We are in the middle of summer and you can definitely tell! This summer has been a scorcher.  Much like the heat, concert festivals have come to be the standard summer fare.  With huge festivals such as Lollapalooza, Newport Folk Fesival, Coachella, and Bonnaroo happening all summer long, it is clear this is a musical trend.  These concerts, although fun, take a ton of energy to produce from sound and lighting to sanitation and bottled water. It is a wonder how any of these massive productions could ever be sustainable. Some of these musical showcases are making huge efforts with carpooling, recycling, promoting reusable items and green vendors, however, could there really be a truly sustainable festival?

Enter the Montreal International Jazz Festival. As we mentioned a few posts ago, we recently vacationed in Montreal. Our trip was perfect timing as we were there during the Jazz Festival. As we stepped foot into the massively crowded fest, we saw multiple stages, disposable bottles, and lighting every where we turned. We couldn’t help but wonder, how much energy is this festival consuming? But all around the festival signs were highlighting that the Jazz Fest had been “Carbon Neutral” since 2008.  On top of their carbon neutrality, much of the merchandise was produced locally in the US and Canada with organic cotton and recycling bins were readily available.

This certainly was impressive and satisfied my aching conscious enough for me to sit back and enjoy the bands. But when I returned home, I really started thinking about those words: carbon neutral. What exactly did it mean? Were they saying, they were running everything on renewable sources, did they somehow find the perfect eco-friendly energy source, or was this another bit of Greenwashing? The curiosity was getting the better of me and I researched this “carbon neutral” festival.

It turns out the festival is a bit of both; Greenwashing and sustainability. No, the fest did not run on generators powered solely by the sweat of the jazz musicians, but they were purchasing carbon offsets. Carbon offsets may seem like a great solution: essentially you are donating money to projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, however, is the festival really carbon neutral? They are using massive amounts of energy and even if they donate money to say, a tree planting organization. Is that really going to make up for the energy they used to fuel a month-long day and night festival?

The truth is, they are trying to be legitimate about turning Green, even devoting a whole webpage to the explanation of their carbon offsetting program and defining their carbon neutrality as: “calculating total climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions from an event, organization or business, reducing them where possible, and then balancing the remaining emissions by purchasing high quality carbon offsets.” Their transparency website states how much of their festival they offset (100% from electricity to travel for the musicians) and where the money is going (Planetair, a Montreal based NGO devoted to supplying high quality carbon offsets.

Even though their system may not be the ideal (sweat some more, trumpet players), they are making an effort. In the end, they are bringing to light that these festivals eat up TONS of energy and are not sustainable in their own right. It would be great to see more of the festivals moving in the same direction or even better take a cue from Sasquatch! who runs their festival on a combination of Wind Power and offsets. Either way, we are delighted to see so many of the major players attempting to be serious about their energy use.  Who knows, someday we may have summer festivals running on the readily available solar power.  We certainly have the summer sunshine for it.

-Gina Williams