(This review is part of an ongoing series about Boardmasters festival)
As a festival in the middle of the Cornish countryside, transport to and from Boardmasters festival has a significant environmental impact. All activity of guests, artists and deliveries factors into this and due to this, the festival recognises transport as being their greatest area of impact on carbon emissions. However, this recognition is supported with an action plan and a commitment to neutralising this by 2025. To any extent, travel for 200,000 people over a five-day period is going to cause a significant impact, but the fact that Boardmasters are transparent about this problem and are trying to resolve it is really good to see. Whilst they could be doing a bit more, for instance in reducing the number of cars they allow into the festival car park to encourage use of communal transport, when taken into the context of their isolated location, it really does seem like Boardmasters are trying to mitigate their impact to the best of their ability. I really like that the festival monitors traffic year on year to try and work out their pinch-points, and I love that this is strongly communicated with the local community who bear the brunt of the vastly-expanded number of vehicles in the area during the week. Overall, Boardmasters’ list of strategies leaves me feeling positive about their commitment to reducing their impact, although I do think that the festival needs to qualify these actions with more proof that this is having a substantial effect on reducing their emissions.
For what it’s made of, I considered the transport options that are available, and what transport methods Boardmasters encourages and discourages.
The festival’s remote location makes travel to it more difficult to make environmentally friendly as it is not convenient. There are also fewer public transport options versus a big city. Whilst this could lead to a greater reliance on cars alone, Boardmasters have enacted several plans to control this and to make travel greener. Their partnership with Big Green Coach is one example of this. The Big Green Coach Company champions carbon neutral coach travel to festivals over cars. All their UK coach services are carbon neutral and they sponsor 5 square feet of Rainforest for every customer who travels with them. Whilst I couldn’t find much evidence to support these claims, coach travel does have less of an impact than the number of cars required to transport the same number of people. In 2022, the Big Green Coach are running coaches to Boardmasters from 33 locations around the UK – with 45-60 people per coach, this means over a thousand fewer journeys each way. If the Big Green Coach are carbon neutral as they claim (and I would recommend that they show evidence of this), I would love to see this transport method become the norm for festival travel.
Encouraging train travel is another way in which Boardmasters attempt to make travelling to the festival more sustainable. Through liaison with GWR, they offer a greater number of train journeys than normal services. According to Trainline, travelling by train produces 1/7th of the emissions of a car journey. Boardmasters state that they recognise the growing popularity of train travel to the festival, I like that they are promoting this more environmental option. Shuttle buses directly from Newquay Station, for instance, highlight their efforts to promote this transport option.
Boardmasters also work with Liftshare, an organisation which matches up people in similar locations so that they can carshare to the festival. People message one another through the Liftshare website and meet to travel down. I like that Boardmasters are promoting Liftshare, although this does still mean that lots of car emissions are released, especially as festival luggage will reduce car space and therefore limit how many people can fit in each car. To improve, Boardmasters should perhaps reduce the number of car park spaces available so that more people choose other transports instead.
The festival also runs ‘Bike to Boardmasters’ to reduce emissions and local traffic congestion. This involves a 55 mile cycle from Plymouth train station to the festival site. The idea is that people can lower their environmental impact whilst taking in the beautiful countryside that the area boasts. Although not perfect impact-wise, through the need to get to the ride’s start point and a van driving alongside the riders, it is much lower than it would otherwise be. This scheme is also a great way to incorporate fun into sustainability – it doesn’t always have to be about restrictions!
For how it’s made, I considered the transport logistics and measures in place for travel once the festival begins.
The festival runs shuttle buses from the festival site to the nearest town, where the train station is and where the festival’s surf competitions are held. Whilst the buses run on non-renewable energy, Boardmasters state that 41,000 journeys are made on the shuttle buses every year. Therefore, whilst not perfect, this is a significant reduction in the necessary number of journeys. Boardmasters could improve this by providing buses that run on more renewable fuels to further reduce the impact of this, however due to a lack of widespread availability of these currently, the option they have is adequate for now.
Furthermore, the festival has a £25 car park re-entry fee, which discourages unnecessary journeys by car during the festival. This pushes guests to instead take the shuttle bus or walk. Boardmasters have said themselves that this has been an extremely effective way of reducing car emissions during the festival, with this meaning that there have been 6,000 fewer cars on the roads per year. Not only is this a really good step to be taking for sustainability, but it also respects the needs of the local community who are already overrun by the 200,000 extra people in their area (almost ten times the local population) during the course of the festival.
In addition to the ways in which guests arrive, Boardmasters also have taken into account their production and infrastructure journeys as part of their sustainability policy. They are reducing the number of HGV movements to and from the site, which are necessary to supply toilets, staging and other parts of the festival’s infrastructure. Boardmasters are reducing this by communicating their goals to their suppliers and other events, for instance Glastonbury and NASS festivals, both of which are also in Southwest England – this liaison means that hired equipment can be transported directly from one festival to another without needing to return it back to a depot, thus limiting the number of necessary journeys. Conveying aims with contractors also means that equipment can be packed as efficiently as possible so that the number of deliveries is limited. Boardmasters is also increasing the number of permanent infrastructures they can keep on the festival site to reuse in future years and further limit the number of journeys required. A current example is their permanent underground water system, which does not interfere with the landscape and can easily be maintained or repurposed for the rest of the year. These measures together have so far meant that Boardmasters have limited production and infrastructure travel by 29 trucks and 58 journeys. I love that Boardmasters have included this aspect in their sustainability policy, as it is not something that is customer-facing or that people might have considered. The fact that they are willing to be transparent about this suggests to me a genuine commitment to making improvements, which I really commend and hope they continue.
As I have stated in previous reviews, Boardmasters festival promotes accountability and transparency in their sustainability and ethics. It is clear that they are attempting to constantly review and improve themselves, and this is consistent in the area of transport and traffic. On their community website is a monitoring of traffic management from previous years with timings of when it has been the busiest and least busy for traffic in and out of the festival. To me, this is completely indicative of Boardmasters’ wider respect for their community and willingness to work out and then act upon pinch points and problems that arise from these. Another feature of their method of working which I really respect is their consistent liaison with charities and environmental organisations (such as the Big Green Coach, for instance). This keeps the festival informed on what they need to consider for making conscious decisions, what the best current options are or if there are any developments. This is a brilliant method of action for Boardmasters, and I am loving that more and more festivals are starting to adopt this kind of approach of working with charities and really listening to the concerns and issues that these groups raise.
Boardmasters also seem to mostly employ British-based music artists – it is unclear whether this is intentional, as it is not something that is recognised within the festival’s sustainability policy, but in terms of travel this is better for the planet as it limits the number of flights or extensive journeys that artists need to take to get to the festival. On every line-up listed on the festival’s history page (going back to 2007), two out of three (if not three out of three) headliners have been UK-based. The long haul flights needed to bring headliners to the UK from the USA and most of the world, or even shorter flights from Europe, all have a significant environmental impact – especially if this is only for a one or two hour performance. Compared to other UK festivals, the fact that Boardmasters have consistently prioritised British headliners is a clever move – Reading and Leeds, for instance, had three US headliners out of four in 2019, and four out of four headliners in 2018. It is tough to strike the balance between choosing who would be the best acts to have overall and sticking only to who would be the most strategic choice on a sustainability front. However, when the UK music scene is as fantastic and varied as it is, I think Boardmasters have managed this well (even if George Ezra is headlining again this year...) (joking George, we love you really).