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At the start of May, the MU’s North of England Regional Organiser Paul Reed moderated a discussion at Liverpool’s Sound City industry conference, Forum. The panel explored the issue of how to tour sustainably, with special guest musicians and activists considering what environmentally conscious touring looks like, including how you can reduce your carbon footprint as a touring artist.

Entitled ‘Sound The Alarm’, the Union and panel of environmentally-minded musicians shared their approaches to reducing their carbon footprints, while examining how to minimise the environmental impact of live events. 

The panel comprised of:

  • Paul Reed (MU North of England Regional Organiser) - Moderator
  • Estella Adeyeri (Big Joanie)
  • Balraj Samrai (Swing Ting/Samrai)
  • Kelly Wood (MU National Organiser for Live, Theatre & Music Writers)

The discussion took place at the Jacaranda in Liverpool on May 2 to an at-capacity Sound City Forum, where delegates were empowered to learn more about the issues pertinent to sustainable touring.

The MU’s responsibility to the environment

MU Climate Emergency Steering Group Co-Chair, Balraj Samrai, spoke first about the work that the MU are doing internally to confront the issue of sustainability. Balraj, who works as a musician and youth worker, explained:

“It’s an assortment of members, coming together, who are passionate about climate justice and we are doing what we can to help the union develop policies, and seeing how we can influence what the MU are doing around the climate emergency”.

The MU recognises that it has a responsibility to the environment beyond legal and regulatory requirements and at the end of 2023, we established a dedicated Climate Emergency Steering Group, which meets regularly to hold the union to account on issues of sustainability.

We have already carried out an environmental audit of our London office and are reducing the physical materials we produce, moving to digital resources where possible.

Last Night A DJ Took A Flight

Paul Reed, MU Organiser for the North of England, asserted that there are long overdue conversations and actions happening around how the industry can respond to the climate crisis, with a particular focus on touring practices and live music. Paul offered the following stats to support the urgency of the matter:

“Research revealed that live music produces 405,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK every year, while the average touring DJ emits 35 tonnes of CO2 a year (17 times higher than the amount defined as what should be the personal carbon allowance) and a 2021 Clean scene report entitled ‘Last night a DJ took a flight’ goes into this in more depth.”

Balraj, who also often works as a DJ, has consciously begun to work more locally on this front, and points to ‘radius clauses’ as an issue that prevents musicians from optimising their routes when touring. Balraj stated:

“Artists and especially DJ’s are having to constantly travel back and forth between places. They’ll be over in the UK one night and suddenly be in Europe and back again, and the radius clause in booking contracts is prompting that.”

The four panellists with their arms around each other smiling.
L-R: MU members Balraj and Estella, with MU Officials Kelly and Paul, for the sustainability panel at this year’s Liverpool Sound City industry conference. Image credit: © The MU.

Individual actions can create cultural change

Many events, festivals, venues, tour operators and artists have started to give serious consideration to more eco-conscious practices. Estella Adeyeri, who plays bass in the Black feminist punk band Big Joane, is someone who tours regularly and pointed to waste reduction (including plastic waste), using renewable fuels, making menus less meat-heavy (meat and fish free in some cases) and ‘green riders’ becoming commonplace.

“Encouraging the reuse of water bottles and making sure there’s no plastic water bottles on our rider. There’s no need to have a case of 24 water bottles at every venue we are stopping at. This is what we do as individuals, and we’ll see how we can those individual actions can create cultural change for the industry as a whole.”

Estella also commended the work of her Big Joanie touring musician, Vanessa Govinden, who started an inclusive touring company called ‘Offshoot Tours’ with the aim of trying to build sustainability into their model from the ground up.

The forward thinking touring company is hoping to obtain funding that will allow them to buy an electric touring van with the help of climate-concerned, not-for-profit charity Julie’s Bicycle, which seeks to build a consensus for rapid action on climate change, as well as a shift in cultural attitudes, narratives and practices.

What is happening at a smaller scale grassroots level is also vital

There is often a lot of media attention on green initiatives and what huge touring artists such as Billie Eilish, Coldplay and Massive Attack are doing to lessen impacts, but what is happening at a smaller scale grassroots level is also vital.

MU National Organiser for Live, Theatre & Music Writers, Kelly Wood, suggested that artists who have the budgets and resources to implement such initiatives do care about reducing the footprint of their tours, but questioned whether the cost-of-living crisis and its squeeze on both self-employed musicians and grassroots venues, is preventing those ideas from trickling down to artists at an emerging level. Kelly surmised:

“I think this is the real problem, isn't it? People aren't making money at this level, or they're making very little money, so everything feels like a compromise if you have to change the way you're touring.”

Kelly, who represents the MU on the board of LIVE, the industry trade organisation of the UK's contemporary live music sector, hailed the coordination of the campaigning body in helping grassroots musicians adopt more sustainable touring practices.

“The UK is really lucky to have a group representing the live industry and lobbying on behalf of live industries, and the MU feeds into that. Some of the work coming out of the LIVE Green Group is around things like clauses that artists, promoters and venues can actually use in contracts, which makes it easier for individuals who don't necessarily have the experience and knowledge themselves, to work in these sustainability clauses and to think about them.

“What we try to do as a Union is make sure that we can help anyone, regardless of the level of activism that they want to be involved with”.

The Musicians’ Union actively campaigns on the climate emergency and supports proposals, including those included in Labour Party policy for a Green New Deal, which would address climate change, create jobs, and reduce economic inequality.

Get involved

MU members who want to join our Climate Action Steering Group or who have ideas for change, can contact MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl via

Photo ofPhilip Morris
Thanks to

Philip Morris

Philip Morris is an MU Regional Officer for North of England Regional Office.

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