The Greening of Rock 'n' Roll
by: Althea Legaspi 5 December 2006
Rock 'n' roll is paved with artists' calls to action, from penning war protest songs to rocking to abolish world hunger. More recently, there's a growing cry to save the environment, and it's one that groups hope will be heard loud and clear, with many bands and the music industry turning a "green" eye to the way they do business.
From iconic rockers Pearl Jam, who donated $100,000 in June to various environmental causes, to British indie darlings Gomez, which "greened" its tour in October by purchasing "clean energy" offsets, recycling and making other environmentally friendly changes, artists of all levels are working to reduce the environmental "footprint" caused by daily business such as touring, packaging and producing albums.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Councila non-profit organization whose mission is to protect the environment through law, science and activism, the primary greenhouse gas (which causes global warming) is carbon dioxide; electric power plants and motor vehicles account for two-thirds of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. There are no definitive statistics mapping how much CO2 the music industry emits at large, but Native Energy, a majority Native American-owned company that funds future renewable energy projects through selling offsets, has measured the amount an average shed tour produces. In a nutshell, renewable energy offsets are environmentally friendly energy sources, which "offset" negative ones. For example, when "green" or renewable energy (which does not create CO2) is fed to the electrical grid, overall CO2 emissions from fossil fuel are reduced or "offset" by that amount.
"For a decent-size, 40-show shed tour -- four or five trucks and two or three buses -- total carbon footprint is in the ballpark of 500 tons," says Native Energy's Brian Allenby. That number is culled from 250 tons of venue energy use, 200 tons from travel (buses and trucks) and 50 tons from accommodations.
"That's the equivalent of the emissions from approximately 83 cars driving for one year, heating 125 average homes for one year or the electricity used by 62 average homes for one year."
To offset emissions from tours, bands such as Dave Matthews Band (which is offsetting all the CO2 caused from touring since its inception), Guster and Barenaked Ladies purchase Native Energy offsets, which are retired when used to fund a new renewable energy project, such as wind energy and farm methane projects.
Though many artists are employing ways to green tours, Radiohead's Thom Yorke recently told The Guardian, "I would consider refusing to tour on environmental grounds, if nothing started happening to change the way the touring operates." The band does not buy offsets, according to the Guardian, "because they are not convinced of the environmental benefits of such schemes, which claim to make activities carbon-neutral by planting trees or investing in renewable energy projects."
This is an issue in the offset industry.
"To date there is no national standard or methodology for measuring CO2 impacts or the specific CO2 offsets," says Patrick Nye of Bonneville Environmental Foundation, a non-profit that offsets emissions by buying green tags that fund new and future renewable energy sources. "This is a very new and largely unregulated market that could benefit from some standardization, however there isn't wholesale agreement on methods."
Despite the offset market being unregulated, many view it as a valuable source for reducing emissions. Organizations such as Music Matters and the non-profit Reverb, which coordinate greening music efforts, are working to help bands tour green, and offsets are also a component. From offsetting CO2, coordinating biodiesel (which is made from vegetable oil) fueling, to sourcing "green" hotels, organic merchandise and foods, the companies make it easier for bands to go green. "We developed what's called enviro-riders," says Music Matters' Chris Baumgartner, "to identify all of the environmental impacts that could be improved upon or that could be standardized for when an artist went on tour or in their day-to-day business operations."
Music Matters and its client Clif Bar created a green notes program that encompasses enviro-riders. They also created Clif Cool Tags, which have been sold online and to fans at shows. The $2 offset, through Native Energy, reduces the equivalent of 300 tons of CO2, or 300 miles of driving.
"The lion's share of the carbon footprint does not come necessarily from the venue from the concert itself, but from the fans who are driving to and from the show," says Reverb's Lauren Sullivan. "Reverb's creating a lot of programs to engage fans in that effort to offset their carbon footprint -- their drive to and from the show and get them to engage in that concept."
Reverb is traveling with tours to make sure enviro-riders take place, and has also assembled eco-villages, where fans can learn about local and national environmental non-profits at shows. During a recent Guster tour, its eco-village had eco-friendly products, such as beauty products and organic foods, to sample. "You can taste biodiesel," says Guster singer/guitarist Adam Gardner, who co-founded Reverb with his wife, Sullivan. "People can actually dip their finger in and taste 'cause it's less toxic than table salt." Guster, along with its eco-village, comes to Chicago this month.
Fans can participate too
Music Today, which connects artists with bands online and beyond, created a way for fans to reduce their environmental impact before setting foot in a concert. "Our Tickets Plant Trees program [gives] fans the opportunity to basically plant a tree, a grove, a forest for every ticket that they buy," explains Music Today's Nathan Hubbard. "The artist can choose to make that mandatory and build it into the service fee, or they can make it optional." Fans can also offset driving emissions when they purchase tickets. Since the programs launched in the summer, Hubbard says 25 percent to 50 percent of fans have opted into the program.
Labels are going "green" as well. Chicago-based Smog Veil Records is revamping the way it conducts business to be more environmentally friendly. It is building a live/work space, which will use wind turbines and solar panels to create energy, and it's using geothermal cooling and heating systems.
"We have a responsibility to make sure our business doesn't negatively impact the environment, No. 1," says co-owner Frank Mauceri. "No. 2, it's become obvious to us that we can be as profitable, or even more profitable by going green."
He surmises incorporating reusable and recycled material on an ongoing basis will save money and make the label more profitable. Smog Veil's environmental initiative includes the elimination of jewel cases and the use of a waste-vegetable oil delivery vehicle in 2007.
The indie label Merge offsets its office emissions via the electric company it used, which offers the option to buy "green" energy directly from the utility, and SubPop offsets its office electricity emissions through Bonneville Environmental Foundation. "The cost for a business such as SubPop is fairly modest," says BEF's Nye. "Most office-based environments run from around $500 to $3,000 annually to green 100 percent of their energy use depending on size."
While small to midsize businesses opting to offset may seem to have little impact, they make a difference by funding renewable energy projects that would otherwise probably not exist. Though SubPop's Chris Jacobs admits their efforts are small scale, he says, "You're in effect subsidizing renewable energy. ... It seems like a responsible way to do it." SubPop was inspired by one of its young staffers, who offset his electricity at home, as well as by one of its artists, Kelley Stoltz, who produced his album, "Below the Branches," using "clean energy" by purchasing offsets from BEF.
"I tried to figure out what I could do about climate change, pollution, etc. by buying renewable energy credits, which offset the electricity I used in my home studio," Stoltz says. "I was able to at least feel somewhat accountable for my use of amplifiers, tape machines keyboards and things that are turned on for about 10 hours every day. ... [I] pay a little extra to have the same amount of power I used to be put into the electrical grid by way of wind power."
Major label Universal has launched an eco-friendly packaging initiative, in conjunction with a sustainability initiative with Wal-Mart. Universal released its 60-title Millennium series using sleeves and trays that are paper-recyclable.
"We have been researching companies to find the right technology and products that would also satisfy the CD-buying public," said Michael Davis, Universal Music Enterprises' executive vice president and general manager. "It was just recently that we found the [biodegradable] paper foam trays. The combination of the new tray technology and Wal-Mart's focus on `green' made it the perfect time to make the switch."
In November it releases an eco-packaged "Rhythms Del Mundo," which is a collaboration between Buena Vista Social Club and artists such as Coldplay and Radiohead. The album aids Artist Project Earth, which supports natural disaster relief and climate change awareness.
WEA, Warner Music Group Corp.'s U.S. sales and retail distribution company, began a companywide greening initiative more than a year ago. The NRDC met with WEA to help the company green its practices. "I had candidly been a card-carrying member of that organization for 18 years," says John Esposito, president and CEO of WEA Corp. The meeting resulted in recycling throughout its U.S. operations as well as changing other paper practices. "It was revenue-neutral," says Esposito, who was honored in April at NRDC's Forces of Nature event as Person of the Year. "Because we'd be buying the right paper and we'd be using less paper and that we could be green and it wouldn't cost us anything." The company has also begun using postconsumer recycled paper for inserts in CD packaging, though jewel cases are still the norm. "Artists like Green Day, Alanis Morissette, James Blunt, The Chili Peppers, to name a few, were very encouraging if not adamant about us making sure we use, for 100 percent of their releases, paper that was postconsumer content," Esposito says. "All of our releases [will have] a minimum of 30 percent. ... We have set an implementation date of January of next year."
Though the greening of the music industry is taking place behind the scenes as well, mainstream awareness is created by the musicians who are in the public eye, and they're hoping to bring fans along for the ride.
"Bands are in that unique position where fans are actually interested in what they have to say," says Guster's Gardner. "It makes me feel better knowing that there's stuff out there that represents my interests outside of music. It also connects our band with our fans more intimately as well because they're given an idea of some other passions of ours."