Author: Rosalie Ernst
Photo Credit: Yvette de Wit, Unsplash
Slowly but surely, we’re headed back into a quarter of concerts and festivals. Tour announcements for 2022 are piling up, flickering in the feeds that have been dominated for so long by images within one’s own four walls, and the longing for dancing in the midst of sweaty people will probably be satisfied in the foreseeable future. In addition to hygiene concepts, more and more bands and artists are now also focusing on the issue of sustainability.
The Fridays For Future movement has not been quiet in the last two years of the pandemic, has not lost its momentum and, above all, has been able to win over numerous artists for its purpose through constant protests. Now it’s a question of following up activism with action. But what can the music industry itself do? What does sustainability mean in the event industry and to what extent are the shows themselves influenced by it?
Coldplay’s Green Touring Concept
Coldplay’s Music Of The Spheres 2022 tour is still the talk of the town. You don’t have to be a fan to acknowledge that the pop band who effortlessly fills stadiums all over the world is having a big effect with its transparent and extensive concept of a sustainable tour.
For one thing, Coldplay is relying on renewable energies for their tour. By only choosing to play at venues investing in sustainable energy concepts Coldplay is underlining the necessity for an infrastructural change on the side of big arenas. But instead of simply pushing all responsibility to the locations, Coldplay is investing in new energy-generating methods such as kinetic floors. These will convert the crowd’s dance steps into energy, and those who want to be particularly sporty can also boost the electric circuit during the concert with a spinning workout.
This system doesn’t really generate a lot of electricity and definitely wouldn’t be able to run a whole light show, and yet it is above all a invigorating and positive context with which Coldplay can spread a playful awareness among their broad mass of fans and among the event industry. Electricity through dancing sounds like fun, and the band is showing a lot of effort to make changes on many different levels.
These are mostly engaging methods to reduce the carbon footprint of touring but a real ecological neutrality not to say a positive outcome is still not the case. Two years ago the band pledged to not tour again until they will be able to cut their carbon footprint. And there is still room for improvement and some of the methods as said kinetic floor are more than a real effective way to an environmentally friendly event industry.
Even though frontman Chris Martin wished for a ‘Carbon neutral tour’ first in 2019 they still decided to go on a worldwide tour. In the end one of the biggest methods they use to reach carbon neutrality is planting a new tree for each ticket sold. Moreover, a lot of the festivals claiming to be environmentally friendly are simply investing in reforesting, which is not helping the industry at all.
Coldplay‘s 12-Point-Plan makes it perfectly clear that compensation is not enough and there has to be an interest for investing into new technologies to solve the issues the event industry is facing.
Next to the topic of energy there are the different levels of consumption covered. The band’s merchandise for instance will be eco certified. Especially regarding fashion, a lot of bands have already come up with new concepts. The British Pop-Band The 1975 has used their old shirts from previous tours and simply printed over the outdated designs.
Also the topic of beverages is covered in Coldplay‘s agenda: They will also avoid single use plastic cups and change their security policy so fans will be able to bring their own cups and bottles to the venue and fill up on water at no cost.
Billie Eilish planned a similar concept for her 2020 arena tour. To avoid single-use plastic, she also set up recycling stations. However, special attention was paid to the planning of Eco-Villages, where the fans of the world star were educated about climate change in general and got access to information and everyday tips.
The Organisation Julie’s Bicycle, a network mobilising the arts and culture to act on the climate and ecological crisis by working together with universities and European institutes, came up with a bigger report calculating the carbon footprint of the UK music market in 2008. Working together with the Environmental Change Institute of Oxford University, the report shows that next to the packaging of analog music mediums and the energy use of concert venues, one of the biggest influences on the overall carbon footprint is the audience travel.
Making up 43% of the music industry’s carbon footprint, the way people travel is having a major impact, so that the educational methods applied by Eilish’s Green Village can already change a lot. Offers such as included public transport tickets or varying discounts depending on the journey (by plane, car, public transport or bicycle), as Coldplay are considering, can already have a positive impact in the trial and error of transformation.
Even though none of these positive examples have led to a completely climate neutral tour, progress has been made even during the pandemic. Especially seeing such big and not at least powerful bands and artists covering the topic and reaching out, this can lead to a serious change of the event industry. At the end of the day, the implementation of climate requirements into their own shows is only one point, while sustainable and informative activism is still one of the most powerful instruments in the relentless fight against climate change.
Also the Coldplay-Tour is submitting to this as they are gathering more data and sharing those with climate change experts at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute who will analyse the taken measurements and share their positive and negative findings publicly.
Networks and Activism for a change from Top to Bottom
Such an approach is also followed by the organisation Music Declares Emergency from Great Britain. Together they are taking a stand against politics on a grand scale and initiating changes in law and regulations. Under the heretical slogan “No Music on a Dead Planet”, the organisation unites artists, fans and people from the cultural sector and has already developed other branches in the EU.
Through MDE, it is easy for everyone to sign their agenda and participate in email campaigns. Also there are educational events bringing together the poster stars of the campaign with experts varying from environmental researchers to event managers.
This impact is by no means to be underestimated. It is only through the constant visibility of the issue that the topic of climate justice remains present and the event industry is put under pressure. While Billie Eilish and co. can insist on their own principles, small artists rarely have the means to push for ecological electricity or a plastic ban and are truly dependent on the given infrastructure and standards the local culture offers them.
The Green Touring Network advises musicians to nevertheless consider simple things, such as changing their catering to local products, in their tours. At the same time, however, director of the green touring Fine Stammnitz emphasizes in an interview that a structural change is the key: “There are measures that are easy to implement and even save money. But for some goals, bands have to actively forego something that could bring them economic success. I would never make an individual accusation if musicians in the current infrastructure do not tour completely climate-neutrally. It is primarily a structural problem. But we want to question the structures.”
In her work, she uses particularly quick and simple methods to effectively support even the small artists and her network helps to communicate those issues to clubs and bookers. Whether it’s rethinking how to travel as a band, how to package their products or paying attention to production methods when it comes to their own merchandise.
The Green Touring Network as well as Julie’s Bicycle have created a comprehensive guide that shows one thing above all: climate change does not stop at the cultural world! Just because many musicians educate about the topic or festivals try to come across as woke and close to nature a la Woodstock, doesn’t mean that the scope for action has been exhausted.
Neither artists, organizers nor visitors are exempt from responsibility and should question the world of concerts. It is important that artists’ own actions and attitude go hand in hand with the audience and are well communicated and shared. Because in the end, the information on the matter of climate change will help fans as well as colleagues to take a closer look at the next festival, question self declared “climate neutrality” (often only reached through paying a compensation fee instead of actually reducing emission) and even learn to ask for more efficient methods.
Because sometimes a simple demand is enough to make lasting changes – regardless of whether it comes from Coldplay or a Coldplay fan.
About the Author
Rosalie Ernst is a freelance journalist currently working for Kaput Magazine, Missy Mag, Applause Magazine and Diffus Magazine. She notably wrote a feature series for the former, named “Unfuck the EU”, where she met with European artists trying to speak up and turn the ship around at a moment where European values seem to be at their lowest.
Rosalie Ernst is one of the Faces of We are Europe for 2021.