Music’s Hope In The Face Of The Climate Crisis

Is Decarbonization Our Future? Beyond carbon offsets, the sustainability movement is now focusing on decarbonization, that is efforts towards decreasing carbon output. Seen here is a solar powered stage at Willie Nelson’s Luck Family Reunion in Spicewood, Texas. Photo courtesy REVERB

With all of the doom and gloom surrounding the climate crisis in recent years, many people are understandably feeling helpless, anxious or just plain numb. And last month’s report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasized the harsh reality we are facing if we continue to do business as usual.

Yet despite recent news and the slow pace of climate progress from governments and corporations, we truly feel a sense of hope. Why? Because while the science is clear that we’re heading down a disastrous path for people and the planet, it is also unequivocal in showing that IF we take immediate, serious action, there is still a real opportunity to create a future that avoids the worst impacts of the climate crisis. We believe music can lead this fight for our future.

In the nearly 20 years since we started our nonprofit, REVERB, to reduce the environmental footprint of music and create positive impacts for people and the planet, we’ve seen music’s unique potential to play a major role in the climate fight. While the music community alone can’t reverse course on the climate crisis, it does have an outsized opportunity to become a leading, sustainable industry and drive the cultural, technical and logistical shift toward a decarbonized, sustainable and equitable future.

REVERB grew out of our unwavering belief that music has the power to shift cultural and systemic norms to the benefit of people and the planet. In our early years we helped artists like Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, Maroon 5, John Mayer, Barenaked Ladies and Guster to tour more sustainably while engaging their audiences to take action with local and national nonprofits hosted in an Eco-Village at each show. We were continuing and expanding upon the legacy of environmentally-minded musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson and Neil Young. And it was working! The fan response was overwhelmingly positive, nonprofits were loving the opportunity to connect with thousands of fans each night, and artists got to support causes that were near to their hearts.

Working with artists and their teams, we also created custom comprehensive sustainability programs — executed by our on-tour staff — to reduce the environmental footprint of their tours. The results of these efforts kept motivation flowing among existing and new artists as word-of-mouth spread. Changes like ditching single-use plastic water bottles backstage and offering reusable bottles and hydration stations to fans at shows avoided the use of hundreds of thousands of bottles – to date we count over 4 million bottles avoided at concerts alone.

Fast forward almost 20 years to today – the momentum to take environmental action within and throughout music is rapidly accelerating. What started as a handful of artists and industry leaders making changes in an ocean of business-as-usual is now becoming a turning of the tide.

More and more artists across genres, demographics and even generations are working to reduce the environmental impacts of music and becoming vocal advocates for climate action within the music community and beyond. In just the past few years, we’ve seen the next generation of artists come forward and we are proud to have worked on tours like Billie Eilish, The 1975, Harry Styles, Shawn Mendes and Tame Impala to make their tours more sustainable and mobilize millions of their fans to take climate action. The results are powerful and encouraging!

Lauren Sullivan & Adam Gardner

The conversations we’re having on the road now with fans in the Eco-Village at shows and online are more elevated and energized than ever. In fact, a recent study found that 82% of music fans think the climate crisis is a major concern – that’s 10 points higher than the general public! At REVERB concerts alone, fans have taken over 4 million actions with nonprofit organizations and raised over $13 million for environmental causes, including the direct reduction of greenhouse gas pollution in music.

More venues, festivals, labels, agencies and other music businesses are seeking out and implementing measures to reduce their carbon footprints. We’ve seen increased movement around the music industry to discuss and share best environmental practices. Commitments like the Music Climate Pact from major and independent record labels to halve emissions by 2030 and be net zero by 2050 have started popping up, too.

During the pandemic we launched Music Climate Revolution, a campaign to unite the music community in the fight against the climate crisis and help everyone take immediate, ongoing and increasing climate action. A growing number of venues, agencies, studios, radio stations, labels, artists and fans are joining the campaign. Artist partners like Billie Eilish, The Lumineers, ODESZA, Dead & Company, My Morning Jacket, Brittany Howard, Dave Matthews Band and Lorde have worked with us to reduce the carbon footprint of their tours and fund our Climate Portfolio of vetted projects that measurably reduce greenhouse gas pollution and support communities that are most negatively affected by the climate crisis.

To address music’s carbon emissions head-on, REVERB’s industry-supported Music Decarbonization Project is helping to fund and advance innovative climate solutions that directly eliminate carbon emissions created by the music industry. Last month, during SXSW, we powered the main stage (SL320) at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion with 100% solar energy. Partnering with Overdrive Energy Solutions, we replaced diesel generators with solar panels and intelligent battery solutions enabling zero-emissions performances by Willie Nelson, Spoon, Margo Price, The War and Treaty and others. We will soon be releasing a full case study with our impact analysis partner, Sound Future, to provide the industry a use-case for replicating and expanding clean energy solutions.

And it’s not just REVERB and other pioneer organizations like Julie’s Bicycle, A Greener Festival, Global Inheritance and Effect Partners that are creating change. There is an increasing number of artists, industry leaders, and organizations working to make music more sustainable. Artists like Coldplay, Massive Attack, Bring Me the Horizon, and Pearl Jam continue to push the envelope; organizations like Sound Future, DJs For Climate Action, Music Sustainability Association, MUSE, Music Declares Emergency and Planet Reimagined; music businesses like Live Nation, AEG, UMG, UTA and Activist Artist Management; and vendors like Overdrive Energy Solutions, rCup, Turn, and Everybody.

World are all making big strides in changing the way our industry does business.
That said, we need to do more — and quickly. As the UN’s IPCC report made abundantly clear, the actions we’re currently taking are simply not enough to change the current disastrous course we’re on. The music industry, like most industries, relies heavily on fossil fuels. From the buses, trucks and planes that move us around the world, to the power used to record, produce and perform, music’s dependence on burning fossil fuels needs to end. Waste is a pervasive problem in nearly every facet of the music industry, though perhaps most acutely in live music. Standing in a sea of single-use plastic after a show will alert anyone to this fact. From the concession stand to the merch booth to backstage, we need to focus on waste and emissions reduction and demand the same from vendors and suppliers.

The good news here is that there are solutions already available to address all of these issues. Technologies that reduce and ultimately eliminate the burning of fossil fuels are now a reality. Transportation, heating and cooling systems, and even remote on-demand power are quickly moving toward electrification. Increasingly efficient solar, wind, and other zero-emissions power sources are making clean energy more widely available. Better waste systems with more efficient reuse, recycling and composting options are helping divert waste from landfills and driving down associated methane emissions. Vendors offering upcycled and recycled options are reducing the impacts of merch and concessions. The list goes on!

The environmental issues we’re facing don’t exist in a vacuum and certainly the music community alone can’t take on the climate crisis, but we do have the outsized potential and reach to be a major catalyst for change. Governments and large corporations — especially banks — hold massive sway over the future of our planet, but it’s individuals who ultimately pull the levers. Mass action is needed to change the speed at which governments and industries address the climate crisis and eliminate the extraction and use of fossil fuels. The music industry’s high profile has an immense opportunity to galvanize millions of people in calling on world leaders to take urgent climate action and influence other industries with better sustainability practices.

So yes: we’re hopeful!

Our collective fight in the climate crisis begins, sustains and ends with hope. We also know that hope alone will not do the trick: hope combined with action is the key. Hope and action feed off of each other and amplify one another in a positive feedback loop that leads to widespread and systemic change. Music brings us together and together we can be bigger than the climate crisis. Let’s be the solution.