As businesses of all ilks have increasingly integrated sustainability with their offerings, Live Nation has continued to lead the way in the concerts sphere with its Sustainability Rocks initiative.
Launched in 2018, the program is part of the concert promoter’s broader sustainability charter, Green Nation, and has emphasized green initiatives at amphitheaters owned and operated by the live entertainment behemoth.
“I’m looking for ways that we can reduce the environmental impact of our concert venues,” says Lucy August-Perna, Live Nation’s manager of venue sustainability. “Obviously we’ve been super focused on waste production the last few years, but also things like energy use, water and, of course, fan, artist and community engagement.”
August-Perna has been at the forefront of a sustainable concert industry for some 15 years, dating back to her time at Effect Partners, a leading organization in uniting prominent clients with salient social causes, including the environmentalist movement.
“I feel like historically artists have really driven sustainability in the music industry,” she says. “I worked with Dave Matthews Band and Jack Johnson, at a time when artists were really encouraging the venues they were playing to adopt more environmentally friendly practices.”
Tom See, Live Nation president, venues – U.S. concerts, sums it up similarly. “It all started with the artists,” he says. “The more they advocate for getting venues to participate in sustainable activities, we all win at the end of the day.”
August-Perna’s Live Nation job boils down to implementing the types of policies those artists would ask of venues – that venues would then often discard for subsequent gigs – for all shows at Live Nation’s amphitheaters. And, after the program’s second summer, the Live Nation team is pleased with the results.
Some aspects are sexier and more prominent than others. For instance, this summer, Live Nation introduced Questlove’s Cheesesteak, made with Impossible, plant-based “meat” at its venues, a year after introducing Impossible burgers. The company has worked to eliminate single-use plastics, eliminating plastic straws and adding water bottle refill stations. And mediums from LED screens to placards at napkin stations educate concertgoers about sustainable best practices.
But many substantial aspects of Sustainability Rocks have taken place behind the scenes. The toughest has been working toward making venues waste-free – when less than 10% of waste generated goes to a landfill – by 2020.
“It’s a goal we’re still working toward; we knew it was going to be a very ambitious goal,” August-Perna says. “Two years ago, system-wide, we were at about 15% divergence, meaning we were only recycling about 15% of the things at our venues. In just two years, we’re now up to 50%.”
Venues such as PNC Music Pavilion in Charlotte, N.C., which achieved zero waste in 2019, have been “leading the charge,” according to August-Perna, along with Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Va., and Darien Lake Amphitheater in Darien Lake, N.Y., both of which hovered around 80% divergence this year.
“That takes into account all the tailgating that goes on,” See says. “It’s not just in your venue, it’s outside of it, and then also what the tour brings in. It’s not just literally what you’re serving.”
But initiatives like Green Nation and competitor AEG’s AEG 1EARTH program present challenges. For Sustainability Rocks, those have included the added cost of the teams that sort waste after shows – “We’re willing to take on that financial burden to make it happen, and we didn’t think twice,” See says – to unexpected regional differences in waste management.“The hardest piece thus far has really been getting to learn about the local jurisdictions our amphitheaters are in.”
“We’ve got these national programs and plans, but really each venue needs to adapt and implement based off of the local municipality rules and regulations,” August-Perna says.
For that reason, Live Nation added sustainability coordinators at each of its venues to tailor practices and to make sure they’re rigorously followed.
“Recycling facilities are getting more strict about contamination,” August-Perna says. “If there’s a dumpster that’s supposed to be recycling, if they even see a couple bags of trash, they’ll just take the whole thing to the landfill.”
Still, See and August-Perna have been overwhelmingly satisfied with Sustainability Rocks’ success, even as they stay focused on lofty goals, like getting waste-free by 2020 and plastic-free by 2021. Live Nation is also working on measuring its carbon footprint so that it can fully dive into maximizing energy efficiency and renewable energy, according to August-Perna.
“We have a platform,” See says. “When you take a look at it, we’ve got 13-million-plus concert fans a year that are coming to our venues. If we can create an educational opportunity for them and also give back to the planet, it’s incredibly rewarding.”