Sustainability: the word on the lips of every environment-conscious, eco-friendly human. The more we learn about the planet suffering due to climate change, deforestation, aspects of farming and overpopulation, we’re forced to check our methods and consider ways to make our world greener. Given the environmental ramifications of festivals, gigs, touring and even making merch, there’s plenty that the music industry can do to improve.
Artists and record labels need to heed environmental considerations within the music industry, which can be especially tricky, given that it may involve weighing up the sale of tickets and memorabilia over and above the impact of generating mass landfill and waste as byproducts. Plastic CD cases, disc printing, physical artwork booklets, fuel for tour vans, flights for international concerts, private jets owned by wealthy stars, fabric for t-shirts, paper tickets — all these and more are big factors that work against sustainability. But, things are progressing. Nowadays, people might ditch tangible copies of albums in favour of streaming (despite carbon emissions whispers with regards to this), be very hot on picking up and not creating litter at large-scale festivals, download tickets rather than printing them off… the list goes on as the effort steps up.
Famously, Radiohead voiced issues with playing Glastonbury a number of years ago due to the environmental impact. While they’re incredibly well-known and will have made more than a buck or two over time, smaller, up-and-coming artists won’t have the luxury to turn down major festival players when they come knocking.
So, while musicians can only be responsible for things like sustainable transport, how they release their material, keeping track of their carbon footprint, booking eco-focused venues only, and similar, it’s up to the industry to systematically tackle sustainability from a level that can drip-feed down from the top. The UK Music Sustainability Policy vows to take responsibility for environmental impacts beyond purely legal and regulatory requirements. It drills right down into the operations side of things, working with key stakeholders.
In a similar vein, there’s Julie’s Bicycle, a non-profit, London-based organisation that supports the creative community in its endeavours to act on climate change and focus on environmental sustainability. They offer free events and resources to help artists make necessary alterations, which is fantastic. I’d imagine they’ll be a charity to stay informed about from now on.
From a more political, ‘we-must-save-the-planet’ perspective, artists are often known to perform wearing t-shirts with mission statement-style slogans, in order to further reach out to their fans. This could be anything from promoting veganism to planting more trees, or emphasising the need to use less plastic and even opting for sustainable clothing*. But one thing’s for sure, while we all want our favourite artists to be able to freely tour so that we can see them live (I know I’ll always support this, even if these virtual gigs during Coronavirus have been decent), so environmental considerations are at play within the music industry.
*If you’re into buying sustainable clothing or simply wouldn’t mind a recommendation about where to start, they’re doing great things over at Artful Sonder. I mean, they plant two trees for every t-shirt you buy — how grand is that?