Thinking Ahead: Live’s Sustainability Executives Weigh In On Our Future

ASM Global aims to become carbon neutral by 2050. Live Nation plans to have all their events become zero waste by 2030. Oak View Group (Pollstar’s parent company) continues to hit their goals in reducing its carbon emissions. 

Using a plethora of resources was oftentimes considered necessary to run a live show. From massive amounts of travel by fans and artists to merch and non-recyclable concessions, live music’s impact on the environment could oftentimes be harmful. With the climate clock ticking and the impacts of climate change already upon us, organizations are working toward completely changing the ways in which they operate to minimize their impact. 

Pollstar reached out to sustainability heads at ASM Global, Live Nation and Oak View Group to learn more about how they’re changing their operations, as well as some ways others in the industry can get involved. Here, they share their favorite sustainability-based concerts, ways everyone, including fans, can get involved, the benefits of offering plant-based meals at venues, why it’s important to collaborate with competitors when it comes to the environment and the importance of green riders on tour. 

Elimination of food waste, figuring out ways to utilize renewable energy in venues, introducing reusable cups and service ware are several ways ASM Global, Live Nation and Oak View Group have been implementing programs for a greener live show. While there is still a long way to go before the industry can hang their hats on saving the planet, the live business is steadily becoming leaders in the movement as numerous steps are being taken to prove sustainability is not only important, but necessary. 

LArell Headshot
Lindsay Arell (Courtesy of ASM Global)


Lindsay Arell
Principal at Honeycomb Strategies, a partner of ASM Global  

Lucy August-Perna 
Director of Global Sustainability at Live Nation

Kristen Fulmer
Head of Sustainability at Oak View Group

What are some of your organization’s recent initiatives in sustainability?
Lindsay Arell: ASM Global is very excited to announce our ASM Global Acts Sustainability Initiative. These are specific targets for the environment, communities we serve, and the people who we work with. These initiatives are being pursued throughout our entire portfolio of 350+ venues. Some examples include:
· Reduce Energy Consumption by 25% in 2030 from the baseline year (2023)
· Achieve 20% of all energy consumed through renewable energy sources in 2025
· Carbon Neutral by 2050 (milestone 25% carbon reduction by 2030, 50% carbon reduction by 2040)
· Divert 50% of Waste Overall by 2025
· Eliminate Single-Use Plastic Front of House by 2025
· Reduce Water Consumption by 25% by 2030 from the baseline year (2023)
· Award 50% of our reportable spend to suppliers adhering to our Environmental Purchasing Policy by 2030
· Increase plant-based menu options by 35% by 2024  – Savor Venues
· Award 50% of our reportable spend to local food suppliers by 2024 – Savor Venues
· Decrease food waste by 75% by 2026 – Savor Venues

Lucy August-Perna: We’ve been focused on implementing programs in support of our goal to produce zero-waste events by 2030 and eliminate the use of single-use plastic at our events. Some of the ways we’re doing that include zero waste stations, on-site sorting teams, compostable food service ware, and composting & donation programs. Our investment in Liquid Death aluminum canned water reduced over 7 million plastic water bottles so far, equivalent to an estimated 160 tons of avoided plastic. And Live Nation’s investment and implementation of TURN reusable cups across 11 festivals including Lollapalooza, ACL, and Bonnaroo has helped avoid and replace over 1.2 million single-use plastic cups, with more to come in 2023.

Kristen Fulmer: Sustainability has been at OVG’s core since its inception, which is evident by the achievements in the high-performance design of Climate Pledge Arena, UBS Arena, and the three other venues that have opened in the last year or so. That said, those facilities continue to hit new milestones while charting out the next ones. In the coming year, OVG’s Owned & Operated buildings will meet and exceed ambitious sustainability goals, including energy and carbon emissions reduction; waste reduction and diversion; health and well-being; community impact, and more. GOAL (Green Operations & Advanced Leadership) is an industry movement to push sustainability further and faster across sports and entertainment. In partnership with Fenway Sports Group, State Farm Arena, and Jason F. McLennan, OVG launched the GOAL Platform, which provides operators all over the world with data collection support, data insights and analytics, a detailed action plan with validation of achievement, connections to solution providers that help to deliver that achievement, and most importantly, a network of like-minded collaborators to share challenges, ideas, and solutions.

Can you talk about the importance of pre-competitive collaboration in the music industry when it comes to sustainability?
Arell: Working together with promoters, venue operators, artists, food and beverage, transportation companies, and other stakeholders is key to sustainability progress in the music industry. Through open dialogue and the sharing of resources, we can truly understand the industry’s opportunities for improvement, real barriers, new technologies and more. With the industry rowing in the same direction, we can align our goals to make a very positive impact and material change.

Fulmer: In times of crisis, communities come together, share solutions, and help each other so that they all get stronger and can overcome the challenge in front of them. Addressing the human-caused climate crisis, which is already impacting communities around the world, is no different. The climate crisis will affect the routing of tours, the safety of travel for tours, the health and well-being of the artist, the ability for fans to reach shows, and the economy that enables these shows to happen. But we know the solutions to reduce those negative impacts and we hold the most influence in the world to deploy them. We can equip each other with solutions that future-proof the music industry … While there might be a competitive advantage to deploying clever, engaging sustainability solutions, competitive advantage is less important if there is no industry to compete against.  

Fulmer Headshot
Kristen Fulmer (courtesy of Oak View Group)

During the Pollstar Live! sustainablity panel, one point emphasized was how data is key in regards to sustainability — can you share more about how to better quantify this burgeoning sector?
Arell: Data is key to organizational goal setting, accountability, transparency, and creditability. It was very important to ASM Global Acts to have a data management platform to track our progress toward our very specific goals and targets. To achieve this, ASM Global is partnering with WeTrack for our sustainability data management platform. This platform includes tracking both qualitative and quantitative goals and initiatives, with 2023 as our baseline year for all venues. At the end of this year, we will have a much clearer picture of how our buildings are performing. This will allow us to understand where we are on track, where we need to be more aggressive in our operation, and potential areas for new partnerships. At the individual venue level, they are able to report their progress to their key stakeholders.  Data = Accountability.

August-Perna: At Live Nation we use global standards and frameworks like the Greenhouse Gas Protocol to measure our greenhouse gas emissions and impact. Not only does this assure we’re aligned with science-based approaches to accounting for and measuring our impact across energy, waste and more, but it also helps to identify priority areas so we know where to focus our efforts. Using data to drive decision-making helps make sure we spend resources on efforts that will have a meaningful impact – for our business and for the planet.

Fulmer: Sustainability goals, just like ticket sales targets or per-cap numbers of F&B sales, are quantifiable metrics that help stakeholders assess performance. In other performance statistics, we know what “good” is – which often changes per market or per type of show. The same could be true for sustainability, but we don’t know what “good” looks like as clearly … yet. We built the GOAL Portal to help our industry demystify environmental and social measurements, help us track progress against a baseline, and chart out a path towards – and validation against – continuous improvement. Just like everything else in life, we don’t know if we’re doing well if we have nothing to compare to. … Measurement is key to setting a “before” baseline that makes validating improvements much more clear. This could be true of a venue that hasn’t been selling out shows, but it is also true of the energy consumption, the waste output, or the diversity of the staff. 

What was the best environmental sustainability concert or event you’ve attended?
Arell: Any concert that takes place at Red Rocks Amphitheater. I was fortunate to work with the operations and communication teams for several years on their sustainability initiatives. Since 2010, they have made a commitment to sustainable practices, both front and back of house, that builds each year. This includes strategic partnerships with waste haulers and procurement, sustainability requirements for vendors like food and beverage and janitorial, and structural commitments, such as their state-of-the-art onsite waste sorting facility. All these actions mean any concert coming to the world-renowned Red Rocks is sustainable by nature.

August-Perna: There have been several events I’ve attended where I’ve left hopeful and inspired about what is possible and the practical solutions that are going to help us all get closer to a more sustainable live events industry. In 2022, for me, it was Austin City Limits. Under Jake Perry’s leadership, it was amazing to see a festival with the size and popularity of ACL demonstrate what’s possible at scale. The festival implemented TURN reusable cups festival wide – there were no single-use plastic cups or bottles served to fans – instead, they received drinks in a reusable cup or aluminum can. With 94% of cups returned to be washed and reused, this resulted in over 420,000 single-use cups being prevented from entering our ecosystem and landfills. To walk around a festival that size and not see piles of plastic trash is exactly how it should be. In addition to their leadership in plastic and waste reduction, the festival has clearly marked recycling and composting stations throughout the festival grounds, celebrates Austin culture through locally curated menu items, offers shuttles and bike parking for attendees, and makes use of local grid power to power portions of the festival which can be 5 times more efficient than temporary diesel generators, resulting in over 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions according to an audit we conducted last year.

Fulmer: Last fall, I saw Dave Matthews at Climate Pledge Arena – It was cool to watch the show, knowing that it was “climate positive” via their partnership with REVERB; knowing that it was powered by 100% renewable energy; that it was likely close to – if not over – 90% waste diversion from landfill; that it was in the band’s backyard since some of them live in Seattle; and that I know that the building continues to integrate sustainability where they can. I also recently went to Innings Fest in Tampa, Florida, and it was fun to watch OVG Hospitality serve drinks in reusable cups and see fan communications and operations about sustainability wherever I looked. 

What changes would you like to see in the live industry as far as sustainability is concerned?
Arell: More consistency in practices at the venues and in requests by artists. I would love to help create a standard of best practices for the industry regarding our most material impacts. Other industries have accomplished this and seen tremendous results … just look at what LEED did for the building industry. Even if certification isn’t the end goal, clearly agreeing on best practices, sharing of resources, and collaboration will provide a roadmap for vendors to implement and work towards.

CoverPhotoLucy August Perna 0464r11
Lucy August-Perna Director of Global Sustainability at Live Nation Entertainment

August-Perna: I am thrilled to see more and more major industry players hiring and investing in full-time sustainability teams. I think this is necessary to make sure our actions as an industry are driven from within our own operations and guided by data and science.

Which innovations in sustainability are you most excited about?
Arell: I’m very excited to see a movement towards service ware REUSE and a shift away from single-use items. The environmental impacts of using and washing cups and containers are far less than any type of compostable or recyclable containers. In addition, many facilities that may have accepted these materials in the past are starting to reject compostable service ware and certain types of plastic due to contamination issues. I am also excited about the emphasis on local and healthy food options, including vegetarian and vegan. These items not only have a lesser carbon footprint, but they also support the local community and small business owners, while highlighting local specialty food items helping to create a sense of culture.

August-Perna: While there are few silver bullets, there are solutions available today that with further investment could be more cost-effective and scalable at more events, in turn achieving immediate emissions reductions across our industry: reusable cups, HVO fuels for ground transport and generators, Sustainable Aviation Fuel, hybrid and electric battery generators, and more.

Fulmer: The next frontier is tapping into, measuring, and reducing all of the carbon emissions that don’t come from the building itself. We have solutions for building energy reduction, electrification, and waste reduction – now we need artists and fans to reduce their footprint and find ways to equip our supply chain to do the same. While there’s no one perfect solution, we must lean on all of the emerging technologies that help us measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As a side note: The solutions to avoid and limit food waste are not innovative – they’re actually quite simple – but I’m excited about the momentum in the industry to make reductions in that critical category as well. 

How can artists and fans make a difference?
Arell: Artists can make a huge impact by simply starting the conversation around sustainability! Artists have always made certain demands and requests of their key suppliers … now we are seeing this in the form of environmental riders. Leaders such as Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, and Billie Eilish are requiring commitments such as the elimination of single-use plastic, renewable energy to power the venue, and more. REVERB has an awesome Green Rider example that is downloadable on their website. This offers starter language for venues, hospitality, F&B and more. Step one, just ask! And for fans – support these artists and their efforts by sharing positively on social media, participating in their programs, and encouraging more action!

Fulmer: Everyone can be part of the sustainability solution. The first thing to ask yourself is what am I passionate about? Saving animals? Educating youth? Gardening? Those passions are sustainability solutions and no step is too small. Consider what positive impact is interesting to you and go do that, whether in your personal or professional life. … It all adds up. Additionally, the industry should be equipping artists and fans to make a more sustainable choice – or not even providing the unsustainable one. Together, we can deploy the solutions that future-proof the live entertainment industry.