With the rise of eco-activism in the music scene and in the spirit of Singapore’s National Day Parade today, it’s only right that we shed light on something important: the environmental impact of concerts, live shows, and festivals.
In November 2019, in what was then seen as an unprecedented decision, British rock band Coldplay announced that they were putting a halt to touring. With worries about the environmental effect of concerts, Coldplay has postponed a world tour for their (then) new album Everyday Life to play two concerts in Jordan that can be streamed for free on YouTube.
Prior to this decision, the band staged 122 shows across five continents, comprising 109 universal crew, 32 trucks, and nine bus drivers in 2016 and 2017 for their A Head Full of Dreams Tour.
According to their frontman, Chris Martin, “The hardest thing is the flying side of things. But, for example, our dream is to have a show with no single-use plastic, to have it largely solar powered… We’ve done a lot of big tours at this point. How do we turn it around so it’s not so much taking as giving?”
Coldplay also hopes that their future tours “will be the best possible version of a tour [environmentally]” and says that the team would be disappointed if their next tour is not carbon neutral.
But how exactly can we make touring, or live shows in general, eco-friendly?
Carbon emissions of a tour
First, we must understand how much carbon emissions a tour emits. According to the guide published by Green Touring Network, the most significant contributors to emissions are the individuals who travel to and from the locations. This means that for every concert-goer, 5kg of CO2 is produced. If you’re talking about a medium-sized gig, this would be roughly 1.5 metric tonnes.
For example, according to both Green Touring Network and Statista, In 2013, 74.4 million tickets for music events were sold in Germany. Taking into account that each visitor releases 5 kg of CO2, this means that 372,000 metric tonnes of CO2 were released. This would amount to 248,000 flights from Berlin to New York City.
Furthermore, in some estimates, the annual greenhouse-gas emissions from live music in the United Kingdom amount to 405,000 metric tonnes.
At the every extreme end of the scale, you might remember the imposing claw-like structure that Irish band U2 brought around on their 2009 tour. While it is nonetheless beyond impressive (imagine standing underneath that while Bono sings “One”), the structure required 120 trucks to move it around from one venue to another. The band’s 44 concerts that year reportedly also had the same carbon impact as a return trip to Mars.
While all of this screams “stop touring!”, we need to be realistic. One, on the selfish reasoning that we, as humans, need live music. Two, attending concerts is a part of billions of people’s lives, and tours are integral to artists connecting with their fans as well as providing work to many. And lastly, artists would be giving up a massive portion of their income.
Coldplay allegedly gave up a huge pay day by not touring their latest album. For perspective, their last tour reportedly made USD$523 million.
COVID-19’s impact on (virtual) concerts
With the world slowly and surely adjusting to how it was pre-pandemic, this means that artists are also announcing more upcoming tours to make up for the cancelled shows during the pandemic.
For example, Dua Lipa, who initially announced in December 2019 a 24-show tour for her album, Future Nostalgia, had to postpone the dates to January and February 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the second time, the tour was moved to September and October of 2021. A livestream event called “Studio 2054” was announced by the artist as a result of the postponement. However, for a third time, the tour was postponed until the spring of 2022. To quote the late Olivia Newton-John, in a strange twist of fate, the on-going tour kicked off on February 9, 2022, in Miami and will conclude on November 16, 2022, in Perth. The tour is scheduled to have a whopping 85 shows.
However, even during the pandemic, concerts were happening, albeit virtually.
Global K-pop sensation BTS held four virtual concerts during the pandemic with Statista reporting a total of 4.1 million viewers for the four all-virtual events.
But these virtual events are not limited to huge stage productions. Many artists took to social media platforms and performed from the comfort of their own homes. You see them bare-faced, distracted by the live-chats, or even clueless about how to use these live platforms. They don’t even necessarily perform, some just have conversations with their viewers through the live chat function.
Diplo, a DJ and producer, started a Twitch series called the Corona World Tour, in which various DJs perform music and sometimes even play Fortnite.
These live platforms are being explored by professional artists in a variety of ways, from grandiose performances to one-offs and as a viewer, and it’s wonderful to see how artists adapt to bring themselves closer to their fans.
These little adjustments artists made to make sure they remain relatable and connected have paid off – fans loved them. According to the Los Angeles Times and UTA IQ, an online event was attended by three out of every four persons throughout the pandemic, from a poll of 1,000. Most of those who attended (88%) virtual events indicated they would participate again, even when in-person gatherings are reinstated.
So with virtual concerts being a huge success, with how much cheaper and accessible they are, how can we make the experience sustainable for everyone?
Whether you’re thinking of flying overseas (or domestic) for an annual festival or simply attending a local concert, the biggest carbon emission lies in the audience’s travel.
For organisers, consider hosting events in areas where public transport is widely accessible. And for those attending at out of the way venues, how about carpooling? GoCarShare allows people to rent out their car seats to share the journey and makes travel to and from both eco-friendly and cost-efficient for both.
Avoid fast fashion
We get it. Places like Shein and Zara offer bang for your buck trendy pieces that will make you stand out. While it’s cost-effective at the moment, ask yourself, will you re-wear these outfits?
If you truly must purchase new frocks and accessories, why not try local thrift or charity stores? When it comes to festival attire, thrifting is an excellent method to keep these items in circulation and give them a new lease of life. Also, you’re wearing something one of a kind!
Alternatively, you can also upcycle old clothing that you already have. It’s a great way to use clothes you may have been thinking of getting rid of.
Saying no to single-use items
We have all seen the waste generated at festivals and concerts. Most of these waste come from single-use items like bottled water, food packaging, and cutleries.
With this in mind, and in anticipation of the festival season, consider purchasing a reusable drinking cup and cutleries. Refilling your own plastic water bottles instead of relying on the hopeful notion that event organisers recycle them is a better, immediate, and full-proof option.
Bring home your trash!
This is a given. On our way back, whether to the train station, car park, or simply the exit of a concert venue, make sure to throw away your trash and place your recyclables in the designated bins.
This includes packing up and bringing home your tents, if you’re at a multiple-day festival.
Let’s not be pessimistic
While it can seem a bit difficult to achieve, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
English trip hop collective Massive Attack commissioned the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research to create a blueprint for ultra low-carbon live music. Instead of recognising alternative fuels, the paper claims that fewer planes are needed. The research also recommended using local kit and crew, taking public transit for personnel, and using electric automobiles for critical kit deliveries wherever possible.
Making an eco-friendly shift is not easy. It’s always easier said than done. However, such changes don’t need to be difficult or troublesome if it starts within us and our community.
For example, we can start taking public transportation if you’re fortunate enough to live in an area that provides reliable public transportation. Similarly, we can be conscientious enough to bring our own cutlery when dining outside at places that only provides single-use items and packaging. Or saving our old jars and containers which can then be re-used as lunch boxes!
Once we realise that these changes are not a hassle or do not need to be expensive, corporations, organisers, and businesses will also have no choice but to shift and change their business models.
So let’s take the first step in any way we can. This isn’t for clout, this is for the future of our world.