- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

Self-congratulatory environmental sensitivity has become an inescapable fact of today’s business culture, and the music industry is no exception.

“Green” music festivals have proliferated in recent years. Locally, for example, the National Museum of the American Indian is sponsoring Mother Earth, a series of “hot concerts for a cool summer” between June 13 and Aug. 22, as part of its effort to raise awareness of global climate change through educational and cultural programs.

An increasing number of artists - including the British rock bands Radiohead and Razorlight; singer-songwriter John Mayer; and American rock bands such as the Fray, Bon Jovi and Incubus - are working with environmental nonprofits such as Reverb, Heal the Bay and the Natural Resources Defense Council to “green” their tours, both onstage and offstage.

These green strategies might help artists and audience members feel good about themselves, but how much do they help the environment?

“The music industry is a business like any other, but at the helm of this industry is a pool of artists whose work often serves as a barometer to the social and environmental challenges our society faces,” says Chris Baumgartner, Enviro-Music Program Manager at MusicMatters, a green marketing agency that aids touring artists in making eco-friendly choices.

However, if the experience of the pathbreaking Radiohead is any barometer, the music industry faces a formidable challenge indeed in motivating young rock fans to do their part to heal the planet.

Singer Thom Yorke announced that 50 passes to the band’s June concert at Paris‘ Bercy Arena would be available, first-come-first-served, to fans who arrived by bicycle to collect them from the Paris office of XL, the British indie label on which Radiohead’s latest album, “In Rainbows,” was released outside North America.

Though the show at the 17,000-capacity venue sold out, XL was left with 35 ecologically sound but unclaimed tickets on its hands.

The signature event in the music industry’s environmental awakening was last year’s Live Earth concert, organized by former Vice President Al Gore to initiate a three-year campaign to combat climate change. The concerts brought together more than 150 musical acts in 11 locations around the world and were broadcast to a mass global audience through television, radio and the Internet.

At the time, Arctic Monkeys, the United Kingdom’s reigning buzz band, questioned whether the performers taking part in Live Earth were credible climate change activists.

“It’s a bit patronizing for us 21-year-olds to try to start to change the world,” Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders told Agence France-Presse in an interview before a concert in Paris, explaining why the group wasn’t participating in the global concert. “Especially when we’re using enough power for 10 houses just for [stage] lighting. It’d be a bit hypocritical.”

The music industry contributes 150,000 tons of carbon emissions annually through tour buses alone, according to the marketing firm MusicMatters. In April, Radiohead decided not to travel to the United States for a promotional performance on NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” because of concerns over global warming. The band members explained they didn’t want to fly to the U.S. for the one-off performance.

“I’ll be the first to admit that the music industry has some big unavoidable emissions associated with their business,” Mr. Baumgartner says. “With upward of 60 vehicles getting seven miles per gallon for a single national tour, the impact can be pretty staggering.”

A single stadium show can contribute 500 to 1,000 tons of CO2 emissions, not including fan transportation - and then there´s the garbage. A typical midsize venue can go through 470,000 plastic cups, 200,000 napkins and 600 light bulbs each year, not to mention the 24,000 plastic bags to collect the garbage.

“A majority of pollution and waste associated with music tours is actually an effect of the fans themselves - driving to and from shows, producing waste at the shows, littering in parking lots and venues, using one-use plastic containers for all their food and drink, etc.,” Mr. Baumgartner explains.

Bands are experimenting with a range of measures to reduce the environmental impact of concerts, including offering fans organic cotton T-shirts, printing posters and fliers on 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper with soy ink, and working with venues to increase recycling.

Ultimately, though, it is their ability to reach a mass audience that makes musicians such potentially effective catalysts of social change.

“Education and activating fans in reducing, reusing and recycling is one of the biggest impacts a musician can have,” Mr. Baumgartner says.

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