At Norway's Øya Festival, Going Green Is the Name of the Game

Francesca Allen
Sigrid

OSLO — While Europe generally has a greener approach to the environment, the Øya Festival in Norway is pushing the boundaries when it comes to reducing the climate footprint of music events. And this year, the artists themselves are being encouraged to step up their green game.

Across the world, after the last act and the last encore, festival-goers suffer the same fate as they make their way to the exits after a weekend of festival joy. Stepping over trash and plastic waste, they pass piles of cups, broken tents, ponchos and burger packaging, all of which promptly remind them what an environmental mess a music festival can be.

But with a climate crisis looming, and audience awareness growing, more and more festivals in both Europe and the United States are exploring how to reduce waste and emissions.

Take the Øya Festival in Oslo, where organizers have banned diesel generators -- they are instead plugging directly into the electricity grid to power the music and lights -- and promised to eliminate single-use cups and plastic confetti at this year’s edition of the four-day festival, which kicks off Aug. 7 in Tøyen Park.

While Øya has pushed since 2004 to reduce waste and emissions, the festival has found it a challenge to persuade artists to prioritize the environment, says Claes Olsen, an Øya co-founder and its booking manager.

For the first time in its two-decade history, the festival is introducing a “green rider” this year, which encourages artists to demand an end to single-use plastic, require more plant-based foods and to change to renewable energy use. Olsen hopes it will be a game changer for the industry. “We want to change the behavior of both our audience, the industry and the artists,” he says.

London-based Paradigm Agency, which represents artists and DJs, also launched a green rider this year, an opt-in solution for artists who want to promote better environmental and social food options, a reduction of single-use plastic, emission and waste. The agency has composed a set of suggestions for artists to include in their riders, and the artist themselves can pick and choose some or all of the demands. A spokesperson for Paradigm said the agency had “received a positive response,” with artists such as Everything Everything, Hatchie, Methyl Ethel, Anastasia Kristensen and K Á R Y Y N using the rider.

Øya’s green rider seeks more specific commitments from artists, like using public transportation when available, keeping the use of airline travel as low as possible and having a minimum of two vegetarian days a week while on tour. The rider is meant to be used at all other festivals and venues while the artists are on tour. Norwegian artists Sigrid and Unge Ferrari are both promoting and using the green rider, hoping more artists will join them in championing the climate cause.

Unge Ferrari, a young hip-hop artist and one of Scandinavia’s most successful urban artists, says he wanted to support the rider because he hopes he can inspire others to do the same. His concern for the environment is also why he’s a pescatarian, and why launched his debut album sponsored by Jaguar, promoting their electric car. “My way to encourage other artists to be more environmentally friendly is to be a good example myself,” he tells Billboard.

He says he hopes other artists at this year’s festival, including The Cure, Robyn, Tame Impala and Erykah Badu, will follow his lead.

The energy company Fortum is underwriting the rider so it doesn’t add any extra costs for the festival, according to booking manager Olsen. Other additional costs, like the requirement that vendors offer at least one vegetarian option at every food stall and use 95% organic ingredients, are being shouldered by vendors and attendees. The food is served on edible plates made in Poland of steam-modified wheat bran. If you’re still hungry after your meal, you can actually eat the plate, assures Ingrid Kleiva Møller, who is responsible for environment at the festival.

There is no denying the music industry is responsible for a sizable share of CO2 emissions each year. And that audiences are becoming concerned. In a recent study by Ticketmaster, 62 percent of British festival-goers cited the environmental impact of festivals as their biggest concern this summer.

According to the report, US festivals like Coachella and Stagecoach generate 100 tons of waste each day. In the UK, Glastonbury banned single-use plastic bottles across the festival site this year, saving the more than 1 million water bottles the festival sold last year. Revelers still complained about “disgusting” amounts of garbage in the aftermath, in large part because the festival allowed attendees to bring their own plastic bottles onto the site, the Daily Mail reported.

Other festivals are taking similar steps. Coachella banned plastic straws last year. As part of Live Nation, which held nearly 35,000 live events last year, the festival will join the company’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and end all sales of single-use plastic by 2021.

The next big challenge is to switch from recycling to reusables, says Michael Martin, CEO of Effect Partners. He has tried to implement that change in the industry for the past three decades, and has launched the r.cup, a rentable, reusable cup solution to replace single-use cups. Martin said he has never seen more interest and real engagement from both artists and audiences than today. “I’ve been the crazy guy in the corner for nearly 30 years, but now I see the industry changing,” says Martin, who attributes the change of hearts and minds to a “young audience demanding better and greener solutions.”

Øya’s Møller says she hopes the festival’s green focus can serve as an inspiration for both audience and industry. The Norwegian festival’s goal is to be fossil free, plant-based and “circular,” meaning utilities can be used several times, instead of recycling them after use.

“A festival is like a small town -- with citizens, office buildings, roads, toilets, bars, bike parking, construction, food consumption and production,” says Møller. “It’s an ideal arena to experiment with innovation and sustainable solutions.”


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