The past few years have given rise to a growing importance and general care for sustainability in the industry. And thank fuck for that.
Don’t get us wrong, we love a good live gig as much as the next guy, and these past two years of being cooped up at home have reaaally made those withdrawal symptoms bubble to the surface. But we can’t stand there among the crowd, and not feel at least a teensy tiny little bit of guilt, for participating in the epitome of unsustainability as far as music goes.
See the thing is, live events, particularly festivals, are incredibly damaging to the environment. So much so, that some artists have even pledged to stop touring until it can become a sustainable practice. Coldplay did just this in 2019 and is only just getting back on the world stage now, with an intensive plan to reduce their carbon footprint.
Now we all want to be able to attend our favourite events without needing to hurt our dear planet Earth in the process. But how?
Is streaming THE sustainable solution to live music?
Some believe that steering towards online shows and live streaming will be the most effective plan of action to reduce the carbon footprint of musical events. After all, carbon emissions aren’t only generated by artists touring nor music being distributed. Let’s not forget that audiences travel to and from those shows too, increasing emissions by god knows how much in a single event.
Some people are particularly hopeful that this could change due to the exacerbated pace at which technology advances and the recent development and subsequent integration into society of NFTs and digital events. Immersive experiences don’t feel like they’re that far off anymore and we can begin to imagine a future where a digital experience could almost be on par with a physical one.
To be or not to be (the solution)… That is the question
Still, here at TNC, we don’t truly believe this to be the ultimate solution. Sure it’s an option, and sure it would reduce the environmental impact of live shows. But let’s not forget that first of all, streaming anything still consumes quite a bit of energy, particularly high resolution 4K content. Does it have a smaller carbon footprint than attending a live show or the process of producing a CD? Yes. But you also only attend that live show once, and buy that CD once, whilst nowadays most people stream something constantly. Rather than the energy consumption, it’s the data usage that poses a problem. The energy needed to power the servers which support the constant data usage by billions of people to be precise.
Although there may still be some hope: There are streaming services that use less energy and data, awareness of the environmental costs of digital activity is growing, and the popularity of renewable energy sources to power servers is rising. Hence why we are hopeful that this whole venture will become more sustainable and will indeed become an alternative.
An alternative does not a replacement make
An alternative. NOT a replacement. We need to keep in mind that the fact that there might be a semi-decent alternative to live shows on the horizon doesn’t translate into a full-on replacement. The whole point of going to a concert is to experience something, the whole ordeal. And for different people that means different things. We’re talking about the excitement of going somewhere in the first place, the enjoyment of the journey itself, the planning of outfit and pre-partying, and the partaking of thousands of people in the same thing. Feeling the vibrations of the bass on your chest, and the swaying of the crowd, joining your individual voice with that of a sea of people to sing your favourite song. The lights, the air, the rawness and the physicality of it all play a major part. Even at the end of an event, and talking with your momentary neighbours about it, the friendships are forged and solidified.
Music may be the main thing that brings you to a live show sure, but you stay because of so much more. You stay for the experience.
Sustainability should be embedded in the infrastructure of music events
As such we need to understand that the solution to the issue of unsustainability in live shows isn’t replacing it with online shows entirely. Online streaming is but a complement to the music, a new, exciting way to experience it. But we can’t stress this enough, it is not a replacement nor the solution to the astronomical carbon footprint created by shows and festivals. Not only because it won’t do, but also because what needs to truly happen for sustainability to win is to tackle the core of the problem, which is the unsustainable infrastructure itself.
Planes, trains, and automobiles are harmful to the environment all the time. Not only when they’re being used to go to gigs and festivals. So it makes no sense to cancel live shows entirely, rather, we need to build transport networks and logistics infrastructures that do not damage the environment when put in use.
For those of you who would think this goal unrealistic, keep in mind that there are already several initiatives that are making this happen. Electrical vehicles are alive and well for example, and organizations such as The Climate Gig are making strides in their mission to make sustainable travel a possibility both for musicians and fans.
By offering carbon offsetting tools and allowing people to buy Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) for their flights, they are helping people massively reduce their carbon footprint.
Waste & Plastic
Besides transport, the other monumentally detrimental side effect of live shows and particularly festivals is the waste produced. Single plastic use runs rampant in these things. Just think how many drinks you can have at such an event, food in plastic wrappings or utensils… Now multiply it by the tens of thousands – hundreds of thousands for something like Coachella – of attendees. The literal tonnes of waste resulting from the aftermath of live music are offensive.
In order to resolve and revert a situation such as this, we need first and foremost a larger and more determined social awareness regarding the impact of our own individual practices. As far as organizing entities are concerned, there need to be not just sustainable options, but for the sustainable thing to be the only option.
Thankfully, initiatives such as the Bye Bye Plastic Foundation (BBP) have taken not only notice but more importantly action in the strife against the waste generation in music events. In an effort to eliminate single-use plastic, BBP encourages artists themselves to use their Eco-Rider which stipulates the artist’s plastic-free preference on tour.
Musicians, and artists in general, have great cultural influence, the arts are an incredibly powerful platform through which to impulse legislative and social change. With seemingly small actions, they can essentially affect social change. WE can essentially affect social change.
The tools and the alternatives are there, so what the hell are we waiting for? Sustainable pogos are within reach, so jump.