Industry Market Trends

Hey, Musicians Playing Green Concerts: Mother Nature Hates You.

Dec 23, 2011

In 2009 Paul McCartney gave a benefit concert for Atlanta's Piedmont Park Conservancy, billing the show a "green" event. As one concertgoer wrote after the show, "The whole place was left a great big disgusting trash heap. The majority of the concert goers left their blankets, rain gear, plastic bottles, beer cans, and all manner of trash behind. Thousands of people walked over mounds of trash, never bothering to make an effort to help. Few bothered to pick up their own trash or lend a hand picking up trash on their way out."

But they each went to bed that night feeling good about how they helped the environment by attending a "green" Paul McCartney show.

And the truth is that rock concerts and tours are highly damaging to the environment. Holding benefit concerts to "raise awareness" of global warming and environmental issues is akin to holding a smoke-a-thon to raise awareness of lung cancer.

A Little Less Praying And A Little More Acting, Please, Bono.U2's lead singer, Paul "Bono" Hewson, has never been shy about engaging in public acts of self-adulation, but one of his all-time greatest hits came in Japan in 2008 when he said, piously, "My prayer is that we become better in looking after our planet."

Mr. Hewson might want to do a little less praying and a little more curtailing of his band's own excessive carbon and environmental footprint. As a wise man once said, pay attention to what a person does, not what they say.

According to The Rock Radio, U2's positively Brobdindnagian 360 Tour was not one of Gaia's favorite events. Environmental consultant Helen Roberts of told the Belfast Telegraph "The carbon footprint generated by U2's 44 concerts is equal to carbon created by the four band members traveling the (34) million miles from Earth to Mars in a passenger plane. To offset this year's carbon emissions, U2 would need to plant 20,118" -- presumably Joshua -- "trees." U2's tour was "dozens of times bigger than that of Madonna on her 2006 world tour," but Madonna had the good grace not to shout about how she was praying for the earth while damaging it.

No Gaians Or Their Acolytes Here.Now let's be clear on one thing: This reporter isn't a disciple of Gaia, an acolyte at the Church of Mother Nature. We're in favor of a reasonable amount of usage of the earth's resources -- that's what it's there for, after all. The earth is here for our benefit, we're not here for its benefit. Dinosaurs gave their lives so Bono could jet and fret at the same time. We attend concerts and fly around the world and drive from here to there without a twinge of guilt. We think the earth can survive a U2 tour.

But then, we don't go around loudly announcing that we're praying for better stewardship of the planet while headlining massive world tours either.

As LiveEco, a South African site dedicated to green living puts it, "Many musicians, along with a myriad of celebrities, are becoming vocal about environmental issues. What few people realize is the amount of damage inflicted by music concerts and festivals."

Hey, grandstanding about the environment to show everybody what a Wonderful & Caring Person you are is a lot easier than actually adjusting your cushy lifestyle or profitable career to lessen your environmental impact any appreciable degree. Much easier to shake your finger at others and tell them to do it.

Raising Awareness of Awareness-Raising Concerts.Ever been to one of those "Raise Awareness of ______," fill in favorite environmental cause in blank, concerts? Doesn't matter if it proclaims itself a benefit of global warming awareness, deforestation, carbon emissions or the Madagascar hissing cockroach, here's what it'll look like:

Plastic cups, empty plastic water bottles and much other garbage will litter the ground. People who will have spent hours in cars on the highway to get there, much of that idling in a massive traffic jam near the venue entrance, will get in their cars and repeat the process, pouring more carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Large trucks will belch more carbon emissions to haul the act somewhere else to repeat the entire process in the next city over. The performers will get in lumbering tour buses or jets to burn thousands of gallons of jet fuel and emit yet more carbon to fly to the next city to raise awareness of the environmental dangers of flying and driving.

Three Key Factors.LiveEco noted three key factors that contribute to environmental damage at these events:

CO2 emissions from power and transport. Hey if there's a show people are going to do what it takes to get there. Much of the event infrastructure needs to be brought in as well -- toilets, vendor stalls, t-shirt stands, you name it. All that requires transport, which requires carbon emissions.

Waste and pollution from rubbish and noise. Setting aside the aural pollution of Nickelback itself, as LiveEco says, "an astonishing amount of waste is produced by the public and traders at these festivals." Some provide recycling bins, napkins instead of paper plates and refill cups, which cuts down on a bit of waste. But many don't.

Sourcing food, drink and other products. As LiveEco says, sourcing from local companies "is a good way to reduce transport miles. Organizers should also try to source seasonal and organic products."

Yeah, that'll happen.

Mood On Lighting.According to a good first-hand account from Abbie Mood written after attending a green benefit concert, big venues can hold 16,000-18,000 people, "and considering that most people buy at least one drink, that makes 16,000+ plastic cups that need to be disposed. Saturday night it appeared as if most of those cups landed on the ground or were chucked over the fence."

Mood mentions how much more environmentally unfriendly the entire concert business is than lots of other industries. Concert venues still require paper tickets. So for an average show, that's 16,000-18,000 paper tickets, while Continental Airlines lets passengers show a two-dimensional barcode on their cell phones instead of printing out a paper boarding pass, Mood noted.

Look up at the stage, and the band performing a song that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with taking care of the environment will be lit, as Mood says, by "hundreds of glaring lights." Then note the stage lights, the lights in the vendor stands, bathrooms, walkways, and parking lot. Those all require energy, which would not need to be generated if the concert wasn't happening.

A Thousand Tons of Carbon Dioxide Per Green Awareness Concert.The Economist recently reported that, according to National Geographic's Green Guide, "a typical stadium concert releases 500 to 1000 tons of carbon dioxide, which is between 25 and 50 times more than the average American produces in a year. That number does not even take into account fans' transport, the immense amount of garbage produced or any fire-spewing Kiss-style pyrotechnic displays... fans' commutes can quintuple the carbon cost of a show."

Don't even get us started on the 2007 Live Earth concerts in New York, London, Sydney, Tokyo, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg and Hamburg. We're still adding up the massive environmental impact of that one, but we'll need a bigger calculator.

Some musicians are beginning to at least perceive the general outlines of the conundrum of openly green people perpetrating such massive damage on the earth they profess to cherish. LiveEco notes that the lead singer of Radiohead, Thom Yorke, told UK's Guardian newspaper he would 'consider refusing to tour on environmental grounds, if nothing started happening to change the way the touring operates.'"

As Yorke explained it to the Guardian, "some of our best ever shows have been in the US, but there's 80,0000 people there and they've all been sitting in traffic jams for five or six hours with their engines running to get there, which is bollocks."

"So We'll Keep Touring To Raise Awareness."Yep. Sure is, Thom. A quick check of the Radiohead site reveals another massive world tour scheduled for 2012. Guess the prospect of raking in millions of dollars helps one get over conflicted emotions about the environmental impacts one is pretty much directly responsible for.

Some rock acts, mildly shamed by the obvious hypocrisies involved but unwilling to give up their lucrative touring, have embarked on a bit of greenwashing around the edges to say they're "doing something." Live Eco reports that there are some organizations that help bands and concert organizers "green up" their tours and festivals. One such group is Reverb, which has lent its imprimatur to  recent tours by The Dave Matthews Band, Sheryl Crow, Paramore, Jack Johnson and others anxious to appear at least somewhat cognizant of how environmentally destructive their career is.

And a few more acts go further than that. LiveEco reported that Green Day partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council on a Move America Beyond Oil campaign, and they have made a number of YouTube videos voicing support for environmental protection. Pearl Jam donated $100,000 to nine organizations working on renewable energy, climate change and other green causes back in 2006. Moby actually limits his touring to cut down on his environmental impact -- or so he says. Willie Nelson runs his tour bus on biofuel.

In fact, to draw attention to the importance of lowering the environmental impact of concert tours, Reverb... held a Campus Conscious Tour in 2010, which was half rock tour, half environmental campaign, throughout America. Complete with... yep, you guessed it: Trucks, buses, thousands of fans in traffic jams, jets, lights, plastic water bottles littering the ground and thousands of tons of CO2 emitted. Sigh.