From energy use in venues, to transporting equipment and organising logistics, to manufacturing CDs and vinyls, to the impact of streaming and audience travel, environmental concerns permeate throughout almost every aspect of the music business.
As a whole, the UK music market is responsible for roughly 540,000 tonnes CO2e per annum, and while the effects of climate change aren’t squarely attributable to recording artists, producers and DJ’s, music holds a unique position in being able to change minds, inspire action and demonstrate a better, sustainable future.
Although the carbon output of the music industry is by no means the largest emitting sector in the world, it is by far one of the most impactful. The way fans view artists and creators tend to filter through to individual and societal behaviours. Musicians have a direct link to audiences, and that goes some way to helping their messages resonate.
'If you have a captive audience, then as a storyteller it should be your responsibility to speak on what's going on in the world,' says Louis VI, a rapper, producer and prominent voice on climate justice. 'Musicians are well placed to push the imagination, so there couldn’t be a better industry to lead the charge.'
Louis’ first-hand experience of addressing and improving his own environmental impact has been difficult, but he has proven it is possible. Engaging with plastic-free manufacturers to press his latest album EARTHLING on eco-friendly vinyl lead to a 60% reduction in energy consumption and an 85% reduction in carbon impact versus traditional methods.
'True, meaningful change has always had a creative element to it.'
A single record can take up to 1,000 years to fully decompose in landfill, but non-PVC vinyl production is becoming commonplace. Evolution Music spent years researching and developing their manufacturing processes by using circular economy principles to replace harmful plastics with an alternative, plant-based biodegradable material.
Change, as Evolution’s CEO Marc Carey puts it, requires 'disruptors, independents and innovators to come forward and make the difference.' Referencing historic cultural, social and political movements, he says that 'true, meaningful change has always had a creative element to it; this is no different.'
The large-scale changes required to limit average global temperatures below the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C target are lofty, but reinforces the fact that people must come together for the planet, and that collective responsibility is paramount.
Music Declares Emergency (MDE), an organisation created by artists and music execs to encourage discussion and inspire action within the industry, is one of the leading voices in the music-meets-climate space. Their involvement with Billie Eilish’s Overheated initiative last year, a multi-day, climate-focused event series at The O2, outlined how the industry can work together to create sustainable change.
'It’s the best example yet of when everybody comes together; the agent, the promoter, the manager, the artist, and the venue, all pulling in the same direction,' says co-founder Lewis Jaimeson. 'Not only do you create an example to show what’s possible, but it’s also something that reflects back to the industry as a reputational success.'
Community, advocacy and collective responsibility are core tenets of MDE’s philosophy. Their rousing declaration 'NO MUSIC ON A DEAD PLANET' aims to inspire action across all facets of the industry and encourage partnerships across the spectrum.
Tackling such a gargantuan task cannot be achieved alone. Getting the right partners on board all fighting the same corner generates a sense of authenticity, something that audiences genuinely value. Surveys suggest music fans are more likely to care about climate change than the general public, and want the industry to act.
Understandably, some artists have been reluctant to find their voice on climate change for fear of being accused of hypocrisy. The fickle nature of the industry means that bad press is only one tweet or Instagram story away, but being open and honest about your position is the best step forward, says Richard Phillips from non-profit Julie’s Bicycle.
'The one thing that can stifle musicians speaking out is thinking you have to have it all sorted for fear of being called out,' he says. 'No one has it entirely down, we're all figuring it out together.'
Ecodisco, an environmental consultancy who have worked with Coldplay and Ellie Goulding on sustainable album launches, suggest there’s a place for cross-learning, but that transparency on measurement is key. 'Start by measuring your impact, even if it's bad, just acknowledge that and say, “Look we're, we're recording it so that we have a base to move forwards with,”’ says founder Hadi Ahmadzadeh. 'By integrating your audience into that conversation, you can achieve much more.'
'The best part about music is collaboration, so the more people engage in these conversations, the more we all win.'
Expertise is readily available. Pioneering tools such as Julie’s Bicycle’s Creative Climate Tools, IMPALA’s Carbon Calculator and Ecolibirum’s Travel Carbon Calculator focus on measuring impact, while other organisations like Ecodisco and A Greener Future can support with research and reporting. MDE and Heard offer media and comms training on how to talk about climate change.
There’s a genuine paradigm shift happening, and with so much fantastic work already underway, the only way is forward. It is down to us to amplify the momentum. 'If someone like me, who's not an established artist can make this effort then there’s not really an excuse not to try,' says Louis VI. 'The best part about music is collaboration, so the more people engage in these conversations, the more we all win.'