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The inaugural Music Sustainability Summit in Los Angeles earlier this week was accompanied by record-breaking rainfall — more than half the average seasonal precipitation in just three days. Such extreme weather made conversations centered around human-induced climate change, and the responsibility that music industry stakeholders have to mitigate it, salient all at once.
“It’s not a solo sport,” said one speaker. “We need to get the ecosystem in this room, and that’s what we’re doing.”
(As noted in Billboard, the summit was held under the Chatham House Rule, which advises that anyone who comes to a meeting is able to use information from that meeting, but is not allowed to reveal who made any particular comment. This rule was enacted so that summit attendees could speak freely, allowing for a more impactful event.)
The industry is a multifaceted landscape with a range of players, including, but not limited to, artists, managers, agents, venue owners, production teams, merchandisers, and catering vendors. Over 300 of these individuals attended the summit, from premiere companies like Live Nation Entertainment, ASM Global, Sony Music Group, and Warner Music Group to organizations with more specialized missions, like Support + Feed (founded by Maggie Baird, mother of Billie Eilish and FINNEAS) and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
The hosting Music Sustainability Alliance — which aims to be a central hub for these workers to convene for climate action — created a shared knowledge base to assist this array of workers as they prioritize more eco-conscious decisions. Their resources are also available to general audiences.
An obscure carbon footprint
Public data on the environmental impact of festivals and live events across the globe is slim, and it’s even more scarcely available for the United States. In 2007, a UK report found that emissions from the music industry accounted for a tenth of a percent of the country’s total emissions, with 73 percent coming from live music and 15.6 coming from festivals. While the industry itself may not have the largest sum of emissions, it is still deeply intertwined with leading emitters in the transportation, electric power, and agricultural sectors.
It helps that climate solutions being applied in these areas (more on those later) are transferable to the music industry. Moving forward, they must also be supported by policymakers, applied equitably, and prove to be capable of meeting the existing and growing demands of festivals and other live events.
To fill in the dearth of data, the ESI is partnering with Live Nation, Warner Music Group, and Coldplay to compile a comprehensive assessment of the US and UK markets that delves into the relationship between live music and climate change, identifies key areas where the industry and concert goers can drive planet-positive outcomes, and offers actionable solutions based on the latest developments in green technology and sustainable practices. It is expected to be completed in July 2024.
To be more green
But even without this in-depth evaluation, areas where urgent action is needed are still evident. Fan travel, for instance, accounts for 70 to 90 percent of the live music’s carbon emissions. This could be lowered by offering shuttle systems or holding festivals in areas more accessible by public transit. There is also 23,500 metric tons of waste accumulated by the millions of people who attend festivals in the US each year, which could be minimized by deploying recycling incentives or implementing reusable cups. Right now, only around 8 percent of plastic waste generated at festivals is recycled.
From the artist’s side, planning ahead and nailing down logistics — with regard to factors like freight transport, food, and waste — is imperative. A lack of lead times can cause bad decisions, and consequently, a regretful environmental impact.
Some questions for them and their team to consider include: How is freight being transported? (A bus or an airplane?) What is the source of electric power? (Diesel generators, batteries on site, or the grid?) How much gear is there to transport? (And could it be reduced?) During the show, how much renewable energy is available? And after the show, will the catered food be local? Will it be plant-based? Sustainably packaged? How will leftovers be handled? (Donated or disposed of?) These discussions can be navigated with the aforementioned knowledge base.
Overviews of past climate reports have highlighted the crucial need to decarbonize globally by 7 percent annually to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To get there, people must act collectively and intentionally, something that the Alliance hopes to facilitate through working groups and monthly webinars.
John E. Fernandez, director of the Environmental Solutions Initiative, later supplemented his talk by saying, “Getting to net zero is certainly not a tweak. It’s a paradigm shift across all sociotechnical systems, especially the energy sector.”
The artist’s role is nuanced and requires a thoughtful approach when determining how to communicate their efforts to their fans. They are the most visible embodiment of their brand and their approach to climate, but they are most likely not a climate expert. Even though fans often like hearing artists talk about climate change, there is also a fear of getting canceled, or accused of greenwashing.
Their best bet? Supporting climate actions with authenticity and the backup of science and scientists.
Today, the music industry is moving quickly to adopt a range of climate-positive recommendations, but it is still in its early days. At some point, hopefully soon, meaningful climate actions will become the standard — like LED lights or electric runner vehicles — and it will be easier to make a full transition to low and net-zero live music.
“Artists don’t always have to be the speaker,” said one panelist. “They can shine their light on experts and activists.”
For more on panelists and resources, visit the Music Sustainability Alliance website.