Exclusive: Boomtown Fair’s Environmental Mission

A Q&A with Boomtown Fair's Sustainability Co-ordinator

Last updated:

Boomtown Fair, a truly independent music and theatrical festival, will return to the Matterley Estate over 7th – 11th August 2019.

Having just made a massive line up announcement with acts performing across the 80 street venues, 27 main stages, interwoven between the 14 different districts.

Boomtown Fair has established itself as one of Europe’s most creative and inspiring events on the festival scene. With its diverse lineups, crazy story-lines and immersing festival-goers within the narrative.

Matterley Estate near Winchester has been Boomtown’s home since 2011. As the festival has grown in capacity to 66,000, the importance of protecting the environment and reducing Boomtown’s carbon footprint and impact on Winchester and the surrounding area has become as major priority for the festival.

Gig Addict speaks to Boomtown Fair’s Sustainability Co-ordinator – Emily Ford

Chapter 11
A Radical City
Festival Dates
7th - 11th August 2019
Location
 Matterley Estate, Hampshire
Artists
Lauryn Hill, Prophets Of Rage, The Streets...
VIP/Glamping
Options Available
Capacity
66,000
Ticket Prices
£199 - £265
Tickets sold by TheTicketSellers

With the biggest carbon hog being festival goers, artists and crew transport to and from the festival site, how do you go about reducing this impact on the environment? What alternatives do festival goers have other than driving to the site? Making public transport the easiest way to travel to Boomtown is a priority. Last year 35% of people arrived by public transport and for Chapter 11 we are aiming for 40% and we have lots of options in place to make this happen. We’ve partnered with National Express who provide travel to the festival from over 50 locations across the UK, and we provide a shuttle bus service that runs from Winchester train station to site. As a thank you for anyone arriving by public transport we offer a cheaper festival entry ticket which includes free entry on Wednesday. For the more adventurous who would like to take a scenic route, we also have a Bike to Boomtown scheme.

For anyone arriving by car on Wednesday, we ask that they car share with 3 or more people per car and we work with GoCarShare to help people fill any empty spaces they may have. Also £1 for every car pass sold is donated to Energy Revolution who invest in sustainable energy projects. We also work with all artists and contractors to ensure they balance their carbon generated via their travel to and from the festival.

Photo courtesy of Leora Bermeister @Farelight Productions

Is it a challenge to balance the festival’s ambitions in terms of capacity, stage designs, the production and site size against the sustainability of the event? Yes it is! We are continually rethinking and redesigning how the festival operates in terms of our key areas of impacts such as energy, procurement and waste, so we can ensure we reduce our environmental impact.

Is educating festival attendees to the environmental impact they could be causing when leaving the likes of tents, camping equipment and waste the way forward? Incorporating it into the story seems to get the message across, what other methods will Boomtown be using? Educating people, including ourselves, our crew and our public is crucial. We’re in a pretty unique position that we can use both our ‘in world’ storyline and characters, and our festival platforms and channels to push out our key messages from multiple angles to hopefully help inspire change and awareness from loads of avenues… For example, in the closing show of Chapter 10, which went out on our two main dance stages to over 40,000 people, the main protagonist from that year, the Artificial Machine Intelligence (AMI) set the scene for Chapter 11: A Radical City, placing the importance of protecting our world, our environment and our future at the top of the agenda and highlighting the devastation caused by left behind tents – and that they don’t go to charity – which is such a damaging myth!

That message, of environmental consequences and what we can do to avert them has continued to be supported throughout all our platforms and messaging in the build up to the event and we’ll continue to keep offering up education, awareness and practical, achievable solutions to how we can all pull together to really make a massive difference on the ground at the festival and hopefully beyond!

How much of the camping equipment left behind at Boomtown Fair go to charities and good causes verse how much ends up in a landfill? All festivals need to work together to debunk the myth that abandoned tents go to charities and we need to challenge the current throw-away mentality and mindset that camping equipment is single use only. Tents are made up of multi materials and can’t be recycled. More often than not they are poor quality and are broken and not reusable. We do have a salvage operation however this only makes a tiny dent – last year only 2% of tents were salvaged and the majority that are left ended up in landfill, we’d much rather invest the clear up costs into expanding our environmental initiatives.

Pre-pitch tents seem to be an increasing trend and demand for festivals, could you see camping events going mostly/all pre-pitched in the future? Potentially yes, anything is possible. Why buy a tent that won’t last past one use from a big supermarket when you can hire one for the same price at the festival – and have it put up for you! Camplight is one of our which is a pre-pitched providers and all their tents have been salvaged from other festivals, it’s 100% sustainable camping!

Lak (festival co-founder) opened up an interesting debate about the event possibly pushing forward with all/mostly vegan food vendors. Is that a realistic option or scenario for the future of the festival? Experts are still debating whether a vegan lifestyle is actually more sustainable and considering western demand is making some produce unaffordable to those who depend on it in their country of origin what is Boomtown’s view on all of this? There are many different conversations about what Boomtown is doing to protect our planet, and these include some radical ideas for Chapter 11 and going meat free is indeed one of them! It’s a controversial subject with some strong views on either side and nothing is confirmed as yet. However, we already prioritise vegetarian and vegan, local and seasonal but we’re still doing the research and looking into all the different knock on effects of going completely meat free. All we know is that we really do need to do something really big and make a statement about how much we all need to do our bit to reduce the impact of humans on this planet! As soon as there is an update we’ll let you know.

When it comes to food vendors and bar operators do you place requirements on traders? Does Boomtown seek out responsible vendors? We have really strict criteria which all our traders must meet. Our priority is to offer a wide choice of delicious and varied, local and sustainably sourced food for all palettes and dietary requirements. All meat and dairy produce must be British and from a Free Range source and vendors must use Fair Trade products and be sourced locally where possible. As part of our commitment to reduce the use of plastics on site, all plastic serveware is banned and has been for a number of years, all our traders use compostable serveware.

Could you eradicate the likes of water and soft drink bottles from the festival? Is it realistic for 66,000 festival attendees to have refillable bottles and cups? For us, refillable bottles are something that must happen. Operationally we are aiming to eliminate all single use plastic bottles from the traders and bars this year, but we also need to inspire everyone, public, crew and artists to change habitual behaviour. We work with RAW Foundation and have introduced Boomtown reusable steel water bottles to make them a vital part of everyone’s packing list. In 2018 we committed to the Drastic on Plastic (AIF) campaign and have banned the use of plastic straws on-site and pledged to eliminate single-use plastic at Boomtown by 2021.

Do you find there is a balance between trying to encourage a positive change and coming across as nagging to the festival attendees? Getting that balance just right is something we’re so super aware of! We absolutely don’t want people to switch off because they think we’re nagging them, neither do we want to be too softly, softly in our approach that the urgency and necessity of everyone’s understanding how important this is for the entire planet gets lost in the escapist fantasy world that we also create! It’s very tricky, and having run a few campaigns with our drugs awareness and the Respect Campaign, we’ve tried out a few of these positive social change endeavours before, and are we’re constantly learning and adjusting our messaging to hopefully inspire people to want to get involved, learn a bit and take on board what we’re trying to achieve. It’s not about telling people what to do, but providing tools and solutions on how we can all make a positive change, even in the smallest way!

Can a festival ever be 100% sustainable? What other steps is Boomtown taking to make the festival more sustainable this year and in the future? It’s undoubtedly a challenge and one that the industry as a whole needs to focus on. Operationally we’ve implemented a huge amount of things to reduce Boomtown’s impact. We ’re reducing our fuel consumption by 50% through overhauling our entire power plan and are working closely with environmental charities and organisations such as WinACC , Environmental Recovery Solutions to educate campers about campsite waste. We are measuring our production carbon emissions to potentially balance in the future and working with artists and contractors to balance their emissions through organisations like Energy Revolution. We’re developing our on site material recovery facility and developing the Eco Bond scheme to separate as many materials as possible so we can make sure it’s being recycled in the UK. The list really does go on! We can only strive to do better, keep pushing boundaries, evolving and adding to that list. Information on all of our initiatives can be found here.

What would be your best advice for festival attendees having a more positive impact and helping Boomtown Fair become more sustainable? If everyone, where possible, would travel by public transport, bring less and share resources, recycle what they can, take everything home, use refillable water bottles and crucially help us spread the word so that everyone participates, then we would have achieved a very special thing.

Chapter 11
A Radical City
Festival Dates
7th - 11th August 2019
Location
 Matterley Estate, Hampshire
Artists
Lauryn Hill, Prophets Of Rage, The Streets...
VIP/Glamping
Options Available
Capacity
66,000
Ticket Prices
£199 - £265
Tickets sold by TheTicketSellers