Mercy Mercy Me: Sustainability Takes On New Significance

Earth Day
Joyce Naltchayan/AFP via Getty Images
– Earth Day

The health of our environment today is more of a pressing issue than it was 50 years ago when 20 million Americans commemorated the original Earth Day. This written as some 306 million Americans are currently in some form of quarantine lockdown due to the coronavirus. It’s also the message from the leaders of the sustainability movement, many of whom Pollstar spoke with for this special Earth Day issue in which music and live events have played an indispensable role.  

When Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, spoke about the environment a half century ago, he said: “Our goal is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all human beings and all other living creatures … a decent environment in its broadest and deepest sense. It will require a long, sustained political, moral, ethical and financial commitment far beyond any commitment ever made by any society in the history of man.” And indeed, for this goal to be achieved today, it will require sacrifice and innovation from every sector of society, including the live sector.  
In 1991, it was no less a figure than Jonathan Kraft, now president of The Kraft Group and president of the New England Patriots, who reached out to Concerts For The Environment  to host Earth Day celebrations at Foxboro Stadium. He told Pollstar recycling was something his family already cared about at the time, and the family’s involvement with Earth Day only propelled them to learn more about sustainability and implement it in their own venues and businesses. He celebrated Earth Day’s collaborative approach and the environmental movement’s increasing ability to work with different institutions and groups.
“If you go back 30 years ago, I think much of why ‘big business’ was scared of environmentalists, I think is they felt they were being threatened and lectured to rather than cooperating and being invited to work together.” Thankfully, so much of that ethos has changed.” 
While the economy reels from the effects of COVID-19, the pandemic’s disruption of economic and day-to-day norms has created an opportunity for reflection and conversation that some in the environmental movement and the live business can seize upon. While it’s unclear how long the live industry will remain shut down as tentpole events like Bonnaroo and Coachella have been rescheduled for September and October for the time being, when business resumes it will be with a raft of new innovations and best practices. Ziggy Marley, who performed at Earth Day in 1990, believes we are in a unique position to consider how we individually and collectively transform our practices, our approaches to business, governance and individual behavior, so when we are able to resume live as normal, it can be an even better life. 
“This COVID pandemic is forcing us to sacrifice, but there is a benefit,” Marley said. “When we take a step back from our own urges and wants, we can make real changes for the sake of others, when we take ourselves out of our own selfishness. When this pandemic is over, we still need to have concern about others. We need to carry these lessons we are learning into the future and not forget them.”
The live music business, for years, has been full of eco-forward people, and many artists today like Jack Johnson, Ben Harper (see pages 14 and 21), Dave Matthews Band and U2 continue to carry the torch pushing the  sustainability bar ever higher. 
As well organizations like REVERB, Effect Partners, Plastic Pollution Coalition, r.Cup, Clean Vibes, Event Water Solutions (see industry sustainability guide on page 4) all dedicated to making touring greener. Intiatives like the EnviroRider are giving artists more green leverage than ever before. Today, the world’s largest promoters in Live Nation and AEG are leading several sustainability initiatives. 
“When at the Santa Barbara Bowl we saw there was no single-use plastic at the show, it was a great moment, we realized it could be done,” Jack Johnson told Pollstar in explaining the changes he’s helped make and the win-win-win because of it. “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.”
”Music and activism go together,” promoter and venue owner Peter Shapiro, who is hoping to organize a rally on the National Mall prior to the 2020 November Election in lieu of Earth Day 2020, told Pollstar. “This has to be done, people don’t just want to watch speeches or videos, people want to be lifted. We’re not gonna save the world with this stuff alone, but the world is not gonna get saved unless we do stuff like bringing music and the environment together in smart ways.”
It’s a thought many in this industry are having. 
Special thanks to Michael Martin of Effect Partners / r.Cup for advising much of this week’s magazine content.