The Sound Of Going Green: The Music Industry & The Environment

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December 5, 2010 by Dan Swinhoe

The world is changing. Sea levels are rising, ice caps are melting and the world is heating up. Climate change is one of the main issues being discussed by world leaders in Copenhagen this month to try find ways to make the world a less harmful place. And the music sector has to play its part too.

The UK industry as a whole does not contribute a massive amount of emissions: the equivalent to a town of 54,000 people annually.Yet it is still essential to recognise that an impact is being made.Emily Kay of Julies’ Bicycle, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint of the whole music industry agrees. “It is very important” she says;“that habits have to change at a sector-wide level, as only then do we achieve the scale required to support shifts to lower carbon products services and activities.”

And the reasons to change aren’t just moral or environmental. There arethe financial incentives too. “There are a range of options for buildings and venues with insulation and energy use that may sometimes have a cost to start,”Kay explains“but could save a business money over a period of time. Some do not cost anything at all”.Those small spendings now help save large amounts in the future and allow organisations to run more smoothly and efficiently.

Kay suggests it’s also good for the corporate image and that the public prefer companies who are willing to try and make a difference, not one that does nothing or tries to cause more harm.“Consumers are becoming more aware of what they are buying and get involved in,”says Kay;“The music industry has the power to inspire people and that’s why it can play a particularly important role in demonstrating what a climate responsible industry should be doing. This in turn encourages people to think about their own lives and choices.”

So while companies like Gibson Guitars are being punished for using illegal smuggled wood for their instruments, there are organisations such as Julie’s Bicycle that have been founded with the intent to do research into the music industry’s carbon footprint, something which has been ignored up until now.“I believe that the industry can and it will change, and it will take steps to do this, and I believe Julie’s Bicycle will be at the fore-front of researching the methods and recommendations, as well as assisting these companies to do so,” Kay says.The reports they release form pioneeringresearch within the industry, their assessments and advice are the forefront of change within the industry.

Both large and small factors can make the difference. The inevitable decline in CD sales and the labels replanting trees for every CD sold means that the impact of their production is falling. But more can be done. Production of CDs and the jewel cases they are held in are the biggest contributors within the music industry, and this is an area where more can be done. “Currently it is still slightly more expensive to use card based packaging than to use a standard plastic jewel case, and it’s because the jewel case is ‘standard’.” Kay says;” By agreeing with the major labels and the biggest independent record label to a reduction of 10% of emissions, the bulk price of cardboard and other sustainable packaging options reduces because it is becoming the new standard, and jewel case prices will raise.”Replacing the plastic cases with the cardboard alternatives almost completely removes waste and emissions from the packaging stage.

And while the transport of the CD will rely on gas guzzling trucks until electric is the norm, the best move is to change the habits of the other major contributor: the fans.Public travel to attend the gigs is the second biggest area for music’s carbon footprint, with 97% of emissions from gigs coming from the fans getting to and from the venue. “I know as a fan when there is a band I want to see, I will travel to see that band any way that is the most efficient to me,” says Kay.

The public don’t like to be told how live their lives, but they have a collective conscience that wants to make the difference. Yet it’s important to try and get them to make the right choices without forcing those decisions upon them. Trying to convince the fans to walk to the shops to buy the music, getting them to car pool or get the bus, these are the keys to reducing the Carbon Footprint. But public opinion can’t be changed overnight, and the calls for change can’t come from one source. Kay explains: “Change is a mysterious and subtle process. People need to feel inspired not forced. For many it is about an imperceptible shift in what is ‘normal behaviour’. This means the examples and impulses need to come from many diverse sources.”

Festivals own a large part of the Carbon footprint. “ [We] want to encourage festivals,”she says, “To encourage major players to recommend and highlight the sustainable methods to fans.” It is a corporate responsibility, and providing coach and ticket packages to festivals, free bus shuttles from local stations is just part of the way to help the change. The Brixton Academy in London has made good headway with making a change. Interviewing the people attending to gain an idea of how they travel and including live public transport feeds on the website is a good start. But more needs to be done. Just one more person in a car can reduce CO2 emissions by 22%.

As with most things to do with the cutting edge of music technology, Radiohead’s name pop up as a shining light that all other bands ignore. Every aspect of their In Rainbows tour was meticulously planned and orchestrated to be eco-friendly: from the venues chosen with good public transport with bicycle parking instead of car and carrying a lighter equipment load by sea to using LED lighting powered by batteries. If it could be done, Radiohead did it.

Touring could soon be more carbon friend due to the work of Julie’s Bicycle: “I’m really happy to say that we are currently researching the Touring Industry as part of our newest research project,” Kay explains.

Meanwhile bands such as U2, who have been involved in many charitable events over the years, are touring the world seemingly oblivious to others efforts. Over the next two years their world tour, featuring the much-hyped ‘Claw’ will generate enough CO2 to have two return trips to Mars. That’s over 10% of the average emissions for the whole of the music industry.

What the future hold no one knows. Maybe new laws will be introduced. Maybe Bono will lose the Claw, maybe even CDs will be change to be made from cardboard. But whatever changes there are, Julies’s Bicycle will be there leading the way.

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