CO2 Emissions in the Music Industry

Currently, environmental issues concerning greenhouse gases and CO2 emissions have become increasingly significant. In the summer of 2009, the Major Economic Forum addressed these matters proposing that, by 2050, CO2 emissions should be reduced by at least 50% from what they were in 1990.   Regardless of whether or not that bold idea is feasible, it is important to become aware of one’s own carbon footprint, and the music industry is certainly no exception. Distribution, live music, and transportation in the business contribute to energy consumption and the production of greenhouse gases.

For example, a study entitled The Energy and Climate Change Impacts of Different Music Delivery Methods prepared in August 2009 by professors Christopher L. Weber, Jonathan G. Koomey, and H. Scott Matthews for Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. to evaluate energy and CO2 output in the distribution of music in physical versus digital form. Its executive summary says:

“We find that despite the increased energy and emissions associated with Internet data flows, purchasing music digitally reduces the energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with delivering music to customers by between 40 and 80% from the best-case physical CD delivery, depending on whether a customer then burns the files to CD or not. This reduction is due to the elimination of CDs, CD packaging, and the physical delivery of CDs to the household. Based on our assumptions, online delivery is clearly superior from an energy and CO2 perspective when compared to traditional CD distribution”; p.3
Prior to the digital distribution model, a long, complicated process of physical delivery was used to bring music to the hands of consumers. The CD itself, the recording process, and the packaging (leaflet, jewel case, shrink-wrap), all produced energy consumption and waste. Furthermore, shipping the product from the warehouses, to the retailer, and finally to the consumer also contributed to an estimated per album CO2 emission of 3200g of CO2.

For the consumers that absolutely must get their hands on a physical copy of their favorite band’s latest album, CDs can be ordered and delivered directly to the buyer’s home. Transportation accounts for 50% of the greenhouse gases emitted. By cutting out customer transportation to the retail outlet, CO2 emissions are greatly decreased. In this scenario, removing the retailer from the physical distribution equation produces 1/3 less greenhouse gases.

Clearly, digital media offers the simplest, most direct means of distribution, thereby conserving the most energy in the process. The music is still produced in studios, but afterwards, it is transferred to digital format and stored in an electronic data hub until being purchased and downloaded by the consumer. In this scenario, only 400g of CO2 per album are produced, compared with the latter example’s 3200g. Carbon emissions are aggravated, however, if the consumer decides to burn their digital downloads to CDs, and even further, if that CD is stored in a purchased jewel case. Overall, digital music delivery can make a significant difference in reducing greenhouse gases.


Environmental activist group, Julie’s Bicycle, commissioned the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University to conduct a study that would evaluate the greenhouse gases emitted by the UK music industry. In their findings, they report:

“We estimate the greenhouse gas emissions of the sale of music products and live music performances to UK consumers at least 540 000 t CO2e per annum. Approximately three-quarters of the industry’s GHG emissions are attributable to the live music performance sector and approximately one-quarter to the music recording and publishing sector. The major GHG producing activities are audience travel (43%), live venue music events (23%), and music recording and publishing (26%), with smaller contributions from music festivals (5% excluding audience travel) and music organizations (1%).”


The UK operates over 2000 live music venues and over 500 annual festivals. Considering the 540,000 tons of CO2 emitted by the entire UK music industry per year, live performance venues and festivals alone cause at least 400,000 tons of annual CO2 emissions, not to mention the amount of energy consumed. 175,000 of the 400,000 tons of annual CO2 emissions are derived from audience transportation to the shows.


Moreover, the use of diesel generators, trucking, and tour busses all increase these CO2 emissions. Keep in mind, these statistics only reference the UK, and do not factor the additional emissions of all other countries.
These findings led to the creation of a comprehensive guide on building a sustainable and responsible music industry, called the Green Music Guide. Julie’s Bicycle carries the mission of reducing the UK music industry’s carbon emissions by 60% from 2008 to 2025. They enforce recommendations regarding how offices, venues, studios, festivals, touring, transportation, distribution, and merchandise can reduce their carbon footprint. Their four major guidelines are: 1) assess how much greenhouse gas your business produces each year, 2) reduce energy consumption in buildings, 3) influence your business’s supply chain to decrease their emissions, and 4) support electric suppliers who output low carbon emissions.


From the touring side, these recommendations include keeping the lighting turned off when the rig or performing hall is not being used. Also, turning off the exterior lights can help save CO2 emissions while saving money for the venue. Creating different heating and cooling zones is free and it is estimated to see savings within six months. If every venue implemented these recommendations, it would prevent nearly 10,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. At festivals, generators can be powered by vegetable oil or a sustainably sourced bio-diesel. Staff and audience can get involved in being “green.” Lastly, offering incentives for carpoolers – easy in and easy out parking – would encourage and educate the audience. Also, discounted ticket prices can be offered to audience members who ride their bikes or use public transportation. Artists can create links on their website to help plan the trip and carpooling options. The options for musicians to help the environment are limitless.


Upon examining these studies, the facts on distribution, live music, and transportation further suggest that the current way of doing business in the music industry is not sustainable. There is definitely a Green movement occurring, but it does not seem to be happening swiftly enough, especially in the US as compared to the UK. Musicians have the ability to touch their fans deeply with their music, as well as influence the behavior of the fans. It is crucial that we act with the visions and actions of sustainability and responsibility.

By Minden Jones

Christopher L. Weber†, Jonathan G. Koomey*, and H. Scott Matthews; “The Energy And Climate Change Impacts Of Different Music Delivery Methods”, Final report to Microsoft Corporation and Intel Corporation, available online at adsrelease.pdf

“About JB.” Julie’s Bicycle. Web. 14 Aug. 2010. .

“Carbon Soundings: Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the UK Music Industry.” IOPscience::.. Welcome! Web. 14 Aug. 2010. .

Http://, Dynamic Drive:. “CDs vs. Music Downloads: Carbon Footprint Compared · Environmental Leader · Green Business, Sustainable Business, and Green Strategy News for Corporate Sustainability Executives.” Environmental Leader · Green Business, Sustainable Business, and Green Strategy News for Corporate Sustainability Executives. Web. 14 Aug. 2010. .

“Green Music Guide.” Julie’s Bicycle. Web. 14 Aug. 2010. .



2 Replies to “CO2 Emissions in the Music Industry”

  1. Very good article. I definitely love this site. Keep writing!

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