It Ain’t Easy Being Green: How Jack Johnson Continues To Raise The Bar For Sustainable Touring

Jack Johnson
– Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson performs at Zitadelle Spandau in Berlin July 25. Over the years Johnson has been a trailblazer in environmentally conscious touring.

Jack Johnson is credited by some as setting a “Gold Standard” for sustainable touring – though he acknowledges it’s a continuing learning process as technologies and best practices evolve and conditions change. He cites Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Dave Matthews Band and U2 as sources of inspiration, and has tried things he learned performing at events like Farm Aid and Fuji Rock Festival at his own Kokua Festival. One initiative Johnson is currently excited about is the Hawaiian organization Chef Hui, which during COVID-19 is allowing people to pick up food and is donating meals and facilitating financial support for first responders and people in need, while developing the capacity of local food production on the islands, where the vast majority of food is shipped in. There year he is hosting Kokua Festival 2020 – Live From Home on April 25 to celebrate Earth Day. Pollstar caught up with Johnson on the eve of the 50th Earth Day to learn more about the green touring initiatives he continues to pioneer.
Why Tour At All?  
 “The simple math states that staying at home and not touring is the greenest thing I can do. But if I quit the road, the touring industry continues on, and I decided I wanted to participate and be part of this industry and try to make it greener.”
On His Kokua Festival As A Laboratory For Sustainable Concerts
“There’s always a big learning curve when you are trying new things, but by doing that show in Hawaii at the same venue for several years in a row and strengthening that rela-
tionship each time we do it, we are continuously building upon what we have previously built. And each time you do something 
new that works, you can bring that on the road.”
On Reducing Plastic Use, In Line With The Plastic Free Hawaii Initiative
“At home in Hawaii, our foundation hosts beach cleanups where you can see how bad the plastic pollution problem is. When I realized how much plastic was used on the average tour, it motivated us to take a stand on trying to use less. It starts with working with venues and promoters … even if they haven’t taken that step to reduce or eliminate plastic from the venue, if they provide fans with options to refill their reusable bottles, you can affect change. 
“Seeing no single-use plastic at the Santa Barbara Bowl show was a great moment, we realized it could be done. And we got no complaints for that, we got people reaching out to Santa Barbara Bowl saying ‘Thank you for doing that!’ It’s almost like we are playing catch-up with the younger generation, trying to give them what they want to see in this world.”
On Optimizing His Charitable Foundation
“We established the Johnson Ohana Foundation so that the interest generated from the fund each year could be given out as donations. We have been giving out grants for over 10 years, but the thing we’ve really learned to value is the potential to make impact investments with the endowment that are aligned with our mission. We think about what kind of companies we are investing in, the companies we want to see in the world. For example, we give low-interest loans to farmers and our investments are 100% fossil fuel free. We also  support ‘loan-ations,’ or zero-interest loans, to companies and non-profits that want to install solar panels and they give back their savings every month to pay it back. How you invest your money is just as important as how you spend it.”

The BYOBottle Initiative
“At different levels of an artist’s career they have more leverage over the venues. We don’t expect every artist to [turn down gigs for environmental reasons], with BYOBottle we wanted to give them an entrance point to do something to reduce plastics on tour: travel with reusables, ask the venue to provide water refill stations and encourage their fanbase to refill water bottles to reduce plastic waste. 
“I made this commitment a long time ago, but you can never expect to do everything perfect. There are times where you might be doing the best you can on a tour, and then new technology or resources come to light and you have to be open to the conversation, not only on what you’ve done wrong, but what has changed as you move along.”
On the EnviroRider/Green Rider 
“There were times where we would pick our venue based on who was willing to follow our EnviroRider more closely. Same with festivals. Some venues or festivals have some sort of reusable cup program or incentive that is different from the next town, but as long as they are making an effort, we will work with them … And now some of these venues are impressing us and taking their greening  to the next level.”  s