Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Study reveals vast environmental impact of Tomorrowland music festival

22:03 27/07/2023

A new study on the high environmental impact of Tomorrowland, the annual music festival held in Belgium, has found it emits as much CO2 in two weeks as 9,000 households in one year.

Tapio, a Belgian company that calculates carbon footprints, conducted a study to assess the impact of Tomorrowland. The published figures show the festival is responsible for the emission of nearly 150,000 tonnes of CO2.

One of the most well-known festivals worldwide, Tomorrowland this year saw 400,000 attendees from around the world, according to organisers. Throughout the festival, 750 artists performed on 16 different stages.

More than other festivals in Belgium, Tomorrowland seeks to attract foreign visitors — setting aside 50% of its tickets for non-Belgian customers. Various packages are also made available, which also include accommodation and a means of transport, whether it be train, bus or plane.

According to Tomorrowland's organisers, more than 10,570 packages offering access to the festival and plane tickets have been sold in recent months.

As part of those, more than 100 flights have been jointly planned by the festival and Brussels Airlines. About another 200,000 attendees purchase their plane tickets separately, without the organisers’ aid.

The Tapio study looked at the festival’s overall carbon footprint and developed a strategy to reduce its emissions, based on data collected from festival officials as well as some estimates.

Its calculations are based on the estimate that 40% of visitors are Belgian, of whom 80% travel by car and 20% by train; a total of 50% of visitors come from elsewhere in Europe, travelling 25% by car, 25% by train and 50% by plane; and the remaining 10% of participants come from outside Europe and travel only by plane.

When calculating the festival’s carbon footprint, the company did not count, among other things, stage assembly and dismantling logistics or transportation, nor the cooling systems used on site to refrigerate food and drinks.

It also does not take into account other impacts on climate and biodiversity such as resource depletion, land use and toxicity. "Other types of emissions such as noise, pollution and light were not taken into account in this study", the company specified.

The Tapio study has divided the carbon footprint into four chapters: energy consumption linked to the festival, mobility of festival-goers, employees and artists, products and services sold on site and waste treatment.

Based on these calculations, the company found the festival emits about 149,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

According to Tapio, its rather conservative estimates means that the margin of error is significant.

"The real carbon footprint is perhaps 50,000 tonnes less, but more likely 100,000 or 150,000 tonnes more,” according to chief executive Louis Collinet. “What is important, more than the figures themselves, are the orders of magnitude,” he added.

The found total of 149,000 tonnes of CO2 represents the annual emissions of roughly 9,300 Belgian households - or eight times what the Sonian Forest can absorb in carbon in a whole year.

"These proportions should make it possible to understand that organising a festival or going to a festival like this has an impact on the climate,” Collinet said.

About 79% of CO2 emissions are linked to mobility as a whole, out of which 72% of emissions are linked to air travel. Further, 20% are linked to products and services sold such as food, goodies, T-shirts or tents.

The study estimated that 100,000 Europeans came to the festival by plane and that 40,000 non-Europeans arrived by the same means of transport. These 140,000 festival-goers, despite being a minority in the total number of participants, account for 72% of the festival's carbon footprint even before having consumed or eaten anything there. The air transport of artists represents 1.73% of emissions.

When it comes to solutions, the study offers several that would improve the festival’s carbon footprint such as promoting soft mobility in festival communications, promoting cycling as a means of transport, implementing the use of solar panels, banning single-use products and creating partnerships with local vendors.

"We don't want Tomorrowland to end,” Collinet said. “Some of us have already been there or would still like to go and we would like the festival to be able to live for another 10 years. But with a trajectory such as this, it is unlikely that this will be the case.”

For its part, Tomorrowland has stated that its carbon footprint is "very difficult to calculate" but it has commissioned an external study to further assess its environmental impact.

Debby Wilmsen, spokeswoman for Tomorrowland, said the accessibility of bicycles on the festival grounds, better recycling of waste or collaboration with the SNCB with train tickets offered at advantageous prices could improve the situation.

Another way to avoid pollution would be to relocate part of the festival, breaking it up into multiple locations in order to limit air travel.

"We already have a festival in Brazil in October, in France in March,” Wilmsen said.

“So we are already present in the world but the festival in Belgium is the main festival and there are a lot of people who want to attend.”

Written by Ana Fota