From bush fires in Australia to increased flooding in Britain, the effects of climate change have become ever more apparent in 2019. Consequently, it is unsurprising that governments and sectors of industry such as the music industry are trying to find ways to combat it. The music industry’s involvement in the struggle against climate change is particularly relevant, as the latest information suggests that it contributes close to 405,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. An alarming figure.
In the year of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, it is encouraging to see established acts such as Massive Attack and Coldplay looking at ways to reduce their contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Massive Attack have announced that they will be working with scientists from the University of Manchester to see how they can tour in a more environmentally friendly manner, and Coldplay have announced that they are limiting the number of shows that they are performing on their current album cycle.
Coldplay announced that they were to perform only three shows to promote their newest album. A one-off show at the London History Museum on November 25th, and then two shows in Jordan, one in the morning and one at night to ‘reflect the two sides of their new album.’ Their reason for doing this was simple. As singer Chris Martin explained, until they could find a way to make touring as environmentally friendly as possible, they wouldn’t put on a show. Martin mentioned that the band were looking at trying to have no plastic whatsoever at their shows and potentially having their shows become largely solar powered.
Their announcement was met positively by many environmental commentators such as the WWF, with Coldplay being praised for ‘stepping up and putting their money where their mouth is.’ A fitting statement considering the big paydays that the band are giving up by not touring, especially when it is considered that their last tour in 2017 brought in £523 million.
So, whilst Coldplay are putting off touring until they can do it efficiently and Massive Attack are working with scientists, what methods have other musicians tried and what more could be done?
On their Joshua Tree Tour in 2017, U2 introduced several ‘new’ innovations. These included using compostable merchandise bags which decompose and contribute to a healthy environmental process, which was a very sensible idea given how much merchandise is sold at shows. Then there was the creation and maintenance of reusable water bottles which were given to members of the road crew.
The road crew were then encouraged to fill up these water bottles at filling stations set up across the backstage area, the stations were set up with a monitoring system which then allowed the management to calculate how many plastic water bottles had been saved. Refillable water bottles and stations were also set up for concert goers, alongside the setting up of ride share services. Alongside the use of hydrogen fuel cells in some markets for the stage set up.
U2’s methods seemed to follow the guidelines set out by Julie’s Bicycle, which recommend that musicians and their management focus on four key areas: planning, action, measurement and finance. Within these areas the main points include, measuring just how much GHG the show and the venue produces and releasing it out into the public for discussion, using the measurements for future show planning to then use the appropriate equipment that can reduce GHG emissions, and finally calculate the damage done by the tour by pricing it and measuring the price against current touring costs. All sensible suggestions.
However, whilst the suggestions by Julie’s Bicycle and the actions taken by bands such as U2 and Coldplay are noble, it should be remembered that not everyone can afford to take such action. With music sales constantly on the decline, many bands now rely on live shows and the associated merchandise sales to even come close to making a decent living. Meaning that whilst many bands have acknowledged the climate emergency, many are simply unable to do much to meaningfully contribute to relief efforts.
Additionally, for musicians playing clubs, unlike bigger bands, they do not control the systems being used, nor can they truly demand changes be made. Thus, leaving it to the managers of the venues they perform in to be environmentally conscious, which is a big ask, given the associated costs.
Ultimately, that bands such as U2 and Coldplay are taking steps to reduce their GHG emissions is a positive step for the music industry. Should they succeed, one can be sure that more in the industry will follow suit and this includes promoters and venue managers. After all, nobody wants to be the odd one out.