In 2019, there was a surge of environmentally focused protests as Extinction Rebellion blocked Waterloo Bridge and Greta Thunberg met with party leaders in Parliament. When The Musician reported on how musicians were responding to the crisis in its Autumn 2019 issue, there was undoubtedly a sense of urgency, alongside a good dose of optimism.
Music Declares Emergency was formed to galvanise the music industry to “accelerate collaboration and ambition to meet critical targets” and Massive Attack commissioned The Tyndall Centre of Climate Change to write its Roadmap to Super-Low Carbon Live Music.
Unfortunately, however, in under a year, this momentum had stalled. The pandemic had shifted the landscape dramatically and the music industry had been devastated by lockdown restrictions, pushing ecological concerns onto the back burner.
The climate crisis is, of course, no less critical as a result of Covid-19. In fact, reporting in 2022, the International Energy Agency (IEA) revealed that, “global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose by 6% in 2021 to 36.3 billion tonnes, their highest ever level,” largely because “the world economy rebounded strongly from the Covid-19 crisis and relied heavily on coal to power that growth.”
Despite the pressures experienced by those working in the music industry post Covid-19, Music Declares Emergency’s list of ‘declarers’ continues to grow, with over 6,000 artists, organisations and individuals adding their voice to the ever-growing hum.
Meanwhile, bands are beginning to test out new models for touring. Coldplay have committed to ensuring their Music of the Spheres outing is their most sustainable yet, while Massive Attack were planning to put some of the recommendations of the Tyndall report into action with their 2022 tour, before the stint was cancelled due to serious illness.
A roadmap for change
Massive Attack have openly published the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change’s Roadmap to Super-Low Carbon Live Music so that it is accessible for everyone to read. The report takes a broad look at the status quo with recommendations for improvement from all the players working in the music industry, as well as audiences (who are the largest contributor to surface travel emissions), with practical steps to reducing carbon footprint.
Targets include reducing emissions from buildings to zero by 2035; at least matching UK grid electricity emissions at outdoor shows from 2025 onwards; reducing surface travel emissions to zero by 2035 and limiting total sector aviation emissions to a maximum of 80% of 2019 levels.
“We hope that this roadmap can help to catalyse change by outlining the scale of action required and how this maps across the different elements of a tour,” says Professor Carly McLachlan, Director of Tyndall Manchester, who led the research.
“To reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, touring practices need to be reassembled differently as the industry emerges from the significant challenges that the pandemic has created. This starts from the very inception of a tour and requires the creativity and innovation of artists, managers, promoters, designers and agents to be unleashed to establish new ways of planning and delivering live music tours.”
Testing sustainable practices to build back a more sustainable industry
In September 2021, Bring Me The Horizon, with support from various partners, took their Post Human tour to arenas to test out more sustainable practices, reducing their touring production emissions by 38%, with measures that included renewable fuel for trucks, plant-based catering and energy-efficient equipment.
“The O2 were delighted to collaborate with all the other partners on this important project to build back a more sustainable touring and live music industry,” said Steve Sayer, VP and GM of The O2, of the Post Human tour. “Venues are a big part of the live ecosystem and we are keen to learn how we can further reduce our footprint as we develop our plans to get to net zero.”
Scott Graham from A Greener Festival, who worked with Bring Me The Horizon on this project, told the MU, “we have been really successful in taking the knowledge and experience from our 15 years working with music festivals and applying that sustainability expertise to a growing range of different live events…
“Our work with the Bring Me The Horizon tour was a recent success story, where we worked with all aspects of the tour and helped reduce emissions. We are taking the lessons from that into other tours and events.”
Meeting Net Zero targets
It is, of course, hugely commendable that these major artists are testing out new models. However, the Tyndall report recommends that proactive action not only needs to be implemented by the music industry but that it is, in fact, critical that it aims to better the UK government’s target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
If the live-music sector is not ahead of the curve on these targets, it will still be affected by measures to tackle this issue nationally and globally.
“If the live-music sector is not ahead of the curve on these targets, it will still be affected by measures to tackle this issue nationally and globally,” it reads, warning that it will be the grassroots music scene that will suffer most if the big hitters don’t lead the way.
“We recommend that the sector act collaboratively to support smaller venues and festivals that may struggle to meet improved regulation and standards to be well positioned for the net-zero transition.”
Being carbon-neutral at grassroots level
Derby-based guitar-pop duo The Herron Brothers (aka siblings Paul and Steven) are pioneering change from the ground up, with an ambitious project named Future Proof, which aims to achieve a 100% carbon-neutral album and tour.
“On a grassroots level, we see our friends and contemporaries jumping in diesel vans and going off on tour, people who are normally environmentally aware, and we became conscious of the disconnect,” Paul tells the MU. “For every Massive Attack trying to do something good, there’ll be 100, 200, 300 bands underneath that level who probably make more of a carbon impact, so we thought we could have some influence.
“From the grassroots level, no one is doing it and it’s not just about touring, it’s about the whole 360-degree project. Could we possibly write, record, promote and tour while selling the traditional merch? Would we be able to do that carbon-neutrally?
“What we didn’t want to do is make this music only available online,” Paul continues. “We wanted to keep it traditional, to prove that you don’t have to completely rewrite how bands do things in order to be carbon neutral.”
Among a host of other measures, the band will not be producing vinyl, while recording will be done entirely at the home studio having switched to GEUK, the UK’s only 100% renewable energy supplier. The band will travel in a hired electric van while adopting a ‘silent stage’ approach – essentially reducing the amount of equipment they bring with them.
Boss and Roland are on board to help with equipment and GAK will be supplying an electric drum kit and pedals that run through the PA. No amp required. CDs will be made from recycled material and T-shirts will be produced by an environmentally and socially conscious company.
Derby University’s DE-Carbonise programme will be supporting and tracking the project. The Herron Brothers will be documenting the process with a film and podcasts recorded at every stage, alongside an eventual ‘toolkit’ of information and contacts for other grassroots musicians to access, putting them in tune with recommendations from the Tyndall report that sharing knowledge is an essential part of the roadmap.
Members can be at the forefront of change
The MU worked closely with The Herron Brothers to secure Arts Council funding and urges its members to get involved.
“We need to look at how we can get greener with everything the whole industry does,” says MU Midlands Regional Organiser, Stephen Brown. “Last year’s MU Conference saw a motion agreed from the Midlands Region to do just that, including how we in the MU can facilitate that and go greener ourselves, too.
“While making strides to make touring more environmentally sustainable is vital, it should be about how the whole music ecosystem needs to respond and develop. Everyone from arts funders who can dictate policy to those they fund, through to commercial organisations, need to be involved.”
“Musicians, too, need to see more and better-paid work in their own localities to offset the need to travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles just to make a living. I’m sure there are loads of musicians who would welcome this.
I don’t think we can separate this from the cost-of-living crisis either, because for me, this is about justice – economic and social – but without climate justice, our goals to make our industry more environmentally sustainable will be that much harder. The good news is we are starting to look at these big issues and come up with solutions and members can be at the forefront of this and the ideas exchange involved. Indeed, on that point, I’d urge members to let us have their thoughts and ideas about it.”
The Government must step up to support the transition to net zero
“There’s already a great deal of good practice and examples to learn from and upscale, as well as organisations and networks within the sector that seek to support sharing and learning,” the report reads. “It is clear that the creativity that can be unleashed to reduce emissions is one of the sector’s most significant assets.”
In 2021, UK Music reported that there were 69,000 fewer jobs in the British music industry than in 2019, a drop of 35%, and that live music revenues dropped by 90%. Understandably, environmental concerns have been put aside during this crisis. “One of the challenges is getting people to engage,” Steven from The Herron Brothers points out.
“If you’re a venue who has been annihilated by Covid-19 and is now struggling to pay back the debts accrued and we go to them and say, ‘hi there, we’d like to talk about your carbon neutrality!’… or trying to work with vinyl producers and just trying to get them to engage… it’s not number one on everyone’s priority list.”
The British government has yet to step up to the challenge of supporting the music industry through the transition to net zero. “Our sector is operating in a government void,” said Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja when the Tyndall report was released.
“Where is the plan for investment in clean battery technology, clean infrastructure, or a decarbonised food supply, for a live-music sector that generates £4.6 billion for the economy every year and employs more than 200,000 people? It simply doesn’t exist.”
Setting sustainable policies in place up front can really make a huge difference
The rising cost of living, energy and fuel are set to further increase the pressure on an already strained industry, although Scott from A Greener Festival believes this could also “focus the mind on energy and fuel use. Can tours save money by optimising routes, managing down truckloads, buying locally?” he asks.
“What opportunities are there to use renewable energy, or less impactful fuel types? Can tours engage with their audience and reduce their travel costs by promoting more use of public transport?”
It’s not just financial issues that can be problematic. “Tours can be quite complex, and with so many different organisations and teams involved, from production crews, promoters, venues, catering and the audience themselves… it’s a challenge to try and get everyone on board with the same vision and objectives around becoming more sustainable,” says Scott.
“It doesn’t have to be a difficult sell, though. Everyone is becoming increasingly aware and motivated to operate more sustainably, so setting that vision and putting sustainable policies in place up front can really make a huge difference in terms of the tour’s environmental impact.”
Modeling the world we want to see
Music Declares Emergency’s campaign – #Nomusiconadeadplanet – is a call to arms to both the industry, and the audiences that benefit from it, to create the change that’s needed. “Individual actions might not add up to much without systemic change,” says MDE, “but they can help pave the way by modeling the world we want to see and opening up more conversations to make a noise.”
“The Future Proof project is, in its essence, a question,” concludes Steven. “Is it possible to do this? If the answer is, ‘no, it’s not, but we tried our hardest,’ at least there’s an outcome and it might give people the incentive to do something more.”