This year’s Unify Gathering not only brought together the very best in heavy music from Australia and worldwide, it was also a hub for environmental innovation.

From its promotion of reusable refillable water bottles, to its biodegradable and recyclable cardboard tents, to its organic and vegan locally-sourced food options, Unify Gathering is set to raise the bar again in 2019. The massive live event featuring Underoath, Taking Back Sunday and WAAX pays as much attention to the strong lineup as it does to its ecological footprint.

Thankfully, Unify isn’t the only music festival promoting environmentally friendly practices. As fossil fuels become more expensive and less accessible, and as unchecked emissions threaten the climate system, more events are remodelling their infrastructure and ethos to reduce, reuse and recycle.

From making their own biomass energy to encouraging punter involvement, there are a carbon tonne of ways festivals are doing their bit for the environment, with Australia’s Unify Gathering and Island Vibe Festival, Norway’s Øya Festival and Wood Festival in the UK leading the charge and making a real commitment to energy reduction.

To celebrate the festivals that are doing their bit – and to offer a few insights into how it’s done – below are a few ways music festivals are becoming more environmentally friendly.

Monitor greenhouse gas emissions

Unify Gathering’s ethos is to influence and educate. While the festival is largely a celebration of the heavy music scene each January at Tarwin Meadows in Gippsland, it’s also an opportunity to educate the Unify Community.

Though transparent messaging, it aims to educate its punters on unnecessary environmental impact, tackle waste, reduce festival emissions and increase recycling rates.

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Unify is currently reducing emissions in three ways: the way it’s powering the festival, festival related travel, and waste and recycling.

“We actively seek suppliers who can provide services to the festival using renewable and energy efficient products,” said Unify’s Operations Manager Kat Coppins and Event Director Rhett McLaren.

“Where possible, we use local services and contractors to get the Gathering up and running.” 

At the end of every Unify Gathering, the festival organisers carry out a festival assessment of vehicle emissions, landfill volumes, recycling percentages, water use, and emissions. It’s all part of the festival’s strategic plan and is incorporated into its Event Management Plan.

“As festival organisers, we share the responsibility to take every measure possible to reduce the amount of unnecessary environmental impact,” says Unify.

Unify’s Operations Manager Kat Coppins
Unify’s Operations Manager Kat Coppins

Øya Festival in Oslo, Norway monitors emissions from runner transport and artist transport transfers, and makes reports of how much it uses. One report resulted in the idea to use electric golf carts for the ‘build and break’ of the festival.

“Our goal is to keep on challenging what we have done and find ways to improve a little bit,” said Magnus.

Wood Festival in the UK is 100% powered by renewable energy, with energy sources ranging from biodiesel, solar power, Ecotricity, and wood-burning stoves.

Connecting power of the festival site to the nearest city’s main grid

Power is generally one of the five largest single production costs for a festival. In fact, Power can represent up to 70% of a festival’s ‘core’ carbon footprint, if you don’t count audience travel and transport.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then to know that Grid connection, where the festival site is connected to the main sites for electricity, are becoming a major focus for music festivals. For some, a grid connection can reduce transportation involved in delivery and collection of equipment and save promoters thousands.

Unify Gathering places a huge focus on improving its ‘green’ initiatives through the way it powers the festival.

“We at UNIFY are committed to continuously improving our festival green practices and we are upping the anti in 2019 to continually improve our part in caring for the planet we live on,” said the festival’s Operations Manager Kat Coppins and Event Director Rhett McLaren.

Øya Festival in Norway is one of the largest festivals in the world to be powered by renewable energy from a grid connection. The power comes directly from a large hydro-electric plant through underground cables.

“We invested in infrastructure to connect to the main grid so we have no diesel aggregates,” says Caroline Magnus, Øya Festival’s environmental coordinator. “That saves a lot of C02 and emissions and diesel and fossil fuels.”

Magnus plays a crucial role in the festival’s all-year focus on green initiatives. Having worked in the environmental and sustainable sector for many years, Magnus assures the environmental voice is part of all decision-making for Øya, continuing the focus and ensuring it’s not seasonal.

“A lot of implemented things have become an integrated part of the festival and are now in systems and logistics,” said Magnus. “But we’re still looking for ways to improve and advance.”

Located close to public transport

The release of carbon gases into the atmosphere is not only one of the biggest dangers to the Earth’s radiative balance, it’s the reference gas against which other greenhouse gases are measured.

It’s also big business. Emissions saved from a carbon offset project are certified as carbon reduction and ‘offset credits’ can be sold and bought through the carbon market as tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Unify’s Operations Manager Kat Coppins and Event Director Rhett McLaren said the festival’s car-pass program encourages and rewards carpooling.

“Travelling with mates is a major help for our festival’s travel-related footprint and we appreciate it! This year, if you rock up with two or more passengers in your car, we will plant a tree within the festival’s Penfold State Forest.

“Another travel option is to get the party started early by catching a Banana Bus. One full bus eliminates up to 25 cars on the road. You can catch a Banana Bus from both Melbourne and Sydney.”

Meanwhile, Oslo’s Øya Festival relocated in 2017 to be closer to public transport; hugely offsetting its greenhouse gas emissions and becoming more accessible for its punters.

“Around 90% of our audience commute by bike or local transportation which is also a very environmentally conscious, clean thing,” said Øya’s environmental coordinator Caroline Magnus.

slotface at oya festival in oslo august 2018
Sløtface at Øya Festival, August 2018

Wood Festival in the UK is well on its way to becoming a zero-waste festival. It was awarded the full 4 star Outstanding rating from UK organisation A Greener Festival, which placed festivals from 12 countries under the microscope for a rigorous assessment, site visit and post event analysis of their event’s sustainability actions. Events were assessed on 11 main areas including transport, waste, power, water and local area impacts.

Wood Festival actively promotes the use of public transport schemes like cycling and car sharing, for people travelling to the event. In fact, the festival knocks a few bucks off the ticket price if you get a bus or bike ticket along with it.

Gone plastic-free

It’s an often confronting sight to see festival locations littered with rubbish and scraps of environmentally harmful plastic. That’s just one of the reasons behind a global push from festivals to go plastic-free on site.

Over in Norway, Øya Festival’s organisers have changed out all beverage cups from plastic to PLA, the decomposable material made from plants. The best part? The festival’s punters are incentivised to pick up the PLA cups throughout the four-day festival.

Øya has partnered with Norwegian environmentalist organisation Nature and Youth to host cup return booths, with all all money going toward the organisation and their initiatives.

“Every time our audience buys a cup you pay 1 Kroner for it to be refunded. And anyone who picks up the cup and returns it gets this 1 Kroner, in cash,” explains Magnus. “If you really want to collect cups you can fund your whole festival ticket in a day, a lot of students do that. It’s also a good way for our audience to collect their waste and it’s an opportunity for kids to collect the cups and earn money.”

Nature and Youth volunteers also pick up debris and waste and recycle it at the festival’s temporary recycling station which includes cardboard, metal and glass compressors.

Unify has a ‘leave no trace’ policy onsite, its attendees are encouraged to pick up after themselves and do away with unnecessary packaging – that includes the tents in its camping area.

“We see the biggest opportunity to influence fans to avoid unnecessary environmental impact by removing packaging and to buy, borrow and bring reusable camping gear,” says Unify’s Kat Coppins and Rhett McLaren.

“Each year tens of thousands of tents end up in landfill which is simply not good enough. Part of this year’s strategy is a continued focus on minimising waste from cheap tents being brought into and left at our festival site. After the success of housing over 300 punters in recyclable cardboard tents, we have once again partnered with KarTent as our sustainable camping option.”

Unify 2019 punters can even choose from pre-pitched camping options which are decked out in four options: a scout tent, bell tents, canvas lodge or the ultimate festival tent. 

Unify Kartent

Island Vibe Festival took out a Commended Award in the 2017 A Greener Festival Awards, the British organisation dedicated to improving festivals’ environmental efficiency.

It sells zero plastic at all on-site, including backstage. Punters are even encouraged to bring their own reusable bottles and cups. The move was made long before Queensland laws were introduced this year to ban single-use plastic bags in the state.

Island Vibe Marketing Manager Margaux Cappe told Scenstr: “We won’t be distributing plastic bottles to any of our artists or guests and none of our distributors will be selling bottled water in plastic, or [using] plastic bags. We will have water refill stations; there will not be water sold on-site but instead we’ll be selling Island Vibe steel bottles that are reusable.”

Making sure food waste doesn’t go waste

Unify is committed to minimising its impact on the environment. It ensures most of the items onsite are recyclable or bio-degradable. Its organisers have even developed waste management plans with waste contractors with increased its recycling targets.

Minimising the volume of waste to landfill is a priority for the festival. Unify Gathering supports and promotes charities and organisations that encourage reuse of materials, and makes it easy to recycle and compost on-the-go. It encourages everyone traveling to only bring what’s needed and leave the rest behind.

Unify regulates what contractors, particularly food vendors can bring onsite, and has smart and easy to use waste systems in place.

The site of Island Vibe Festival on QLD’s North Stradbroke Island is home to rare and endangered species as well as a few heritage-listed sites. That’s why no waste is ever left on the island except for the compost, which goes to locals gardens.

In the UK, Wood Festival’s MainStage is entirely solar-powered. Its second stage (the Tree Tent) runs on bio-diesel and the festival offers a bicycle-powered disco too.

It’s hard to top an initiative out of Norway though, a city with an ambitious target of being carbon neutral by 2050. Øya festival’s food waste is taken to a treatment plant where it becomes biogas and helps to run the public buses in Oslo. That’s right, the city’s two sewage plants have enough biomethane to provide fuel to run all of its 400 public buses on biogas.

Making eating utensils edible

An estimated 24 million tonnes of plastic will end up in the world’s waterways each year. In fact. the past seven decades of plastic waste have resulted in pollution so wide-spread, scientists have given it its own geological epoch, the manmade Anthropocene.

Thankfully, a few festivals are not only wary of plastic pollution, are leading the charge for agricultural science in the live music sector. And they’re asking the question: Why use disposable cutlery when you can make it edible?

Øya Festival cups are made from corn and potato and are compostable. Its forks, knives and even bowls are made from entirely edible grains. “If you take a bowls and make them into pieces and soak them in milk, you have a cereal there,” laughed Magnus.

oya edible bowl
Edible bowl at Øya Festival

Swapping cow’s milk for eco-friendly alternatives

Got milk alternatives? Environmental concerns about the dairy industry have been raised since long before the ‘Got Milk?’ communication campaign saw a global resurgence in dairy consumption, but now festivals are doing their bit.

In an effort to lessen the carbon footprint of the dairy industry, not to mention the unethical treatment of animals at dairy farms the world over, some festivals are stamping out milk onsite completely.

Unify is often described as some people’s first experience with alternatives like almond and soy milk.

“We really just want to ensure there is something for everyone, whether that’s information or simply a variety of options. If you’re into cow’s milk, that’s cool and if not – there will 100% be alternative for you.”

Øya exclusively offers oat milk, while 90% of the ingredients in all food offerings is organic – a contractual agreement with every food vendor that is monitored by controllers.

“I think we effect our audience a little bit,” says Magnus. “I think we make people a little bit more conscious of environmental food, local produce, organic produce, recycling, waste management and all these things that we do. We even get to showcase vegan and vegetarian food to people that might not have even tried anything like that before.

“It’s a sort of mindset of that’s how it’s done, and I hope people bring that home.”

Ensuring toilet waste is compostable

While Øya Festival is preparing to implement a compostable system for the toilet waste and is currently looking at logistics, the toilets at its Tøyen Park site are emptied every day with the sewerage used to generate heat for the houses in the city. It’s a widely-reported fact that a significant share of Oslo’s district heating comes from waste incineration, biofuel facilities and heat pumps that extract heat from sewage.

Wood Festival has achieved 85% recycling in the past, and there are no portaloos, all toilets at the Oxfordshire site are composting.

Back on home soil Island Vibe Festival puts a major focus on its sustainability initiatives. With over 80 acts performing across four stages over four days, it’s important to preserve the Stradbroke Island site. Its compost toilets come from Fernvale in the Brisbane Valley.

“I know some people are not aware of all of the ways that we’re trying to reduce our carbon emissions,” Island Vibe Marketing Manager Margaux Cappe told Scenestr. “Some people don’t even know that we’ll have a stage that is powered by solar power, or how all of our waste is hand sorted right at the festival so that we make sure as much as possible is recycled.”

Unify Gathering takes place at Tarwin Meadows, Gippsland, VIC on Friday, January 11th – Monday, January 13th, 2019. The massive lineup features the likes of emo legends Taking Back Sunday, metalcore monoliths Underoath and Aussie faves In Hearts Wake as well as a slew of seasoned scene legends and exciting up and comers.

UNIFY Gathering 2019 Lineup

2019 UNIFY Gathering Lineup

Friday 11th January

[Exclusive Australian Performance]
[First East Coast Show since 2016]
[Very special return set]
[Exclusive Australian Performance]
[Exclusive Australian Performance]
[Exclusive Australian Performance]
[Exclusive Reunion Show]
[Exclusive Australian Performance]

Saturday 12th January

[Playing Tell All Your Friends in full]
[Exclusive Australian Performance]
[Exclusive Australian Performance]

Friday, January 11th – Monday, January 13th, 2019
Tarwin Meadows, Gippsland, VIC
Tickets: UNIFY Gathering