There’s nothing quite like the rush of feeling the reverberation of sounds from live instruments and hearing your favorite songs played live. That is, until you glance around and see energy-sucking generators powering the stage, plastic cups and bottles littering the ground, and trash cans overflowing with food scraps and wrist bands toward the end of the night.
The music industry is certainly not the No. 1 emitter of carbon, but it is associated with a large carbon footprint. Artists take private jets from city to city on tour or ride on a diesel-fueled bus. Thousands of fans drive their individual cars, sometimes for several hours, to see a show. Delivery vehicles travel miles and miles to bring CDs and vinyls to someone’s doorstep. Then there’s all the energy needed to power the studio for long nights as musicians write, record and mix their unique sounds.
In just the U.K., music festivals alone created over 24,000 tons of carbon emissions along with creating 25,800 tons of waste and using up over 7 million tons of fuel. In America, the massive Coachella music festival produces 107 tons of waste each day of the event, most of which cannot be recycled. At Unsound, a music and arts festival in Poland, estimated it generated around 943,472 kilograms of carbon emissions.
While there’s a lot of improvements to be made, some musicians are taking matters into their own hands. Here are 10 artists and bands making strides in sustainability on and off the stage.
1. The 1975
Pop rock band The 1975 has made strides in creating a more sustainable future for the music industry and fans alike. The latest merch is made of upcycled, repurposed older merch that is printed with the latest album art. Alternatively, when touring starts back up again, fans can bring their existing merchandise and have it printed on for free. The 1975 has also partnered with REVERB to make their touring experiences more sustainable.
Most impressively, for the band’s latest album, Notes on a Conditional Form, the musicians partnered with climate activist Greta Thunberg for the title track, also called “The 1975.” In the song, Thunberg gives a chilling monologue over atmospheric melodies. The nearly 5-minute-long song has been streamed more than 7.5 million times on Spotify alone.
While the entire song is pretty empowering, the end really hits home, with Thunberg saying,
“So, we can no longer save the world by playing by the rules
Because the rules have to be changed
Everything needs to change, and it has to start today
So, everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience
It is time to rebel.”
Preparing for a tour in 2022, pandemic permitting, Coldplay is planning to create events that have the lowest carbon footprint possible. To do this, the band plans to reduce consumption, increase recycling efforts, implement green technologies, and fund nature- and technology-based projects while also offsetting more carbon than the tour will produce.
Coldplay’s concrete goal for the Music of the Spheres World Tour 2022 is to cut emissions in half compared to the band’s 2017 tour.
“Despite our best efforts, the tour will still have a significant carbon footprint,” the band explained on the sustainability section of its website. “We pledge to draw down more CO2 than the tour produces by supporting projects based on reforestation, rewilding, conservation, soil regeneration, carbon capture / storage (DACCS) and renewable energy. As part of this pledge, the tour will fund the planting — and lifelong protection of — millions of new trees, including one tree for every ticket sold.”
3. Massive Attack
Massive Attack, an English trip-hop collective, is known for its catchy beats and music to dance to, but it’s also making a name for itself in the sustainability realm. In a partnership with Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the collective has outlined many ways for the music industry to minimize emissions, from refusing the use of private jets to transitioning to electric transportation for touring.
The collective plans to practice what it preaches with an upcoming 2022 tour that will incorporate six emissions-reduction modules.
“What matters now is implementation,” Robert “3D” del Naja of Massive Attack said, as reported by Pitchfork. “The major promotors [sic] simply must do more—it can’t be left to artists to continually make these public appeals.”
Outside of the music industry, Massive Attack continues to ask the government to take action against the climate crisis.
English rock band Radiohead has been focused on sustainable touring for many years. In 2008, the band was already implementing eco-friendly actions on its tour, from swapping disposable cups to reusable options for crew, using biofuels for tour vehicles and banning air freight. It continues these practices today.
In 2019, Radiohead’s official website was hacked, and the culprit stole unreleased music and held it for ransom. Ever so cooly, Radiohead responded by releasing the music on Bandcamp, and it donated all the proceeds to the environmental activist group, Extinction Rebellion.
No one makes veganism look cooler than Lizzo. On her Instagram and TikTok accounts, the star shows just how delicious vegan food can be for her millions of fans. Unlike many other celebrities of her ilk, Lizzo also doesn’t own a car, and if she decides to buy one, she told Audacy that she’d go for an electric option.
“Everybody thinks that we’re killing the Earth, but we’re not,” Lizzo told Audacy. “The Earth is older than us and she knows exactly what she’s doing. And she’s like, ‘Listen, y’all keep playing with me. Keep playing with me. I’ma get rid of all the cute animals that you like. The hot places gonna be cold, and the cold places gonna be hot. Keep playing with me.’”
6. Dave Matthews Band
The Dave Matthews Band has worked in the sustainability sphere for many years, with an ongoing partnership with Reverb since 2005. By 2019, the band reduced emissions by 121 million pounds and raised more than $2 million for environmental causes.
Its tours focus on reducing single-use plastics, improving composting efforts, promoting local foods backstage for crew, and using biodiesel for tour vehicles. The Dave Matthews Band is also a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations’ Environment Program.
In 2009, the band released a song, “Dive In”, that addresses climate change and rising seas. Alongside a calming and even cheerful melody, the lyrics hauntingly go,
“Wake up you sleepyhead, I think the sun’s a little brighter today
Smile and watch the icicles melt away and see the water rising
Summer’s here to stay and that sweet summer breeze will blow forever
Go down to the shore, kick off your shoes
Dive in the empty ocean.”
7. The Roots
Hip-hop band The Roots is heavily invested in sustainability and social justice. The group, formed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter in 1987, work with many environmental organizations, including Reverb, PETA and Common Ground Foundation. The Roots and Reverb also partnered to found the Green Music Group to help other musicians to implement more sustainable actions in their work.
When touring, The Roots work toward carbon-neutral events, through actions like printing tour posters on reused paper, investing in renewable energy carbon offsets, giving away autographed compost bins for fans and more. The band has also performed for the Earth Day Climate Rally held in Washington, D.C.
8. Sheryl Crow
Singer and songwriter Sheryl Crow is another long-time climate activist, who was already campaigning to reduce toilet paper use in 2007 and toured on a biodiesel-fueled bus for a Stop Global Warming College Tour. Although Crow has said her 2019 album Threads is her last, she still remains committed to the planet.
“Unfortunately I think there’s a large population of people that want to believe that climate change is a product of cyclical weather. And because the leaders they believe in are saying that, mainly out of convenience for them and their pocketbooks, they’re buying into it,” Crow told NME. “And I think we’re getting to the point now where we’re going to spend so much more money trying to undo what we had the opportunity to do years ago and didn’t do.”
The musician has earned a Forces for Nature Award from NRDC for her environmental activism.
9. Green Day
As early as 2006, punk rock band Green Day was already working on a Move America Beyond Oil campaign with the NRDC in hopes of inspiring young people to move toward renewable energies.
“This campaign is about channeling the power of millions into something positive and powerful. People are sick of our oil addiction and feel like nobody is doing anything about it,” Billie Joe Armstrong, lead singer and guitarist of Green Day, said. “The solutions are there, the support is there, but the leadership is not. Our message is that it’s okay, and very rebellious, to take on that responsibility.”
Green Day has supported various other charities and campaigns, including creating a charity drive after Hurricane Katrina and donating to victims of Hurricane Harvey. Outside of music, the band members also founded Oakland Coffee Works, which sells coffee in certified biodegradable bags and pods to eliminate plastic waste.
Björk, a singer and songwriter from Iceland, has spent many years speaking out about climate change and the environment. Her impact is impressive, with an environmental curriculum — created in collaboration by the artist and ecology experts — implemented in Nordic schools to inspire the future generations. She has also called out the Icelandic government for plans to replace wilderness with power plants.
In 2011, Björk released Biophilia, an album of songs with themes about nature.
Artists Making a Difference
While these musicians are making strides in sustainability both in their industry and beyond it, there are many more artists joining these efforts. As the climate crisis worsens, it won’t be surprising to see more support from such creative minds as they work to make touring and producing songs less carbon-intensive through innovation, technology and influence.
Based in Los Angeles, Paige is a writer who is passionate about sustainability. Aside from writing for EcoWatch, Paige also writes for Insider, HomeAdvisor, Thrillist, EuroCheapo, Eat This, Not That!, and more. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ohio University and holds a certificate in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She also specialized in sustainable agriculture while pursuing her undergraduate degree. When she’s not writing, Paige enjoys decorating her apartment, enjoying a cup of coffee and experimenting in the kitchen (with local, seasonal ingredients, of course!).