Can Music Festivals Be Sustainable? Goldenvoice’s Cali Vibes Is Betting on ‘Yes’
Organizers at this weekend's Long Beach festival are experimenting with changes to waste management, energy use and environmental impact.
Long Beach is the laboratory for a half-dozen sustainability initiatives at this weekend’s annual Cali Vibes music festival at the city’s Marina Green Park.
Headlined by Snoop Dogg, Jack Johnson, Slightly Stoopid, Damian Marley, Ben Harper, Cypress Hill and many more, the popular reggae and West Coast hip-hop festival will be ground zero for new efforts by promoter Goldenvoice to dramatically reduce waste, decrease the event’s carbon footprint and use materials from last year’s festival to create merch and apparel for 2023 fans.
The challenge for Cali Vibes — like all other festivals — is that most festivals are not considered environmentally sustainable due to the amount of attendee travel involved, the energy consumed and the waste generated on-site, says AEG vp of Sustainability Erik Distler.
“It’s important to start with recognizing this work is difficult,” Distler says. “Executing sustainability initiatives for a large temporary event with tens of thousands of people involves engaging a broad stakeholder set” that includes artists, vendors, production companies, city officials and fans.
Distler said Goldevoice realized early on that the best way to maximize the impact of their sustainability efforts was to “embrace the complexity at the onset” of planning the 2023 event and develop a strategy centered around trackable operational improvements and attendee education.
“We’re in the business of bringing people together, evoking emotion, fueling passion and energy — it’s very human,” Distler adds. “We have the opportunity and responsibility to connect with our fans and talk about our sustainability work in a way that’s inspiring and uplifting. It’s about what’s possible if we come together.”
Sustainability has always been one of the undertones of Cali Vibes, “due to the event’s proximity to the ocean and the overall spirit of the festival,” says Nic Adler, vp of Goldenvoice Festivals. “This year, we booked Jack Johnson and his team really got us motivated to look at each corner of the festival and ask ourselves ‘what can we do differently?’”
That includes pushing Goldenvoice and its parent company AEG to offer fans refillable water stations and eliminate the sale of single-use plastic water bottles at the festival. This effort included renegotiating a water sponsorship agreement originally brokered by AEG with Origin, which will now offer canned instead of bottled water at Cali Vibes. Goldenvoice also partnered with vendor r.Cup to replace its single-use beer cups with a reusable plastic cup that is collected on-site, washed at a specialized cleaning facility and reused the following weekend.
“These cups have a life expectancy of several years,” dramatically reducing the number of single-use cups that end up in the landfill, says Michael Ilves, director of Goldenvoice Festivals, noting that the event’s waste management plan includes bins specifically designed to collect the cups.
“Another change in how we manage waste production is that bins previously labeled as trash or landfill will now be labeled as ‘waste-to-energy,’” Ilves explains. “Long Beach happens to have a waste-to-energy power plant that burns off waste, captures the gases released and powers about 35,000 homes off of that process.”
Helping fund the initiative is a first-ever $5 per ticket sustainability fee to pay for initiatives like the r.Cup program and purchase equipment to promote the use of solar energy and reduce the use of diesel generators. Goldenvoice is also working with a vendor to recycle signage, printed material and leftover merchandise from the 2022 festival to create new consumer items for 2023, including apparel, tote bags and posters.
All sustainability initiatives at the festival are being closely tracked by Santa Monica firm Three Squares Inc. — including recording every staff member’s own carbon footprint — to measure Goldenvoice’s progress and analyze opportunities to expand the company’s sustainability efforts to the 32 festival brands it operates globally, including the annual Coachella and Stagecoach festivals. Insights gleaned from the resulting report can help the company significantly improve its environmental impact, Adler explains.
“Popping up in a parking lot for an event that 20,000 people drive to is not sustainable,” Adler says. “That’s why it’s important for us to create a report that allows us to continue the work that we’re doing and be honest about our own carbon footprint. It gives us an opportunity to get together in a room and say ‘Here is last year’s number, this year let’s try to cut it in half.’”