Is Norway's Øya leading the way to greener festivals?

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Media caption,

All four main stages are being powered with renewable energy

From mountains of litter, to diesel-guzzling electric generators and fields transformed into temporary car parks: many music festivals promote an environmentally friendly ethos but their carbon footprints often tell another story.

This weekend, Norway's award-winning Øya festival is showing how things can be done differently.

Set in amongst the ruins of a mediaeval castle, with a backdrop of newly-built shiny skyscrapers and the glistening waters of Oslo's main fjord, the festival has recently won four industry awards for its ecological approach to live music.

They include the title of Europe's Greenest Festival at this year's European Festival Awards and the Norwegian capital's Greenest Business prize.

Litter pickers sort rubbish from the site's 16,000 daily visitors into 14 different categories.

Food is organic and locally sourced. Festival staff buzz between locations in hydrogen- and electric-powered cars.

For Øya, environmental responsibility is not an afterthought; it shapes how organisers plan and manage the festival and choose suppliers.

Hydroelectric power

This year, for the first time, the event is taking its green credentials to a new level by powering the four main stages with 100% renewable energy.

It is sourced from a hydroelectric dam, around an hour's drive from the festival site. Here, water is converted into power.

"Water falls from 30m (98ft) high and hits 11 giant turbines. The turbines transport the water to generators which produce the electricity," says Karen Onsager, from energy provider Hafslund.

"The electricity is then fed out to the area's main grid."

Image caption,
Marina and the Diamonds is one of the groups representing the UK at Øya

Until this year the festival site was unable to connect to the grid because of worries about damaging the ruins on the site.

But this year, underground cables have been installed after months of careful planning.

"The festival area is now connected to the grid so they [the festival] can now use renewable energy and are not dependent on temporary polluting generators any more," Ms Onsager adds.

Øya is one of the largest festivals in the world to use renewable energy on this scale.

International acts including Paul Weller, Air, The Flaming Lips and Grandmaster Flash are amongst those testing out the new power system this weekend, along with emerging acts from Scandinavia and the United States.

Marina and the Diamonds and the XX are amongst the newer names representing the UK.

'Right direction'

"Øya festival is fundamentally a sustainable festival," says Claire O'Neill, co-founder of A Greener Festival, a not-for-profit organisation based in London that studies the environmental impact of music events across Europe, Australia and the United States.

"Other festivals may not have that as a main reason for hosting the event, but over the last three to four years we have seen more and more festivals looking at the environment from the very beginning of planning through to the site clean-up and beyond."

She adds: "There are definite steps in the right direction but it needs to be a fundamental thought rather than an afterthought.

Critics argue that music festivals can never be truly green because of the carbon footprint caused by transportation. It is estimated that around two thirds of the industry's emissions come from moving people to and from each site.

Image caption,
Energy is sourced from this hydroelectric dam, about an hour's drive from the festival site

Twenty-two year old Andrew Murray, who lives in Oslo and studies in the UK, says the festival seems greener than music festivals he has been to in the UK.

"But then, although people are aware of climate change here, the festival is right next to the motorway and lots of people are travelling here - so you have to question how much Øya is really doing."

Increasingly, many music festivals are encouraging fans to use buses instead of cars to try and limit emissions.

Øya has gone one step further. Public transport in Oslo is partly powered by sewage from the city, which is converted into biomethane gas, a renewable fuel that is an alternative to diesel.

The daily amount of waste from just one person is enough to transport a biomethane bus for up to 50 metres.

So the overflowing portable loos at Øya are serving a double purpose.

Nature's way

Festival organisers insist that their attitude towards the environment also saves money and helps support local businesses.

But others are more cynical about their tactics.

"Norway only has around 4.7 million people, it has lots of nature and lots of space, so I think it is very easy to try to be green," says musician Alex Arnesen, 25.

"It's cool to be green right now, it's trendy and it's the buzzword. So whatever they tell me, I think it's all about image."

Whether fans chose to embrace the festival's philosophy or not, one natural asset few can find fault with is the Scandinavian sunlight.

Norway's unique position in the world means that in summer it doesn't get dark until past 10pm.

So with the night sky lit by Mother Nature herself there is definitely no excuse for an early night.

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