Noise pollution: reducing the environmental impact of live music24 November 2020
In 2019, there were over 200 concert tours worldwide, from Charli XCX’s Charli Live Tour to Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep World Tour. Each of these tours represents dozens of crew members, trucks, buses, catering spreads and hotel rooms, across every continent, playing to millions of fans. The environmental impact of concert touring is huge.
In the UK, live music generates 405,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Emma Banks, the co-founder of one of the world’s biggest music tour agents, says tours can have up to 60 trucks moving equipment all over the world. It is also well-known that many use private jets to keep up with their jam-packed schedules, which burn 40 times as much carbon per passenger as regular commercial flights. Whilst acknowledging that “change will be gradual” in the live music industry, Banks implores artists to know that “every little [change] helps”. So what are touring artists doing to make a difference?
In late November last year, Coldplay announced to BBC news that they have put their plans to tour on hold to work out how it can be “not only sustainable [but] how it can be actively beneficial”. Lead singer Chris Martin is determined to have a “positive impact”, with dreams to have no single-use plastic on tour and largely solar-powered shows. Martin has expressed that he and his bandmates “would be disappointed if it’s not carbon neutral”.
Coldplay is not the only band to take responsibility for their tour emissions. According to Green Touring, a German organisation that aims to improve the environmental performance of live music, 34% of a tour’s carbon footprint relates to venue choice and 33% relates to audience travel. Acknowledging this, in 2014 Hawaiian soft-rock singer-songwriter Jack Johnson had the goal of a trash-free tour—using only recycled materials and biodegradable products. Most impressively, a “Jack Johnson Ride Sharing” program was created, encouraging concertgoers to carpool, organise buses, or to travel to the shows by bicycle. These unique initiatives reduce the environmental impact of shows, whilst maintaining performance quality and delivering the same joyful experience to the audience.
Another company determined to tackle this climate problem is REVERB, a non-profit founded in 2004 by environmentalist Lauren Sullivan and her musician husband, Adam Gardner. Empowering musicians, festivals and venues to green their concert events, REVERB engages fans face-to-face at shows to take environmental and social action. REVERB has partnered with artists such as Harry Styles, Shawn Mendes, P!nk and Fleetwood Mac to create programs that minimise environmental impact. Their results are astounding. During Shawn Mendes’ tours, 20,000+ fans individually pledged to take action against climate change through the “action villages” implemented at venues, and in P!nk’s Beautiful Trauma Tour, 14,000 single-use plastic water bottles were eliminated and 3,995 gallons of waste diverted from landfills.
Another significant emissions-generating aspect of touring is merchandise production. Ambitious pop-rock band The 1975 have stopped making new merchandise, instead printing fresh logos relating to their upcoming fourth album upon some of their oldest t-shirts. Frontman Matty Healy has shared videos on Instagram of the new array of t-shirts, with neon yellow “Notes on a Conditional Form” logos covering 2013 tour dates.
This isn’t the first time that The 1975 has prioritised the environment—they have previously announced that £1 from every ticket sold for their tour will go towards One Tree Planted, a non-profit organisation that plants trees all over the world. The English band has also collaborated with young activist Greta Thunberg, incorporating a speech by Thunberg into the opening track of their latest album. As requested by Thunberg, proceeds from the song—which was released in July—will be donated to Extinction Rebellion.
It isn’t just big artists on international tours who are turning their gigs green—since 2010, Melbourne’s own hardcore metal band, Outright, has been contributing to environmental and animal rights causes, such as running vegan bake sales and donating funds for Edgar’s Mission Animal Sanctuary. Even the Veronicas have engaged in environmental activism, acting as spokespeople for Steve Irwin’s Wildlife Warriors Worldwide and posing for PETA campaigns. Dozens of other Australian bands increasingly feature pro-environment messages within their songs, such as Kisschasy’s ‘Factory’ and The Vines’ album Wicked Nature. These artists speak passionately about their own environmental lifestyles, such as going vegan or opting out of driving a car, using their influence to make a positive impact.
Australia’s music scene is evolving rapidly to keep up with the increasing environmental consciousness of fans, artists and venues as well. The Zoo Twilights shows held at the Melbourne Zoo each year, with a dozen sold-out crowds, raise money for critically endangered animals such as the Mountain Pygmy-possum. Dance music festival Strawberry Fields Festival expands their commitment to sustainability annually, most recently banning disposables at all food vendors and including a giant dishwashing station, with all utensils and crockery made from recycled rice husks. Environmental initiatives across the industry are unique and empowering, allowing everyone to enjoy their tunes guilt-free.