Please note that this article was first published back in the Winter 2019 edition of The Musician Journal, before we adapted our ways of working in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Because of this, some of the scenarios described are not currently relevant - however they do give a good indication of the direction that we will continue to take whilst building back in a way that is greener and more sustainable.
The climate crisis and environmental sustainability are finally climbing the global agenda, from governments and large corporate interest groups to individuals carrying reusable coffee cups. In the music industry, sustainability is a topic at every meeting we attend, from the UK Music Board to our own Executive Committee.
The MU has signed up to Music Declares Emergency, a group of artists, music industry professionals and organisations who are standing together to declare a climate and ecological emergency and calling for an immediate governmental response to protect all life on Earth.
We also backed Labour’s Green New Deal motions at its Conference. Green policies are no doubt going to be a big focus, for young voters in particular, and could be a driver for political change.
How we are becoming more sustainable
The MU has made significant progress internally to reduce its environmental impact. We have moved from disposal to recycling, installed recycling bins throughout our headquarters for paper, plastics, batteries and toner cartridges, and we are also recycling electronic equipment wherever possible. In fact, we donated our old PCs to a charity that restores them for individuals or organisations in need.
Our merchandise is also becoming more environmentally friendly. The latest MU pens look like plastic but are actually made from biodegradable material, derived from renewable and non-finite raw materials. We are limiting international delegations where possible, as we appreciate that air travel is a big contributor to any organisation’s carbon footprint – we don’t undertake many overseas trips but we need to be sure we only fly when absolutely necessary. To cut down on extensive travelling within the UK, we are also trying to use Skype, FaceTime or Microsoft Teams for meetings.
(In retrospect, it looks like we adapted to using a lot more of Microsoft Teams and Zoom than we were perhaps imagining here…)
Reducing our environmental impact
One area in which we can make quite a significant change, with the help of our members, is in cutting down on print and gradually moving to digital.
As well as reducing our environmental impact, this is something that may be of benefit to members. For example, we are reducing the size of the MU Members’ Handbook. It will still contain crucial information about the Union’s services but the detailed industry advice sections will move online. We update the advice that we give according to changes in technology and developments within the industry and so we believe our website is a far better place for this information; printed documents can be out of date as soon as they land on your doormat.
Our website will be redeveloped and redesigned and we plan to move to a more personalised version; the website should promote content based on your area of work and that’s relevant to you geographically. The reduced Members’ Handbook will use less paper and this means we will be able to reduce the size of the new membership packs we send out. The 2021 MU Diary will be available on request rather than sent to all our 32,000 members. We will ask you if you wish to receive a 2021 MU Diary. Assuming that not all members request a diary, we will save some trees by making this change.
We launched a new, updated version of the website in December 2020, although the process of making it more personalised to each member’s individual needs is ongoing – we hope that it will continue to reduce the amount of printed paper needed.
Moving towards sustainable touring
If you want to improve on the environmental sustainability of your own career as a musician, carry out an audit of your activities and do some research online.
Look at sustainable merchandise options and try to cut down on plastic and paper wherever possible. Touring will always be a challenge for musicians in terms of carbon footprint but the Union will campaign for more musician-friendly public transport, offering safe storage for musical instruments, for example. Many of our members already liftshare, which saves money and the planet. Check out your suppliers, business partners and clients, and organisations that engage you, to see if they have their own environmental policies.
Arts Council England’s draft 10-year strategy demonstrates a big shift towards this being a key requirement for organisations that it funds. The charity Julie’s Bicycle is a font of knowledge for anyone working in music and its website includes a list of venues, festivals and event spaces that are part of the Creative Green community.
Creative Green is the only environmental certification scheme designed specifically for the creative and cultural industries. Organisations that have signed up include Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Barbican, Abbey Road Studios, the BRIT Awards, New Adventures and Glyndebourne.
The environment needs the government – and you
It is important to remember that, ultimately, the responsibility for tackling the climate crisis lies with governments, global decision-makers and major corporations. The issue has to be addressed on an international scale and individual actions won’t solve the problem; just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.
That said, in the face of this emergency we can all do our part, and help in our own small way to safeguard the earth for future generations. Want to get involved? Sign up to Music Declares Emergency.