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Glastonbury, Greenpeace and the optimism of action

A Glastonbury sign

There’s a strange tension between the eco-friendly idealism of music festivals and the reality of their environmental impact. The organisers of Glastonbury are determined to change the record. In partnership with Greenpeace, Glasto wants to show that it’s possible to alter the festival scene, and the world, through the optimism of action…

Ah Woodstock…now just a surreal, sepia toned dream, the iconic 1969 music festival had a lasting impact on music, culture, revolutionary politics and environmental issues. Since then, music fests have been intimately associated with liberal viewpoints and the desire to enact positive environmental change. Yet each festival season, thousands of revellers show up to fields, party hard and generate obscene amounts of waste. Typically, 1 in 3 tents get left behind, along with piles of booze, food, sleeping bags and clothes, all of which is dumped unceremoniously into landfill. This is, like, totally not cool for the planet, man.

A Glastonbury crowd with their hands raised at a concert.

The underlying hypocrisy of these “flower-power” environmental disasters is not something that’s gone unnoticed, and Glastonbury’s organisers are determined to make a change. It costs the festival £780,000 to clean up the rubbish at the end of the party, which means £780,000 less for Water Aid, Oxfam and Greenpeace, the recipients of most of the festival’s profits. The environmental impact of the festival is neatly summarised by the fact that ‘fallow years,’ are increasingly common, where the festival doesn’t take place at all, so the damaged farmland has time to recover.


1300 recycling volunteers help to recycle up to 60% of waste generated by the festival. Whether encouraging people to use public transport to get there, running ‘zero waste’ campaigns to ensure festival goers take all of their belongings home with them, or utilising solar technology to power cafes, stalls, showers and stages, Glasto is determined to be the greenest festival going. The heart of their campaign is the phrase ‘a tent is for life, not just for a festival.’

A crowd of people at Glastonbury music festival.

But it doesn’t want to stop there. Through its long and productive partnership with Greenpeace, Glasto wants to bring attendee’s attentions to environmental issues in the wider world. The Greenpeace field has always been a hugely popular section of the festival, thanks to its veggie food and free (solar powered) hot showers. But the field’s real purpose is to provide a whole host of activities, interactive art and musical delights in order to spread awareness about the largest issues threatening the planet today. From the ‘No Planet B’ drop slide, emblazoned with ‘Good Planets Are Hard To Find,’ to the incredible David Attenborough dome, where you can take VR tours of some of the world’s most precious wonders – and learn about how you can take steps to protect them – the Greenpeace field wants to demonstrate the positivity of action. This means you’ll be surrounded by teams of people who spent the year campaigning against arctic drilling, deforestation in the amazon, melting ice caps and rising air pollution.

Singapore's futuristic gardens by the bay at night.

In 2017, the message was ‘Greenpeace stands for forests.’ The campaign intended to stop illegal timber from Cameroon reaching European ports and bar the expansion of soya plantations in the Amazon, whilst blocking the path of bulldozers whenever possible. This meant promoting Greenpeace’s work in the rainforest through their award winning 360VR film about the Munduruku people, as well as some stunning art installations and architectural structures to support the message. The standout was the enormous artificial tree, a 20m model that came alive at night, cycling through dazzling light shows and serving as a musical hub where superstar musicians such as Jarvis Cocker got behind the DJ decks.

A trail through a lush Glastonbury forest with mist in the background.

This medley of artists, musicians and activists are trying to make a point. Through creation they’re trying to emphasise optimism as the vital force in our world. We can start with the simple things, like packing our tents up and recycling our proud beer towers at the end of a music festival. But if we can educate ourselves about issues in the wider world, we can make the differences that will affect generations to come.

The iconic maxim that came out of Woodstock was the phrase, ‘Make Love Not War.’

Glasto and Greenpeace want us to remember that when we’re waging war with nature, we’re waging war with ourselves.