Live music’s green journey looking forward to 2023

24.05.23

By Teresa Moore
Director, A Greener Festival

In 2022, live music was, at last, able to emerge from Covid-19 and get back to business. In doing so, there was a chance to put many of the changes discussed during the Covid-19 years into practice and revive some of the stalled initiatives started prior to the lockdowns, such as the Circular Festival led by the Netherlands’s Green Deal initiative. Having had time to reflect and review the industry’s response to tackling climate change, it feels as though there is a renewed momentum in the industry’s efforts to reduce its environmental impacts. At the same time, a number of themes have emerged which are likely to grow in 2023.

Net Zero Touring

Green Journey

When Coldplay announced that they were concerned about the environmental impact of touring in 2019, and that they would not tour their new album until they had found a way to make their tour “carbon neutral”, it came as a surprise to some in the industry. The term carbon neutral hit the mainstream but not everyone was sure exactly what they meant. During the Covid-19 years, they and their team worked out an approach to reduce their tour emissions, so when the 2022 Music of the Spheres world tour was announced, so too were the measures they would take to cut emissions. Interestingly though the language had changed. In a statement they said,

“We pledge to drawdown any unavoidable emissions according to the Oxford Principles for Net-Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting.”

https://sustainability.coldplay.com

The language had shifted from carbon neutral to net zero. This is an important shift – for whilst both approaches include carbon offsetting to reduce emissions, net zero implies that offsetting would be used as a last resort when everything else had been tried, rather than just factored into a package of measures.

As a result, the net zero approach will require more measurement, more data and evaluation, and more attention to detail on the ground – something which until recently has not been part of tour planning, but is likely to gain major traction over the next couple of years. We’ve already seen an increase in focused attention on touring. Next to the Coldplay tour, the 2021 UK leg of the Bring Me the Horizon tour worked together with A Greener Festival (AGF), reducing the tour’s impact by 38%. Several other major artists are working to reduce their touring impacts into 2023. Net zero will be a major focus for touring across the industry.

We need to think about solutions that provide much more immediate results, and which can be achieved within organisations locally.

Offsetting and insetting

As more of us are being encouraged to tick the offsetting box as we buy our tickets for travel and live events, the concept of offsetting has shifted from the preserve of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the 1990s to something that is now much more commonplace for all. However, at the same time, a critical review of the principles of offsetting is emerging. This is not the same as the arguments about offsetting 1.0 in the 1990s, where concern was more about the many bogus schemes operating. Today’s offsetting schemes often provide audited evidence that they are genuine. No, this is about fundamentals: Everything from questioning the morality of buying your way out of the emissions problem, to offsetting being a form of greenwashing, to the validity of for example tree planting in far-off lands as a form of philanthropic capitalism. Instead, we need to think about solutions that provide much more immediate results, and which can be achieved within organisations locally – insetting.

An example of insetting in practice is the unique solar carport opened at Mojo Concert’s Lowlands Festival 2022 which has 90,000 solar panels and can supply green energy to 10,000 homes. Of course, not all events can introduce developments on this scale. There are now a number of organisations operating to help the industry identify projects of different scales to offset and mitigate their CO2 emissions.

Joined-up thinking

From our work at A Greener Festival, it has always been clear that those events and festivals that score most highly in our certification process not only have many innovative measures and practices to tackle their event’s emissions, but that those measures are embedded into everything the event does. What stands out is that the most successful take a joined-up approach to making their events as green as possible. Today’s festival needs to be viewed as an ecosystem of sustainable practices, where every aspect of the event supports its sustainability goals.

The launch of the LIVE Green’s declaration for the UK live music industry in 2021 took this joined-up approach one stage further, by bringing together what had been in-effect siloed parts of the live industry to take up the challenge together. In a joint declaration, the industry agreed its goals to reduce emissions and tackle climate change going forward. This joined-up approach is likely to spread in other countries and organisations within the EU’s live music industry in 2023; as we realise that live music’s many components are all interrelated. From the festivals to the venues, arenas, stadia touring and the many suppliers of goods and services to the industry – all have a connected part to playing in reducing the environmental impact of live music.

The Green Deal Circular Festivals (GDCF), established in 2019, is a collaboration between European festival organisations and the Dutch government. GDCF stimulates sustainable innovation and collaboration in the European festival world. Under this Green Deal, the participating Dutch and European organisations are working together towards the goal of becoming circular and climate neutral by 2025. In the past year, the sustainability pact doubled from 20 to 43 festivals from 14 countries; illustrating that the need for joint thinking is substantial.

We have a better understanding of the issues involved in greening our live industry, in part because of the time to pause and reflect during Covid-19

Self-regulation or legislation

We know that time is pressing to clean up our act and reduce emissions, and there is debate about the most effective way to bring this about in the shortest time. At the heart of that debate is whether this change should be driven by the industry itself or by legislation. On the one hand, the LIVE Green’s declaration has taken the bull by the horns and effectively declared that the change will happen from within the industry. Unsurprisingly, there is a belief that the industry’s track record in pushing for change is evidence that it can make that change without the need for legislation – having previously staged the 1970 Amchitka concert which launched Greenpeace, and the more recent 2019 Music Declares Emergency. Symptomatic of this debate is the recent drive to introduce a self-regulatory Green Code of Practice from some in the UK live industry. By contrast there is a view amongst some in the industry in, for example, the Netherlands, that legislation will be necessary to make the scale of change needed. How this will play out in the coming years and within the global context of climate change will be important to the future of greening the industry.

In summary, 2022 saw a greater response by the industry to reducing their environmental impact. We have a better understanding of the issues involved in greening our live industry, in part because of the time to pause and reflect during Covid-19. There is much to be optimistic about. There is no doubt, however, that time is not on our side. We need to do better, faster, to reduce the impact of our industry on the climate.