The Greening of the Music Industry

Escalating greenhouse gases and worrisome climate changes are causing more people and businesses from around the world to address old and shortsighted practices that are environmentally wasteful. For the music business, the focus is on superfluous carbon emissions and staggering energy uses, especially in artist touring, audience travel, venue management, and recorded music sales.

In fact, many major artists have been called into question for their extravagance. Madonna’s Sticky and Sweet world tour, for instance, began in August 2008. Madonna flew a team of two hundred and fifty people to thirty-seven venues in less than four months to play forty-five dates. Environmental consultant John Buckley, of Carbon Footprint, calculated that the energy used was equivalent to illuminating a one hundred watt bulb for approximately four hundred years. U2’s 2009 tour was even worse. Helen Roberts, also with Carbon Footprint, could say that “the carbon footprint generated by U2’s forty-four concerts this year [was] equal to [the carbon the band would have created] if it had travelled the thirty four million miles from Earth to Mars in a passenger plane.” The amount of energy used in tours appears to be staggering.

An artist that has taken the initiative to reduce her environmental impact (while seeking to influence others) is Bonnie Raitt. Raitt has been a social activist since the 1970s, always supporting environmental protection. In 2002, Raitt and her manager, Kathy Kane, launched Green Highway–a traveling ecological display designed to educate fans about alternative energy and connect them with environmental issues. This green touring model incorporated the use of biodiesel fuel and carbon offsets and gave rise to the nonprofit organization called Reverb.

Reverb is based in Portland, Maine, and was founded in 2004 by Adam Gardner of the band Guster and his environmentalist wife, Lauren Sullivan. Gardner had grown tired of the negative environmental impact of his own tours[1]. Sullivan contacted Raitt, and Reverb was born with the mission of providing “greening” and educational services for touring, while also engaging and encouraging ecological activism among music fans. The company is now responsible for greening over 80 tours for artists such as Barenaked Ladies, Jack Johnson, Avril Lavigne, Brandi Carlile, John Legend, The Dave Matthews Band, and The Roots.

An important component of greening a tour is coordinating lower emission travel. When Reverb services a tour they can arrange fleets of biodiesel busses and trucks. An EPA study in February 2010 concluded, for example, that using soy oil fuel reduces greenhouse gases by 57% compared to fossil fuels. Additionally, Reverb collaborates with Pickup Pal so that fans can carpool to and from the concert, cutting down significantly on traffic and therefore emissions. Presently, Pickup Pal claims that they have prevented 0.017 metric tones of CO2 potential.

While greening tours does reduce the carbon footprint, it does not eliminate the release of harmful fumes into our atmosphere. A study was conducted in 2007 to assess the amount of greenhouse gases emitted annually by the music industry in the UK[2]. The study showed 46% of these dangerous gases were due to (i) audience travel, and (ii) artist-tour buses and trucks–for a total of 250K metric tons of CO2 emissions each year. Moreover, the same study showed that another 27%, approximately 150K tones of C02, were due to the energy consumed at the venue, including the use of generators.

Recorded music, of course, squanders precious resources, from start to finish. The same UK study claims that approximately 138K tons of CO2 emissions are manufactured by the recorded music industry alone. New manufacturers, such as Earthology Records from Minnesota, are beginning to use 100% recycled/salvaged plastic jewel cases and vegetable inks. In contrast, most companies today produce CDs and DVDs from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), a very toxic petrochemical that releases harmful fumes into the atmosphere (in Britain, just packaging and leaflets create 53K tons of CO2 emissions every year). Utilizing soy-based inks for booklet printing, as opposed to the petroleum-based inks that most companies currently use, is also helping. Earthology Records has helped record as well albums in its innovative and eco-conscious studio. It was built with recycled materials and uses wind as the primary source of electricity. In addition to Earthology using renewable energy for recording, Jack Johnson’s latest album was recorded at his own recording studio, Mango Tree Studio, using solar powered energy.

The future of our planet may well lie in the choices that we make regarding energy consumption, and these are but just some examples. Naturally, the way we make and consume music needs to be carefully considered in order to move towards a carbon free future. It is reassuring that a handful of artists and music companies are taking meaningful steps to lessen their carbon footprint. Whether more players in the music business are ready to adapt remains to be seen. To reduce our CO2 emissions substantially may require more than a few good artists taking the lead. Even so, musicians need to realize that they may have an important voice in an ongoing debate about the future health of our planet.

By Minden Jones



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