Shambala Festival

Via Julie’s Bicycle.


Set in a picturesque country park in Northamptonshire, the environment has always been central to the ethos of Shambala Festival.  The event is now firmly established as a focus for innovation in sustainable technologies and the more elusive “science” of drawing people into a deeper dialogue about the environmental sustainability issues confronting us all today.

For these reasons, Shambala was the first organisation ever to achieve a 3 star Industry Green certification from Julie’s Bicycle in 2010, and has most recently been awarded a 3 star IG certification for the 2013 festival too. In fact, the festival has scooped three 3 star Industry Green certifications over the last four years!

Shambala also won the A Greener Festival outstanding award for 2013.

Shambala has been undertaking independent carbon auditing since 2007, and thanks to a partnership with Peter Harper, Head of Research at the Centre for Alternative Technology, the scope of their studies has been even broader than our Industry Green assessment, including factors such as staff and concession travel and camping equipment, examining the life-span of the materials used to construct stages, and even guestimating how much more people might drink at a festival compared to a typical weekend at home! Building on a decrease in emissions per audience member of 20% between 2007 and 2008, Shambala has reduced carbon emissions per audience by an outstanding 81% (based on energy, water, waste water and waste) between 2009 and 2013, with a 32% reduction between 2012 and 2013 alone.



This reduction reflects Shambala’s ambition to becoming 100% renewably powered. In 2008 Shambala aimed to use 100% waste vegetable oil (WVO) bio-diesel across the site (not-with-standing that WVO bio-diesel is not a renewable power source) but had issues with power consistency and experienced power-outs. Since 2010 Shambala has experienced relative success with a transition to 95% non-mineral based power through the use of WVO bio-diesel and six micro renewable energy suppliers on site, alongside diesel and gas sources. In 2010 the festival supplied solar showers and composting toilets.

The festival is now 94% renewably powered. In 2013 the festival also teamed up with its power provider, Midas, and De Montfort University on a new pilot project to monitor fuel use for individual generators, looking to improve fuel efficiency across the site. The learning from this will be shared via the Powerful Thinking initiative.


They have also developed a robust waste reduction and management approach, and increased recycling rates by 10% between 2012 and 2013. This has been greatly supported by a high level of both trader and audience engagement, including campaigns such as Bring a Bottle – their most successful audience engagement ever, with the sale of water in plastic bottles banned onsite completely – and Surplus Supper Club.


The biggest environmental impact produced by festivals is audience travel. As Shambala’s energy emissions decrease, so the proportional impact of their audience emissions has increased, from 53% in 2009 to 90% of the festival’s total emissions in 2010. Audience travel remains a challenge: an audience travel survey in 2010 showed that 79% travelled by car – although with an average occupancy of 3 people they are well above the average (2.6). 10% travelled by train, 8% by dedicated coaches, 3% by public transport bus, and 0.2% by short-haul flights. While the festival isn’t in direct control of audience choices on issues such as travel, Shambala has a number of initiatives that aim to reduce these emissions and encourage more festival-goers onto public transport, including a biofiel shuttle bus service from the local train and bus station and subidised express coaches from 6 cities. If audiences can see busing as a realistic travel option there is huge potential to reduce emissions.

The festival has introduced a range of initiatives to promote the use of public transport, car and lift sharing to its audience, to reduce their travel impacts. The team have been building on the Carbon Travel Fund they introduced to provide festival-goers with an alternative travel offset option, and are working with The Converging World on investing in wind power projects, looking at a new model for offsetting all festival emissions.

Shambala’s environmental priorities are communicated to the audiences online and on site, and a recent survey highlighted that the festival’s audience does feel strongly about the environment; the website, press releases, emails, event programme, the ticket buying process and the festival site all reflect the environmental credentials of the festival, and on the Sunday of each festival the organisers run a ‘People’s Parliament’ for audiences to comment on their ‘green credentials’ and feed back on how the festival is run.


Shambala is going beyond the minimum requirements of their own commitment to environmental performance through work with the supply chain that supports the festival, requiring contractors and traders to complete questionnaires and comply with a sustainability checklist for tendering. ‘Green’ trader assessments and awards are also undertaken.

Ambitious policies to reuse materials and enforce traders to source produce locally were partially met in 2009, and in 2010 these policies were communicated to all artists, creative projects and area/venue managers. This procurement policy on traders means that produce has to be ethically sourced with a preference for small/local suppliers, resulting in fairtrade tea and coffee and happy meat and a priority for organic traders, while all construction timber has to be FSC certified. Preference is also given to traders who are powering themselves self sufficiently and the local community is invited to trade via a community letter.



Shambala Coordinator Chris Johnson believes “festivals have a key role in inspiring behavioural change in society. Our challenge is finding the most effective ways to communicate sustainable messages to festival goers, by virtue of the way we manage events, how we communicate this, and the content of the events.”

“Good auditing provides the information we need to make informed decisions about where to concentrate our efforts in reducing carbon, and how successful initiatives have been year on year” says Jen Coles, Shambala’s Sustainability Coordinator.

Over the years, the efforts of Shambala have provided new insights into innovation on how to run a more sustainable festival. The ambitious sustainability policy of Shambala provides a guiding light in educating, inspiring and motivating the festival sector as a whole. Shambala have taken this role one step further by co-founding the Powerful Thinking initiative, a festival industry think-do tank exploring game-changing ideas for responding to climate change.

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