As the world starts to slowly reopen after nearly two brutal years of being in the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing people are very excited to revisit is live music. Attending concerts is deep in the hearts of most musicians and fans, so the return to live music is an opportunity many would not want to miss. With all that comes back with live music, there is a recurring issue at hand that some musicians have been addressing: the negative environmental impact.
Touring and the Environment
The live music industry is notorious for being harmful to the environment. Whether it is the venue itself, traveling, plastic waste, or other facets of a tour, the carbon footprint is large enough for it to be an ongoing issue that musicians should address for a better future in touring.
While this pie chart[i] is from 2019, the percentages should be roughly the same because over the last two years, due to the pandemic, it was not possible to configure a new carbon footprint chart since touring came to a halt. A third of the carbon footprint comes from audience travel, including automobile travel, pollution from idling cars, and taking trains or flying to different cities to see their favorite artists. Another third of the footprint comes from venue-related pollutants — these may include fireworks or similar pyrotechnics (which have a high carbon footprint)or something smaller yet impactful like the requirement of paper tickets instead of relying solely on e-ticketing platforms.[ii]
How Coldplay Plans to Be Sustainable
Back in 2019, Coldplay made a public statement that they would pause their touring to find ways to be more environmentally conscious and sustainable. Frontman Chris Martin told BBC News in November of 2019 that until their shows could be more sustainable, the band would not tour again.
Two years have passed since that initial statement, and back in October 2021, Coldplay announced that their next tour for their album Music of the Spheres would be more sustainable. According to an article released by BBC News, “Coldplay’s next tour will partly be powered by a dancefloor that generates electricity when fans jump up and down and pedal power at the venues.[iii]”
There is a separate page on the band’s website with a detailed overview of their sustainability plan for their Music of the Spheres tour.
“We pledge to make our upcoming Music of the Spheres Tour as sustainable and low-carbon as possible, guided by three fundamental principles[iv]:
- Reduce: Reduce our consumption, recycle extensively, and cut our CO2 emissions by 50%
- Reinvent: Support new green technologies and develop new sustainable, super-low carbon touring methods
- Restore: Make the tour as environmentally beneficial as possible by funding a portfolio of nature- and technology-based projects and by drawing down significantly more CO2 than the tour produces.”
This statement is only a small part of a 12-point plan the band has created to show how they plan on making an impact with their music while also cutting their carbon footprint.
The 12-Point Plan
The band’s 12-point sustainability initiatives plan features information on the following categories:
- CO2 Emissions
- Stage Show
- Good Causes
Coldplay’s waste handling at their shows will be through the venues they rent while on the road. One of the main goals is to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles from being sold and replace them with reusable alternatives like an aluminum cup. The materials will also be recyclable so they can prevent garbage waste. To prevent food waste, the band outlined in their sustainability plan that they will partner with local food banks to donate any leftover food instead of throwing it away. This food will also be sourced from local suppliers around the area of their shows or farms practicing regenerative agriculture. These efforts will help lower the carbon footprint their tour provides because food production, transportation, and waste are significant contributors to climate change, enough for it to make up as much as 20% of a person’s carbon footprint.
Sustainability Efforts from Other Musicians
As for how this impacts the music industry, Coldplay is not the first group to plan more eco-friendly tours. Many musicians have been taking sustainable action over the most recent years. The Dave Matthews Band, for instance, has been using buses that run on biodiesel fuel while touring since 2006. This initiative was part of their Bama Green Project, dedicated to educating fans about being more environmentally conscious while simultaneously being sustainable as a band.
Biodiesel fuel vehicles have also been used by Radiohead since 2008 when they went on a carbon-neutral tour. The band also used ships to send their gear instead of relying on air freight, cutting down on carbon emissions produced by airplanes. Instead of plastic cups, Radiohead has been using reusable water flasks, and they have been heavily encouraging their fans to travel to shows through public transportation.[v]
A slightly different approach to alternative fuel efforts comes from Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young. In 2004, he went on tour using vehicles that ran on fuel partially made of soybeans[vi] and vegetable oil. While this may seem odd, the biodiesel industry was created by soybean farmers who could use their leftover oil for productive use. Biodiesel fuels produced entirely from biomass offer higher reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, from 63% to 93% less than heavy fuel oil. When blended with traditional diesel, soybean-powered biodiesel fuel can reduce harmful pollutants like carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
Guster and REVERB
Adam Gardner, a member of the band Guster, created a musician-led organization called REVERB. He and his wife have been using this organization to partner with musicians, venues, and festivals to offset the carbon footprints of live music events, touching on areas including travel for fans and crews, accommodations, merchandise, and how venues use energy. According to Garner, REVERB has been able to eliminate the use of over four million single-use plastic water bottles by encouraging fans to use reusable ones.[vii] They have also implemented paper straws instead of plastic straws at different performance venues.
Hand-sorting waste is also prevalent through this organization. The goal of this incentive is to use as many recyclable materials as possible. REVERB’s hand-sorting has saved 14,000 kg of carbon dioxide, equivalent to emissions from 11 cars for an entire year[viii]. Using this sorting method instead of disposing of everything as waste is crucial for events like festivals because of how much waste they produce. For instance, Coachella’s 2017 festival generated 107 tons of waste per day, equaling 428 tons for both weekends. Only 20% of this was recyclable material.
Implications of a Sustainable Tour
Undertaking a sustainable tour is easier said than done, especially regarding how it benefits the musicians behind these tours. One way an artist can help through sustainability is through merchandise. The 1975 repurposed their merchandise in 2019 when they performed at a festival in London. Fans brought their old T-shirts to the festival and had them screen-printed with new branding at no cost. While this method works for more prominent bands, it may be more challenging to achieve for smaller, more independent artists who rely on merchandise profits that they would receive from two different T-shirts rather than one shirt with two prints.
Merchandise at Coldplay’s shows will be ethically sourced; the material is used with more natural alternatives. In their outline, the band stated that they plan on using materials like organic cotton instead of plastics and polyesters. Recyclable paper and compostable bags will replace plastic packaging. Any upcycled merchandise will be available at other venues and for online purchasing.
Indie artists who do not have much money to spend on more environmentally sustainable options can still impact by connecting with their fans. Using their platforms through social media and performances can encourage fans to be sustainable by traveling through public transportation or carpooling.
Conclusion – What This Means for the Music Industry
Coldplay created an aspirational blueprint for being more sustainable for the environment while making a difference through music. While they are not the first group to make efforts to be more sustainable in their touring efforts, Coldplay’s detailed plan is one of many that can help create a more significant change in the music industry. The band’s specificity in their plan can become a guideline for other artists who wish to be sustainable since they can benefit from finding ways to reduce waste, reproduce their merchandise, and overall lower their carbon emissions.
[i] Foster, Laura. 2019. “Climate change: Plan to Cut Carbon Emissions from Concerts.” BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-50562183.
[ii] Kamran, Mehul. 2020. “The (Un)Sustainable Side of the Music Industry.” Medium. https://medium.com/climate-conscious/the-un-sustainable-side-of-the-music-industry-45bf3e8654d2. Last accessed on 29 November, 2021
[iii] “Coldplay: Band Ready for Backlash Over Eco-Friendly World Tour,” BBC News, last modified October 14, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-58898766.
[iv] Coldplay, “Sustainability Initiatives,” Coldplay, last modified October 2021, https://sustainability.coldplay.com/.
[v] McDonagh, Shannon. 2021. “From Billie Eilish to Coldplay: Here’s How Musicians Are Confronting the Climate Crisis.” Euronews. https://www.euronews.com/green/2021/05/26/from-billie-eilish-to-coldplay-here-s-how-musicians-are-confronting-the-climate-crisis. Last accessed on 29 November, 2021
[vi] Calvo, Dana. 2005. “Biodiesel, Made from Soybeans, Is Catching On.” Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2005-jun-12-fi-biodiesel12-story.html.
[vii] Locker, Melissa, 2021. “Music Festivals Are Ushering in an Era of Environmentalism.” Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/environmental-music-festivals-1227689/.
[viii] REVERB. 2022. “Our Impact • REVERB.” REVERB. https://reverb.org/about/our-impact/.