It is no secret that the growing concern for our planet’s wellbeing has centred the environment as a core consideration in how we live and do business – and the music industry is no exception. Though there is still a long way to go, we are beginning to see some positive change as businesses and artists alike adopt more eco-friendly practices and launch sustainability efforts in hopes of creating a greener future. 

In this article, we explore some of the latest environmental initiatives in the music industry, including green touring, incentivized waste collection, and carbon mitigation. 

Green Music Consumption

While the shift from cassettes and CDs to streaming may seem like an improvement for the state of the environment – i.e. fewer non-reusable materials and toxins – it turns out music streaming can be harmful to the earth as well. Streaming requires enormous amounts of energy to power the servers inside data centres across the globe, as does transferring that data over the internet. 

In an effort to mitigate the impact, some digital platforms are partnering with organizations that help them offset their carbon footprint by supporting reforestation projects or investing in renewable energy. One example is Spotify moving from traditional data centres to the carbon-neutral Google Cloud platform, whose mission is to power its data centres with clean energy by 2030. While this is a step in the right direction, it is not yet enough to negate the carbon emissions caused by streaming, and music fans should continue to push for solutions from these big DSPs. 

On another note, we are seeing a modernized production process for vinyl records and packaging, where they are now made of recyclable material and contain lower PVC (polyvinyl chloride) content. 

Green Events & Touring

Many organizations and artists advocating for change and sustainable practices focus on festivals, concerts, and touring, as they are responsible for a significant portion of the music industry’s environmental footprint – reportedly 405,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year (2019).

Some of the less complex initiatives include minimizing printed tickets and event posters, planting trees for every ticket sold, and reducing single-use plastic by providing water refill stations, reusable beverage containers, and biodegradable food packaging. Fairly straightforward solutions, but with notable impact. 

The Water Wagon at Guelph’s Hillside Festival

More challenging issues that the industry is trying to tackle include utilizing renewable energy sources to fuel stages and infrastructure, reducing tour transport energy consumption, offsetting emissions from audience travel, and practicing effective waste management and recycling processes. 

How artists and businesses are bringing change to the live music sector:  

While artists may not have the actual tools or skill set required to implement greener practices, they do have the influence. Musicians such as Billie Eilish, Coldplay, and Drake have started greening their tours by partnering up with organizations like Reverb, which provides resources and helps artists and their teams diminish their environmental impact on tour. 

Billie Eilish teamed up with Reverb for her Happier Than Ever world tour in 2022

Post-tour carbon mitigation is another initiative that has been taken on by acts like Pearl Jam. Since 2003, the band has been meticulously measuring the carbon dioxide output from its tours and then offsetting it by allocating part of their tour profits to environmental programs. 

Other artists, such as BLOND:ISH, have begun using what are known as “green riders” – an eco-friendly take on conventional riders where environmental practices are not only encouraged, but required by artists if they are expected to play at the venue or event in question. This pushes live entertainment businesses to make powerful changes, such as sourcing food sustainably or installing solar panels on their roof. Bye Bye Plastic (co-founded by BLOND:ISH) provides a free “Eco-Rider” for musicians to use for their own performances. The organization has several other tools and programs, including The Climate Gig to fund and buy sustainable fuel for artists’ commercial flights.

Speaking of transportation, some musicians are also making efforts in the way of using electric vehicles or biodiesel tour buses to reduce their energy consumption. Think trains instead of planes. The Netherlands festival ESNS launched the Green Touring Support program, which covers any additional costs incurred by touring artists adopting more eco-friendly options. 

Yet, while artists may assume that their own travel is a big issue, it is often audience travel that is most problematic. The PEI-based Sommo Festival addressed this by offering shuttle services to and from its (remote) location and secure biking stations to promote greener transit. Other festivals, such as Australia’s Splendour in the Grass, offer ticket options that allow attendees to pay a small extra fee to offset their carbon footprint, with funds going towards local green projects. 

Incentivizing the audience to get involved in green initiatives has also proven to pay off. Leeds Festival created a waste collection program where attendees could earn £1 for every 10 cups and bottles they gathered for recycling. In 2017, the festival managed to collect a total of 250,000 plastic cups and bottles thanks to this strategy. 

Splendour in the Grass waste collection stations

For those in the industry who don’t know where to start, there are sustainability experts like A Greener Future who offer consultation, training, and certifications for event organizers, suppliers, venues, and artist teams.  

Green Merch and Packaging

Another area where progress has been made is merchandise and packaging. These days, merch is a lucrative aspect of any artist or band’s business, but unfortunately the manufacturing and shipping processes are harmful to the planet – not to mention the ultimate waste created from non-reusable materials. To counter this, we are now seeing the increased use of 100% organic cotton or recycled fabrics to reduce water and chemical levels used in the production process. To minimize packaging waste, Reverb suggests using 100% recycled boxes and mailers, and to avoid expedited shipping options. 

OCC Apparel’s ethical merch brands 

What’s next?

While most players in the music industry are only at the beginning of their transitions to sustainability, there are a few leading the way and setting examples for the rest. Hillside Festival, based in Guelph, Ontario, committed to becoming eco-friendly over three decades ago and has even won awards for it. Some of their initiatives include a green “Living Roof” atop their main stage, a comprehensive waste collection system (for trash, recycling, and compost), on-site dishwashing for reusable dishes and flatware, a shuttle bus service, free water refill stations, and a solar-powered charging station. In an ideal world, this will become the industry standard in the near future. 

In the meantime, many organizations are working toward specific targets: Live Nation Entertainment aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and eliminate its landfill waste by 2030. Latitude Festival has pledged to decrease diesel consumption and waste by 50% by 2025, with the help of non-profit Julie’s Bicycle

In recognition of the fact that the industry will need to make some major changes to really see long-term advancements, some are turning to innovation. In 2019, UK band Massive Attack commissioned the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research to study the impact of their tours in-depth and create an interdisciplinary roadmap for the live music sector to proactively reduce its emissions (as opposed to using “carbon offset schemes” after the fact). The research group is composed of scientists, economists, engineers, and social scientists whose goal is to facilitate society’s transition to a low carbon future. This means changing the way things are done, from start to finish and across all fronts.  

A similar concept known as a “green audit” involves evaluating an event or organization’s climate impact and identifies ways to become more eco-friendly. The Canadian chapter of Music Declares Emergency offers these audits among other support, however, resources are limited. “There are few people who are trained to do it in Canada right now,” according to coordinator Kim Fry.

A Win-win

Embracing sustainability is not just a moral necessity; it is also a strategic and lucrative decision for businesses. A commitment to environmentally responsible practices resonates with the increasingly conscious music lovers of the world, fosters loyalty and trust, and contrary to popular belief, can also lead to cost savings through improved efficiency, reduced waste, and resource optimization. Artists and organizations can position themselves as industry leaders, all while making a positive impact on their bottom line and the planet. Educating fans and influencing them to make conscious choices is also crucial. And when it comes to the future of our environment, every effort counts. 

Parisian festival WE LOVE GREEN’s Think Tank activation to raise awareness

Written by Andria Piperni

Illustration by Holly Li