Carbon Footprint of a Music Festival, acoustic and otherwise


Today i am in Stockholm (jetlagging), a green city and one that pushes the carbon footprint idea.

and it got me thinking about a question i have had–One question i have been ponder was just how much electricity does it take to put on an acoustic music show?   and how does this translate into carbon emissions.   i ask this because for the last 3 years I have organized the Centennial Uptown Breakdown (CuB), a full day free music festival up in our mountain town of Centennial, Wyoming.    that is, what is the carbon footprint of the CuB?     kind of nerdy, i know.  we are supposed to be having fun at this festival.

the short answer is about 1.6 t CO2e per show (a lower bound).    and if we price this at a IPCC value marginal cost per tonne of $100….I should be paying at least $160 in a carbon tax for the CuB.

most of these carbon emissions are not generated by the show itself, but rather by the vehicles getting people to the show.   if i guess there are 100 cars at the Beartree during the day, who drove 30 miles from Laramie (1lb CO2e per mile), that gets me about 1.5 t of 1.6 t CO2e per show.      the actual show itself–the power used to electrify acoustic instruments and voices–only generates about 140 lbs of CO2e per show.

of course, there might be more cars driving more miles…suppose the size of festival doubled…the actual musical contribution would remain the same, but we might have 200 cars driving 100 miles on average.   now we are at 10.1 t CO2e per show, and i should be paying $1100 for the carbon footprint per show.

below are more examples for the curious.   the summary is that it is not so much the show itself but the transportation in getting folks to the show and back that is the main source of carbon–regardless of whether it is a big show or a small folky show like our CuB.

(actually the plane trip to Stockholm generated more emissions, that is another story of carbon offsets, and opting-in vs opting-out)


Several other researchers have been interest in this question too, long before i started wondering aloud,  I know now as I poke around the interwebs.

First, here is the abstract for a paper from researchers in the UK and US (CO) who estimate that the UK music industry generates about 540 000  t CO2e per annum, and 4/5 of this is generated by live performances.

Abstract. Over the past decade, questions regarding how to reduce human contributions to climate change have become more commonplace and non-nation state actors—such as businesses, non-government organizations, celebrities—have increasingly become involved in climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives. For these dynamic and rapidly expanding spaces, this letter provides an accounting of the methods and findings from a 2007 assessment of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the UK music industry. The study estimates that overall GHG emissions associated with the UK music market are approximately 540 000  t CO2e per annum. Music recording and publishing accounted for 26% of these emissions (138 000  t CO2e per annum), while three-quarters (74%) derived from activities associated with live music performances (400 000 t CO2e per annum). These results have prompted a group of music industry business leaders to design campaigns to reduce the GHG emissions of their supply chains. The study has also provided a basis for ongoing in-depth research on CD packaging, audience travel, and artist touring as well as the development of a voluntary accreditation scheme for reducing GHG emissions from activities of the UK music industry.

Second,even the folks at Harvard have considered the Footprint of a basic music festival with 40000 folks attending.

Third, Radiohead hired a firm to calculate its carbon footprint on its 2007 tour, and then did something about it.

Fourth, the last U2 tour generated the equivalent of sending Bono and the boys on a mission to Mars


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