Eighty thousand people descend on seven hundred acres of farmland in Manchester, Tennessee, each June for the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Bonnaroo has made sustainability a high priority. Reusable cups and bottles, compostable cutlery, and recycling at last year’s festival diverted an amazing 366 tons of material from landfills. And most of the festival’s food is sourced locally.

Bonnaroo refill revolution graphic

Laura Sohn is Bonnaroo’s director of sustainability. She sees herself as a teacher to festival-goers, but she’s also their student too.

Sohn: “As our patrons have become more and more educated on the issues, we’ve started taking cues from them as well.”

When a growing number of festival fans asked Bonnaroo to ramp up its use of renewable energy, organizers installed a permanent solar array that supplies enough energy to meet a fifth of the festival’s electricity needs. Vendors that offset their carbon emissions or use at least sixty percent local or organic products are awarded a special sustainability certificate – earning these vendors more business from thousands of eco-minded festival-goers.

Sohn says being an example is important, but she thinks Bonnaroo’s largest impact comes from its ability to engage its fans to become more personally involved in climate change.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Bonnaroo website.

More Resources
Bonnaroo Annual Report to the Fans
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival: Sustainability

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Diana Madson

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...