Q: After staying away from outdoor summer music festivals for a few years — I lived in England in the mid- to late ’90s and needed ample time to recover and let the psychic mud stains heal after regular pilgrimages to Glastonbury, Reading, etc. — I’ve decided I’m finally ready to attend a couple of festivals this summer. They’re not exactly massive events, but I was curious to know if there has been an environmental movement within the outdoor concert/festival industry.

Have any open-air festivals gone out of their way to go green? How can I myself, as an attendee, reduce my eco-impact? Back in my festival-going prime, I was totally guilty of driving to concerts hundreds of miles away (often alone) and flying through plastic water bottles like nobody’s business. The only green I remember appearing at any of these events was passed around before Tricky took the stage. Any thoughts on how I can rock out while keeping my festival-going footprint in check this summer?

Rock n’roll,

Toni – New Hope, Penn.

Hey Toni,

A: I must start off by saying that I’m pretty darn jealous of all your ’90s U.K. festival going. As a Britpop-obsessed teen living in suburban America, I fantasized about going to a huge open-air festival in England. However, I can’t say the detrimental environmental impact of attending one ever played a part in my teenage daydreams.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I was curious as to what more gentle — perhaps more crunchy — summer festivals you’ve graduated to? Wild guess, but are you reviving yourself for the also-revived Lilith Fair? If so, I hear it’s a good place to start in terms of eco-conscious festivals. Critter-friendly Sarah McLachlan’s all-female musical fest will be hitting up multiple cities this summer and for each ticket sold, $1 will be donated to the i4c Campaign to “support exceptional change-making enterprises” of the social and environmental variety: Alter Eco, Better World Books, To-Go Ware and Greameen America. Also, the 2010 Lilith Tour (no more “Fair”… times are a changin’) has teamed up with Nalgene to offer exclusive, BPA-free reusable water bottles ($15 a pop) to keep the touring festival’s plastic water bottle waste at a minimum and to keep all the Lilith ladies (and lads) properly hydrated.

Non-touring summer festivals with notable green initiatives include Bonnaroo (Tennessee), the Sasquatch! Music Festival (Washington), and Coachella (California). And yep, even the granddaddy of U.K. music festivals, Glastonbury, has a comprehensive environmental plan that involves composting toilets, biodiesel-powered tractors, solar power, extensive recycling and much more. And here’s an interesting tidbit: Glastonbury is the world’s biggest single donor to Greenpeace.

Moving away from specific festivals is Reverb, the fabulous nonprofit organization founded by environmentalist Lauren Sullivan and her husband, Guster frontman Adam Gardner, that aims to green concert tours large and small, open-air and not, through efforts like waste reduction, biodiesel use, recycling, eco-friendly catering products and on-site eco-education through fan outreach projects. As of July 2010, Reverb has greened 91 tours — a total of 1,715 shows — and, as a result, reduced 96,675 tons of CO2. Not surprisingly, Reverb is working with the 2010 Lilith Tour as well as tours like The Honda Civic Tour and the Campus Consciousness Tour and individual touring artists such as Dave Matthews Band, Phish and Sheryl Crow.

So to answer your question, Toni, yes, festivals, both touring and one-offs, are making impressive strides to go green on their own or with the help of organizations like Reverb. Hate to say it but big summer music festivals are about as environmentally unsustainable as they come: Just think about all the waste generated, emissions created traveling, and power consumed for a few hours (or days) rockin’ out in the great outdoors. But as I’ve let on, things have gotten a lot better for Mother Earth … and not just at Lilith Fair.

And what can you do yourself to lower your eco-impact? Carpool to the event, avoid using plastic water bottles and non-compostable catering products, tread lightly on the concert site, support any greening efforts that the festival may be promoting and, most importantly, have fun. Just don’t come back and yell at me if you find yourself flailing around in the mud after a particularly rousing Indigo Girls set.

— Matt

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

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