Earth Day Special: Sustainability’s New Importance as Touring Returns

Koury Angelo / Getty Images / Apple
– Best Foot Forward
Billie Eilish at Apple’s “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry” Live Premiere Event. Eilish is one artist who has made the issue of sustainability a central part of her tours.

As the live industry prepares for the early stages of a gradual return to full-scale touring, the question of “What can we do differently?” is on the minds of many and very much an opportunity.  A year ago, the live industry was entering a prolonged shutdown, and when Pollstar commemorated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, many were unnerved by the many challenges but saw the possibilities the disruption created

“Really having a break on the entire music industry and just life in general, people understood that time is precious,” Jonah Geschwind  of the environmental organization Green Disco told Pollstar. “Secondly, people could directly see human activity’s impact on the environment, with just pollution, air quality. … The goal behind [our work] is really just to bring in the new age of gatherings. We just want people after COVID to have a changed mindset. Things should not just go back to normal, things can be better.”
Throughout the industry, many Pollstar spoke to for this issue said the conversation around sustainability has expanded considerably in the past year.

Michael Martin of Effect Partners told Pollstar that a group of 300 road managers and 3,000 roadies are participating in a regular calls, organized by new groups like the Touring Professionals Alliance and Tour Production Group to examine their own practices and norms, and his own phone has been ringing continuously as more people seem to have a genuine desire to address the issue of sustainability in touring. 
“The pandemic has been so hard for our industry, but amazingly, what has happened is with the downtime different players have started working together and talking about the critical intersectional issues of sustainability, wellness and justice,” Martin told Pollstar.  “These issues are all connected. Individual companies like Rock-it Cargo and AEG Presents Touring Groups are developing meaningful programs in these areas. And cross industry working groups have been forming. This will continue. Once you learn about these issues, you cannot unlearn them, and therefore you must act.”
Martin (who penned a guest column) also said the capacity for collaboration between different sectors and organizations within the industry is key, as up to this point many efforts toward sustainability have mostly represented the isolated efforts of a few well-intentioned people who have been forced to “re-invent the wheel,” without a connection to a collective learning process.
Organizations like REVERB, have gained considerable experience over more than 17 years and are doing their best to spread that knowledge in big and small ways. Their work includes developing best practices for tours and educating artists, venues, promoters and agents to take small steps that, when added together, make sizeable impact on the carbon footprint of tours.
In no case is this more apparent than that of The Lumineers, the subject of this week’s Boxoffice Insider. With the help of REVERB The Lumineers were able to achieve a “climate positive” tour in 2020 through considerable efforts in reducing its own carbon footprint and the addition of a $1 minimum fee to its ticket price. The funds raised through this fee, it should be noted, not only were able to make the tour climate positive but also supported Shatterproof, a national organization dedicated to combating addiction, and local partners addressing homelessness. 
Adam Gardner – member of the band Guster and co-founder of REVERB along with his wife Lauren Sullivan – told Pollstar that the single biggest factor moving the industry toward becoming more sustainable is artist buy-in.
Yui Mok / PA Images / Getty Images
– Glastonbury
Attendees at Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm in Somerset, England in 2019 refill their water bottles at a designated station. Encouraging the use of refillable water bottles is one way event organizers and artists are trying to reduce the impact of concerts and festivals on the environment.

“The heart of our work is with artists,” Gardner told Pollstar. “The industry is built around music and the musicians are the ones creating it. This really does start with them.” 

And many artists do care, including Billie Eilish, who has partnered with REVERB to make sustainability a key part of her tours. Her agent, Sara Bollwinkel of Paradigm, told Pollstar last month she has been “discussing/prioritizing the importance of green touring and large event sustainability. When we are back up and running, it’s extremely important that we all do what we can to offset the carbon footprint of our many fabulous events.”
And it’s not just artists who have already ascended to the summit of the live industry who care about sustainability, as up-and-coming artists from all walks of life, like this week’s Hotstar Xiuhtezcatl are making environmental issues a core part of their story, from the ground up. 
One need not look further than Adam Met of AJR, who penned a special guest post about the future of sustainable touring for this issue for another artist ready to stand up for the environment. In addition to being in a band that just announced its return to touring in 2022, Met is Executive Director of Sustainable Partners and told Pollstar that the issue of sustainability is intricately connected to the issues affecting BIPOC communities that have repeatedly come to the fore of the national discourse in the last year. 
In addition to artists, event organizers like the promoters of Deep Tropics Festival in Nashville are thinking about how their event can offset its own carbon emissions and they are partnering with Green Disco to implement the use of “eco-bands” for their next event. 
With so much already going on, Pollstar has received indication that more is on the horizon and many touring artists are planning a special, global campaign for World Environment Day on June 5, the details of which will be revealed at a later date. Pollstar has also learned that there will be a major effort to unify different elements of the sustainability movement within one forum over the next year. 
As the hustle and bustle of negotiation, planning, and, perhaps most importantly, enjoying live shows returns, this issue of Pollstar provides a few examples of how some in the industry are approaching the issue of sustainability. 
We invite you to take this opportunity to read and reflect on this critical issue, and to learn alongside some of this industry’s most brilliant minds and hearts.