a few favours, I've been in this business for sometime and got a few others involved like the International Live Music Conference and the European Festivals Organisation who had already done some work in this area and basically careered along...so why me...I suppose the answer is why not?

"I don't claim in anyway to be specially qualified in this area. I'm doing this because I think festivals could be a lot greener, and research shows people would like them to be. Some people even pay a bit more to make them greener. Really we decided to offer help to promoters and organizers, and tips to punters, festivalgoers whatever you want to call them. It's so organizers can, in an easy and quick way, improve the environmental impact of their festival or event."

The site has extensive details of the research that Ben's student Claire O'Neill carried out. You can work your way through it by
Clicking here.

"She used the online tool Surveymonkey, word of mouth to an extent and networking. Claire's a regular festivalgoer so going to festivals and handing out fliers saying "will you fill in my survey" and mass emailing. We've got a fairly decent group size. It is UK based, we have to except that. There were around 80 global responses (out of 649) but it's UK based.

"It's a fairly good representation; we haven't put absolutely everything on the site. It probably leans towards the younger end of the festival market. Although some of the festivals she went to were quite mutual, things like Clogfest and smaller folk festivals. When you start to look at 'festivals' it's quite wide ranging, but no huge festivals."

As well as getting the views of punters, the site picks the brains of a number of UK promoters. These were people behind Big Session, Summer Sundae Weekender, Global Gathering, Chester Folk, Broadstairs Folk, The Glade, Northern Green Gathering, Big Green Gathering, Atlantic Waves and Clogfest, as well as five festivals who did not wish to be named.

"It's not who you choose it's what you get. If I'd known she was doing this research at the time I could have opened some doors for her. When you're an under graduate student knocking on doors of festivals it's difficult. I know with Glastonbury our office is under seige with students around March April time and you simply can't deal with it all. Melvin Benn at Mean Fiddler, lovely guy but he hasn't got time to sit and do endless interviews with students. One of the reasons for doing the site is not to improve on the research as such, but to use some of my links with some of the bigger festivals."

The main concerns raised in the research surround traffic, waste and CO2 emissions.

"CO2 is harder to tackle on festival sites," Ben explained, "but traffic and waste are the ones where a promoter can most easily implement policies which will make a radical difference literally over night. It takes planning, but working with coach and train companies isn't that difficult."

There are certainly festivals where traveling by public transport is an option, however there are those which I covered in 2006 where it seemed anything other than going by car would be a major hassle. Especially when you consider factors like location (some festivals are miles away from towns or cities), the ease of putting your stuff in the boot of a car rather than lugging it on a train or coach, and the unavoidable fact that getting home late at night is not exactly the easiest challenge in the world. Those who have been faced with the engineering works on the Reading to London line over August bank holiday in previous year's can quite justifiably claim to have had their travel arrangements decided for them. It's fair to say the transport issue isn't going to be an easy one to solve.

"We have to be realistic here. I'm like you I'd drive into Glastonbury; I'm driving from a rural environment to a rural environment. It's incredibly difficult for me to travel from Cambridgeshire with a tent and a rucksack on public transport. It's not impossible but it would be a bloody long journey! We can't cure the transport infrastructure in this country overnight. At least at Glastonbury we've a better station and providing coaches is acting as a deterrent. All we can ask festivals in this country to do is implement policies which encourage the use of public transport. If you look at Roskilde, they will tell you how to get from Sweden to Denmark on public transport. Of course they use shuttle coaches and have special trains too. Being very UK centric now, people like using their cars, people like being in their cars and people like driving their cars to festivals.

Leeds Festival is one example where the shuttle bus service has been a great success. It could be argued their hand was forced on this one with the venue being moved further out of the city due to licensing issues but with a substantial amount donated to charity as a result, not to mention the mass encouragement to leave your car at home where possible, credit is definitely due. Anything to avoid what at one point this year was a three-hour queue to get onto the site must be a great thing. The extra late night entertainment on site making staying until Monday morning more attractive is also a good way of encouraging people that they can live with another night in a field and get the train home when daytime comes.

Smaller festivals where the catchment area is not the whole of the UK should, if they're not already doing so, follow what Guilfest does by finishing early on a Sunday night. In Guilfest's case this makes it very easy to walk the short distance to the nearest train station and guarantees catching something more useful than a bad nights sleep on a bench.

Ben sights increasing parking fees as one possible solution, however this idea is not without it's problems.

"Somewhere like Glastonbury or Reading could charge a certain amount and donate a proportion to environmental causes, but the question is, is this the job of the festival organizer or promoter to educate people in general? You then enter into the issue of illegal parking and people dumping cars where they're not supposed to because they don't want to pay the charge."

Alongside traffic, waste has been highlighted by the AGreenerFestival research as a major punter concern. Given how food and drink creates the vast majority of this, what do the AGreenerFestival guys believe should be done about this?

"All utensils are recyclable, have wooden forks, no polystyrene and as little plastic as possible. If they are using plastic glasses charge a deposit so people bring them back to the bar. Those are the simple things. Then you make sure traders have recycling points, at most of the bigger festivals traders have them and the smaller ones are starting to realize it's worth doing and are investing in them."

If you ask any festivalgoer what should go on their list of things to take, they'll tell you near the top is food and drink. Strange you might think if you've never been to a festival, but this is because, as a rule, the prices are ridiculous. The defense put forward by traders when challenged about this is that they're being charged to be there and they have a right to make a living, which is fair enough. Surely if festivals were that concerned about tackling the litter issue, a way round this would be to make the prices on site more reasonable so that we, the punters, don't feel the need to take so much with us. This might even tempt some of us out of our cars as we don't have back breaking boxes of beer to lug on the UK's rail network.

"We're going on to the question of festival economics now," Ben laughed. "Peats Ridge Festival in Australia has a great policy where they're very strict on their traders as to what they can and can't bring on site, so that all their cutlery and so on is recyclable. Over here, at Glastonbury in places like the Green Fields we let people bring in their own drink because we think that's what people like to do. Others make you go and buy it and you can police it better. On the issue of bringing prices down, of course you could, but they're traders, they have to break even. I only know what Glastonbury charges, but traders get charged for being there, most will be open long hours or 24 hours a day and they've got to make a profit with staff to pay. The best you can do is make them green. When you go onto the issue of what people bring onto the sites that's more difficult."

The problem facing the guys behind AGreenerFestival, which they readily acknowledge, is they can only do so much before the wider social and cultural change point rears it's ugly head. Most punters will say they think dumping rubbish is a bad thing, however switch to a field on a summer's afternoon and even the usually litter conscious can be too lazy, pissed or stoned to care. Issues regarding personal safety, safe sex, making sure you don't mix drink and drugs all seem to be embedded in the mind no matter how arseholed people become, however simple waste dumping issues are dismissed as nothing more than a pain in the backside.

"It's a cultural thing; we live in a waste society. It depresses me at festivals to see the amount of waste on the floor. We have over three thousand litter pickers at Glastonbury, the clear up operation is enormous! The littering at festivals, is partly because people are very relaxed, very happy and have lost a sense of responsibility. It's strange at Glastonbury where we have the Green Fields with massive environmental awareness yet people are still littering. The big problem we have now is what people leave behind. Tents are now so cheap that people simply can't be bothered to take them home, and you can see why what with the value of a tent now being what it is. An Irish festival organizer said how they had boy scouts come in, which would never happen in this country because of health and safety, child care and all that. We need to highlight what V do, or say there's this charity which will provide a certain number of volunteers. The last thing a festival organizer wants to worry about on the last day is what to do with all the tents, they need to have somebody to come and deal with it all for them."

After August's V Festival, Over 100 members of local Rotary clubs were on site in the days after, and collected up around 1000 tents, 300 folding chairs and 200 sleeping
Bags. In 2005 the charity International Aid arranged for the equipment to be sent straight to those left homeless by the earthquake in Pakistan; this year it
is hoped the tents can again provide temporary shelter. The rest is to be sold for charity.

The third of the hot topics is CO2. You can read about how T in the Park became carbon neutral by
Clicking here,However there's more to this than meets the eye.

"We're not totally in favour of carbon neutral. I've become skeptical about the idea because there are companies that run it as a business. I think what it is, is a great way to say "I'm very environmentally friendly because I've paid all this money to plant some trees so I can now fly round the world five times". It's very good for people's conciences and I'm not saying it's a bad thing. However, it's better not to pollute in the first place, than to pay off your conscience at a later date by buying back your carbon. Organisations like Friends of the Earth and Green Piece, again say they're not against it, their problem is that planting trees, although solves the problem in the short term, long term it's better not to pollute in the first place. There's not that much festivals can do, we don't use that much electricity on site, it's in the summer so there's no heating issues. Of course most people are driving there which comes back to the wider transport issue again. We're just making people aware, on the site we've listed some of the carbon neutral sites we like such as recognized charities. I know this is a woffely answer but it's a woffely subject...carbon neutral...we're neutral on carbon neutral.

"I admire T in the Park and I think they've got into this very early as well. It's just whether or not they revisit it in the future. Carbon neutral is still relatively new and I was very pro carbon neutral up until a year ago and thought it was a great idea. Then I started to think about it some more and realized it was a very convenient idea. I'm not having a go at T in the Park, I'm very pleased they went carbon neutral."

So the reality is that lessening your negative impact on the environment is fairly straight forward if the brains of festival organizers are put into the right gear, however one line from the research detailed at AgreenerFestival.com that struck me was that "one in three festival organizers are aware of environmental law". On the face of it that doesn't look too clever.

"It depends who you talk to because most festival organizers will have somebody who looks after that for them. Now as part of any license application you have to abide by any local authority environmental policy, but there could be recent legislation that some organizers might not be aware of. They'll know about health and safety, the safety at work act 1974, they'll know they can't release certain substances into the air, the ground or water supply but they might not realize that's environmental legislation. It's of some concern which we hope the website will address, some festival organizers aren't aware of environmental issues including legislation at all and you do wonder if they live in a different world from the rest of us."

What about the indoor events in the research who thought that as they were indoors this didn't apply to them?

"There were a couple of city based ones that said they had no environmental policies at all, but in actual fact they did but the council took care of it all for them. It's an interesting point, when we started the site we were primarily looking at outdoor events, but I think we need to move on from that to include indoor festivals, as some of them do think they're exempt from this. You go to outdoor events and they've got all their recycling points, but you go to any arena in the UK and it's all polystyrene plates, plastic glasses, there's public transport right to their front door and everyone still drives there. Maybe it's something we can do, or someone else can take this further. I think some, not all, but some arenas haven't adopted environmental policies as keenly as some outdoor festivals have."

One phrase that came up a few times during the research as far as people who were most environmentally concerned was "regular festival goers". As one of the reasons why I wanted to look into this issue is the fact that festivals are so fashionable now, there isn't a large bit of grass worth it's blades that hasn't had an outdoor music event on it at some stage. It's certainly fair to wonder if the inexperience of some punters is simply going to cancel out any increased awareness, or is it? Challis doesn't seem too concerned.

"I don't actually think festivals do that much harm themselves. That said, more festivals create more transport problems, clearly there could be more land damage but nothing that bad I wouldn't think. But again, we say to even the smallest festival talk to your local bus company, go to your local authority, they have quoters to meet, they like collecting bottles. Adopt some of what we're saying and a difference will be made."

And what of those "smaller festivals", if one can't guarantee any environmental policies, or doesn't have any, should they be aloud to go ahead at all?

"Blimey...good question...I don't think they should now no. I think it's lazy. Anyone who's running a festival should be competent enough to have thought of it. They might have an environmental policy which says "we have no policies as there's nothing we can do" but they should at least think about it. In fact, I can't see how you would think of it and come up with no solutions. They've got to be able to think about health and safety of customers so they can think about the environment too."

As well as the research I've talked about, AGreenerFestival has an extensive list of links to festivals and organizations around the world who are implementing interesting and effective environmental policies. To explore the site
Click here.