How Green Is the Music?

By Daniel Mottola
Austin, TX (April 19, 2007)- Last October, Thom Yorke, frontman for the British band Radiohead, told the UK’s Guardian newspaper he would “consider refusing to tour on environmental grounds, if nothing started happening to change the way the touring operates.”


He explained, “Some of our best ever shows have been in the U.S., but there’s 80,000 people there and they’ve all been sitting in traffic jams for five or six hours with their engines running to get there, which is bollocks.” Yorke, who has become an impassioned and articulate advocate for greenhouse-gas limits in the United Kingdom, acknowledged that playing live is a “necessary part of what I do,” but he’s also well aware of the “ridiculous consumption of energy” required to tour.
Yorke is in harmony with an emerging movement among musicians, as they plug into a new era of consciousness about energy and its geopolitical and ecological ramifications. While music is a key medium to engage people emotionally about environmental issues, the way people have come to experience music – in clubs, at festivals, and by purchasing CDs and reams of related swag – is itself environmentally taxing.
As Yorke notes, it takes huge amounts of energy to power bands’ constant circulation around the country, as well as fans’ movement to and from shows. In the venues, glass and plastic refreshment containers often remain usable for mere minutes before becoming trash. Mountains of concert flyers are printed, T-shirts are sold, and CDs – most shrouded in toxic plastic – continue to be a common way to distribute albums, even in the digital age. So, the music industry is indeed a fertile ground for greening.
Just what is the eco-inspired rock community doing? Here are a few big-name examples:
* The Vans Warped Tour employs a solar-powered stage engineered by Austin’s Sustainable Waves, is saving 81,000 disposable plates by using washable dishware and utensils for bands and crew, and avoids 50,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions by using varying blends of biodiesel in the tour’s nine big-rigs and 17 buses.
* Dave Matthews Band buys renewable-energy credits to offset energy use from amps onstage, as well as trucking, travel, and hotel stays for current megatours – as well as retroactively over the last 15 years.
* Sub Pop Records recently committed to buying enough renewable-energy credits to offset 100% of the company’s energy use.
* Pearl Jam is now using 100% biodiesel in all tour production trucks and is donating $100,000 to nine organizations doing climate-change-reform activities, while shooting for net-zero emissions from tours and business.
* Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Neil Young, Indigo Girls are all prominent biodiesel burners.
* Andrew Bird: The whistling troubadour, who packed Stubb’s during South by Southwest, offsets the energy used at his shows with renewable-energy credits from NativeEnergy, uses B20 (20% biodiesel blended with 80% diesel) in his bus, requests organic foods and biodegradable cups backstage, and offers fans organic merchandise as well as ways to neutralize emissions from their drives to the show.
Here in Austin, the ever-expanding South by Southwest Music Festival, which wrangles more than 1,500 bands and overruns Downtown each spring break, made environmental strides in 2007. Festival planners enacted a host of eco-reforms, including offsetting all of the energy used in its offices throughout the year as well as at all of its concert venues around town by buying the equivalent amount of renewable-energy credits (RECs: created when green power from wind, solar, or biomass sources is sold onto the electricity grid).
Una Johnston, SXSW’s European manager, led the Festival’s greening efforts – which included providing more transit options for participants to minimize individual car trips and powering some outdoor generators with biodiesel. Some of SXSW’s offsetting was done through the donation of $5,000 to the city of Austin to fund local tree-planting – part of the city’s larger climate-protection initiative. Johnston said her motivation was in part to “show leadership” in preparing for an energy-constrained future. So, when the music biz came to town, SXSW had already set the stage for what might have been the nation’s most dynamic meeting of music’s green pioneers.
For the full article, visit the Austin Chronicle.