Greening The Machine: Sustainability And Best Practices For The Live Business
Photo by Ila Kisbenedek / AFP / Getty Images – Glastonbury Garbage
Piles of waste sit outside a recycling center at Glastonbury Festival in Pilton, England, in 2014. Glastonbury banned the sale of single-use plastic bottles for its 2019 edition.
At this year’s Production Live! conference, during the “Sustainability: How Green Touring Impacts The Greenbacks” panel, many in the industry voiced their desire do more to make their events greener. At the same time, they also expressed an uncertainty as to what the best practices are in this growing and important part of the live business and weren’t sure where to turn.
After the conference, the Sustainable Concerts Working Group updated its website to include even more resources to help concert industry professionals. Those materials are available at: SustainableConcertsWorkingGroup.com. A plethora of other materials are available throughout the music industry and a number of dedicated nonprofit and for-profit organizations are entirely dedicated to sustainability.
Below are briefly summarized key issues related to sustainability and our business, with an emphasis on some immediate areas of potential action.
Recycling Vs. Reusability
Environmentalism has long been associated with slogans like “recycle, reduce, reuse.” Existing systems of recycling are proving horribly inefficient, though, Dianna Cohen of Plastic Pollution Coalition told Pollstar.
“Less than 4 % of plastic is actually recycled worldwide, which is why landfills are overflowing with plastic and millions of tons of plastic pollution enter our oceans every year,” Cohen said. “It’s time to stop polluting the planet with single-use plastic and shift from ‘disposable’ products to reusable alternatives.”
Since recycling in itself isn’t always the most effective solution to the compounding problem of waste reduction, Cohen along with other organizations like r.Cup (whose founder Michael Martin is featured in a guest column) focus on reducing the overall amount of waste from an event. These organizations are selling reusable cups and/or bottles at events so that after people get their drinks they don’t throw anything away.
After several years at Bonnaroo, Cohen said her company’s Refill Revolution project is estimated to have kept 2 million plastic cups or bottles from landfills.
One way that existing recycling processes can be optimized, Anna Borofsky, Owner of Clean Vibes, told Pollstar, is efficient planning and coordination with local recycling facilities. Clearly understanding what kinds of waste will be generated onsite and making sure local facilities have the capacity to deal with those materials will keep much more waste out of landfills.
In tandem with the idea of selling people utensils that don’t get thrown away, fans, artists and staff can bring their own reusable water bottles to events to avoid ever being forced to purchase bottled water.
Paul Baker, president of Event Water Solutions, which has worked with Live Nation, Vans Warped Tour, SFX, and the White House, told Pollstar offering free water stations at destination events can cut into water sales by about 25%. But what will come as music to the ears of the live business, “the per cap spending at the festival remains static. If the festivalgoer doesn’t spend their money on water, it is spent on food or merch.”
In addition to offering stations where everyone can access free, filtered water, EWS can connect fresh water to and remove waste from trailers and installations for kitchens, bathrooms, hand-washing stations, food trucks, and misting oases.
The company connects to existing water sources and installs temporary infrastructure at sites where possible, and brings its own potable (drinkable) and grey water (non-drinkable) tanks when necessary.
For single concerts, artists like Jack Johnson include language in their venue rider encouraging water refill stations in front of house (for fans) and backstage (for artists and crew). These efforts aim to reduce the amount of single-use plastic water bottles at each show.
Photo by Photofusion / Carole Evans / UIG / Getty Images – Love Your Loo
A Wateraid crew stops for a photo in the midst of its work at Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm in Somerset, England, in 2008. Festivals and concerts are learning to rely on combinations of volunteers and paid staff to handle different aspects of waste diversion at events.
In addition to demanding access to sources of clean water, some artists request their food be locally sourced from independent farms.
Paige Roth, manager of volunteer and community programs at nonprofit REVERB, has worked with Zac Brown Band, Dave Matthews Band and Phish to get their catering needs primarily filled by local farmers in each market they play.
Roth said she maintains a national network of sources who can provide ingredients for the band and crew’s backstage needs, though it constantly requires updating as family-owned farms continue to go out of business.
Festivals, likewise, are frequently turning to local caterers to give their events an authentic local flavor. In addition to using local eateries, many events are experimenting with organic and plant-based food offerings, as reducing the amount of meat consumed can help reduce an event’s environmental impact.
Events like Coachella have made offering plentiful vegetarian and vegan options a clear priority, including Ramen Hood’s vegan ramen, Ms. Chi’s vegan dumplings, Van Leeuwen’s vegan ice cream, Vegatinos’ vegan tacos and burritos, Pizzanista’s vegan pizza and Monty’s Good Burger’s vegan Impossible burgers.
Many events acknowledge the largest percentage of their emissions come from fan transportation to and from the show.
It’s common practice within the industry to facilitate as many ways as possible for fans to arrive, including through carpool, rideshare services, public transportation, or biking.
Jessica Scheeter of Jack Johnson’s All At Once social action network told Pollstar that giving people options is great and incentivizing the use of alternative transportation has proven effective at getting fans to make the extra effort to avoid driving.
“On Jack’s most recent tour we partnered with local bike organizations to host Bike Valets at 22 shows, and priority parking was set up for fans who carpooled,” Scheeter said. “We incentivize fans for taking environmental action, including taking alternative transportation to the show, and offer a chance to win prizes including reusable straws and pint cups, and even a chance to watch the show from the stage. These incentives really drive up interest and engagement. During Jack’s 2017-18 tour, more than 100,000 environmental actions were taken by fans in the Village Green.”
Johnson and other artists like Pearl Jam and Third Eye Blind are also “offsetting” the impact of their tours by donating a portion of tour profits to environmental projects.
Sharing Is Caring
Promoter giants like Live Nation and AEG Presents own or operate venues and promote entire tours, meaning they can implement sweeping company-wide policies or initiatives, and leverage the many areas of the business they touch for greater efficiency. But others can increase efficiency too.
“Watching productions prep for long tour runs, we are seeing a stronger, more dedicated effort from acts to reduce this environmental impact wherever possible,” Andrea Shirk, general manager of Rock Lititz, a production collective that includes 40 companies like Clair Global, TAIT, Yamaha, Stageco, and Pyrotek said. “Condensed or shared shipping efforts between vendors … smart routing decisions.”
With all the companies sharing one space at Rock Lititz, not only do they not have to ship equipment or fly out to see each others’ work, but they can implement strategies and policies on campus like collaborative recycling.
“At Rock Lititz, something as simple as offering all crews reusable water bottles and filling stations during rehearsals, we have been able to cut the use of dozens of cases of water a week.
“Not every decision needs to be monumental, to have a very real impact,” Shirk said.
Courtesy of Coachella – Papas A La Bestia
Vegatinos “Papas a la Bestia” will be available for attendees at Coachella this year, part of the festival’s increased emphasis on vegan offerings. The dish includes French fries, ketchup, mustard, chipotle sauce, pico de gallo, jalapeños and jackfruit.
In addition to trash and recycling, many festivals and events have compostable waste. Similar to her comments on recycling, Borofsky said a challenge for composting was finding appropriate facilities that could properly
handle the types and amount of compost for the event, especially since the amounts of waste generated at festivals can require industrial scale facilities.
In the case of Bonnaroo, Clean Vibes developed on-site composting to meet the festival’s needs. Being aware of all the waste generated on-site will help with keeping the waste-management processes efficient, Borofsky said.
In some cases materials are biodegradable but not compostable, which is frequently a source of confusion, and some materials are simply misidentified as compostable when they are not.
In addition to working with artists’ backstage needs, REVERB often coordinates with volunteers to come pick up compostable waste, or arranges for its pickup with the local food supplier, who is often connected to a local farm, Roth said.
Talk That Trash
A key component of sustainability is education and modifying consumer behavior.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado benefits massively each year from the help of its attendees, who volunteer on sustainability-related goals of diverting traffic and intelligent waste management.
“We are fortunate to belong to Festivarian (Telluride attendees) and host communities that understand the importance of making a positive impact, and it does not take much cajoling to get support in these endeavors,” Madison Watson, Planet Bluegrass’s director of sustainability, told Pollstar.
“I can’t say whether we enlightened our Festivarians to the importance of sustainability or whether they came to us endowed with this understanding, but one thing is for sure: we could not pull off any successful or intelligent waste management programming without the help of our volunteers. They get what we’re trying to do, and they take very little training – they’re as mission-driven as we are.”
Some events have developed a culture of helping out through incentives like ticket exchanges or merch rewards. Clean Vibes activates festival attendees as volunteers by getting them to commit a certain number of hours to festival cleanup, after which the cost of their ticket is refunded.
The energies of volunteers and paid staff give organizers much more control over what happens with their waste and create a more educated audience, more aware of how they can compost and recycle at home.
A key class of those volunteers is “Trash Talkers,” individuals who can identify and explain how to sort different kinds of waste, Borofsky said.
“For volunteers, it’s a really great experience. They’re able to give up back to the event and not just be a patron. It makes them a critical piece of our waste diversion efforts.”
In 2018, Clean Vibes coordinated 1,331 volunteers and, with the efforts of its volunteers, achieved 92 % waste diversion at Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco.
“A lot of these events are creating temporary cities and we have to create, in a sense, a public works department in order to make sure we responsibly divert those materials,” Borofsky said.