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Carbon Savings of the Music Industry

The music industry is facing some challenging times. Like many industries, music is having to adapt to what’s being touted as ‘the new normal’ and with it, many events are being cancelled, postponed or, in some cases, moved online instead.

But while the cancellation or postponements can be disappointing, there has also been talk of the carbon impact of music events, even prior to the pandemic causing so much disruption. With carbon offsetting and the quest for carbon neutral having been brought further into the music industry by recent comments from the likes of Coldplay’s frontman Chris Martin, we decided to look into the real impacts of the UK’s summer festivals.

Taking data from DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and NAEI (National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory) and combining that with the distance required for headline artists to travel to festivals, we’ve calculated the kilograms of carbon that we can attribute to each event, revealing the highest carbon costs and greatest carbon savings of the UK music industry.

Music Festival CO2 Ranking Table

The table below shows the top 20 UK music festivals according to Festicket, with the kilograms of CO2 calculated based on the travel distance of the headline acts based on their hometown and an assumed transport choice of ‘air’ when travelling from overseas and ‘bus’ when travelling within mainland UK.

According to the study, Download Festival is the festival with the greatest carbon impact at over 162,951.40 kilograms of CO2. Y Not Festival has the lowest carbon impact at 3,675.20 kilograms.

Five UK music festivals – Download Festival, Parklife, Lovebox, Isle of Wight Festival and Glastonbury – have already been cancelled due to COVID-19, and more hang in the balance as the virus continues to take hold.

Festival Location Kilograms of CO2
Download Festival Derby 162,951.40
All Points East London 108,768.28
Creamfields Daresbury 104,813.72
Wireless Festival London 96,804.87
BST Hyde Park London 96,064.40
Parklife Manchester 83,293.39
Lovebox London 74,919.93
Junction 2 London 69,377.80
Reading and Leeds Reading and Leeds 69,198.73
Boomtown Winchester 66,068.17
Latitude Festival Southwold 61,064.77
Boardmasters Newquay 52,115.14
South West Four London 46,745.79
Wilderness Feestival Charlbury 44,571.32
Glastonbury Glastonbury 32,745.74
Isle of Wight Festival Isle of Wight 31,356.12
Kendal Calling Penrith 5,588.35
NASS Festival Shepton Mallet 4,642.84
TRNSMT Festival Glasgow 4,502.04
Y Not Festival Pikehall 3,675.20

While many festival-goers are lamenting their losses, the positive impact on the environment due to the pandemic is also being widely reported, with factors such as the reduction in traffic and noise pollution, improved air quality and cleaner waters to name but a few – and that’s not even considering the reduction in travel, litter and materials that are no longer needed to run the events had they gone ahead

Glastonbury, which recently announced it is to be cancelled for 2020, has an estimated 32,745.74 kilogram impact based on the festival’s announced headline acts.

Research Methodology

Each artist was assumed to be travelling from their home town or city, and when travelling within the UK, were assumed to be using a bus while those travelling from overseas were assumed to be using air travel. It was also assumed that the average group size travelling with each artist was 20 – to include band-mates and a small entourage.

Each artist’s home town was identified using Google data, which also provided the distance in kilometres between the home town and festival location.

The CO2 impact was measured in kilograms of CO2 per passenger per kilometre using the following calculations:

Transport CO2 per passenger per kilometre Source
Air 0.1753 DEFRA
Bus 0.0891 NAEI

The following assumptions powered the calculations:

  1. Artists were travelling from their home town to the festival
  2. Artists travelling from the UK mainland would travel by bus
  3. Artists travelling from overseas would travel by air
  4. Artists would travel in a group of 20 to include bandmates and entourage

A new approach for the events industry?

Professor Joe Howe, Executive Director at the Thornton Energy Research Institute at the University of Chester, explained that “the standard rule of thumb is 15 trees per tonne.”

On this basis, to offset the total carbon emissions of UK music festivals would require the planting of 41 trees, based on emissions of 609,633 kilograms – which, based on the trees being planted a minimum of 2 metres apart (as recommended by the Woodland Trust) equates to over a football pitch worth of trees. The savings made by the five cancelled events so far are the equivalent of 13 new trees being planted.

Speaking of the findings, Professor Howe said:

“While the cancellations of events like Download Festival and Glastonbury are disappointing to those hoping to attend, the carbon savings of the artists not travelling is a really positive story for the environment – and that’s without considering the carbon impact of festival attendees, which will also be saved. At a time when everyone is adapting to new ways of working, it’s worth giving thought to the lessons we can learn and making virtual meetings a common aspect of our leisure and working lives.”

David Holmes, Founder at Boiler Guide, said:

“Isolation isn’t fun for anyone, but the savings made by people staying at home cannot be ignored. While we don’t expect the findings of our study to take away from the disappointment festival-goers will be feeling, we do hope it highlights the ‘silver lining’ in terms of the environmental benefits that make something positive from this challenging time.”

The research comes at a time where the environmental impact of COVID-19 is widely documented, specifically in terms of the pollution reduction in cities like Shanghai and across the UK.

Commenting on the research, event and music expert Toby Heelis, CEO of Eventopedia, said:

“A lot of musicians work hand to mouth, relying on the magic of music and live concert events to make their money. We have seen a wide number of music events cancelled recently from individual gigs and concerts, to Glastonbury festival and entire worldwide tours.

“These worrying times may signal a shift in the entire music industry. Coronavirus has opened up an opportunity for musicians to craft a new way of performing, using technology to support themselves and share their work with fans using alternative mediums, whilst reaching a much wider audience in one session, allowing more frequent gig-goers to ‘attend’ with logistics not an issue. We are seeing an increasing number of artists get involved with online concerts and there’s clearly a lucrative revenue stream for future opportunities.”

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