Artists for the Earth

Music for Mother Earth: Sustainability in the Music Industry

Whether it’s the lively tunes of Beyoncé or the timeless, slow jazz of Miles Davis, music is all around us. With paid streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, listening to your favorite song has become easier than ever before. As a result, music sales have been increasing at significant rates and last year globally reached their highest total sales since 1999, peaking at an astounding $28.6 billion,

However, with this extreme growth also comes the heavy environmental toll associated with music production, tours, and festivals. 

Music production — from recording and distributing vinyls or CDs to streaming services — is one of the most significant environmental impacts from the music industry. During the era between the rise of vinyls in the 1970s and the peak of CDs in the early 2000s, the United States’ CO2 emissions from this sector only increased from 140 million kilograms to 157 million kilograms. In 2016, the environmental cost associated with streaming music through digital devices soared to 350 million kilograms, largely driven by the substantial power and energy demands of data centers to support the global streaming services.

Despite the increasingly large carbon footprint caused by energy-hungry streaming services, artists are beginning to use their platforms to not only entertain, but also to inspire positive change and talk about the need to address the climate crisis we are in. By incorporating sustainability into their music’s messaging and by encouraging their fans to take action, these artists are leaving a cultural footprint that extends far beyond their lyrics.

Leading by Example

Many prominent artists have tried to bring about real change by making their tours more eco-friendly. For example, Coldplay’s Music of the Spheres Tour pledged to reduce their carbon direct emissions by 50% from their last tour in 2017. As of 2023, they have successfully reached 47% fewer carbon emissions, yet they are still working to improve this statistic. Some of the initiatives of this tour include sustainable aviation fuel and renewable energy generation: from photovoltaic cells and even kinetic dance floors. 

In addition to being one of Gen Z’s favorite artists, Billie Eilish is also the co-founder of Music Decarbonization Project. As a vegan herself, she has made concerted efforts to provide only vegan menus to the touring staff and at concert venues, as a way of demonstrating her dedication to reducing carbon emissions where possible. Eilish describes the impacts of her green touring decisions when she says, “We provided over 24,000 plant-based meals for our touring crew and also worked with venues to ensure plant-based options were available to fans. By making that shift, we estimate to have saved 8.8 million gallons of water, 240,000 square feet of forested land, 123 tonnes of CO2e, and over 8,000 animals.”

It is only when you see these sort of statistics and numbers that you realize seemingly small changes can make huge differences. If big tours did this routinely, it would really make a difference. Yes, Taylor Swift we are looking at you

Aidan Charron, director of end plastic initiatives,

Despite major progress, one of the main challenges the industry faces is the cost of switching to renewable energy sources. A notable success is Mysteryland Festival in The Netherlands, which receives 80% of its energy from solar farms, thereby investing in clean energy for a greener future in music. Similarly, the Deep Tropics EDM festival in Nashville, Tennessee, was named the “greenest festival” in the country. This event banned single-use plastics, and also has a policy of no trash cans, only offering compost or recycling options. 

Larger festivals such as Glastonbury and Coachella have also made significant environmental strides, with the former implementing a complete ban on single-use plastics on its grounds from 2019 onward. They provide watering refill stations all over the festival grounds and have made the use of single use plastics almost feel offensive. Coachella has eliminated its provision of single-use plastic bottles and encourages festival goers to bring their own reusable bottle and to fill up using one of the many free refill stations available.

Empowering Change with Sustainable Solutions

Among the opportunities for progress, REVERB stands out as a shining example. This nonprofit organization helps artists maintain environmental practices on tours. REVERB’s efforts have “eliminated more than 4 million single-use bottles and reduced emissions equivalent to 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide.” REVERB is also dedicated to expanding the cultural footprint of the music industry by educating concert goers through Eco-Village — an area at concerts where people can register to vote, learn more about environmental education, or even just pick up a reusable water bottle.

We do need more musicians to do right by the planet because the influence they have is incalculable. Do we want to see the big acts cut the private planes and be more accountable? Yes we do.

Kathleen rogers, president, EARTHDAY.ORG

For those of you who want your favorite artists to be more environmentally conscious, why not let them know by writing to their label or management? Approach their fan groups and see if others feel the same and act together to ask for more accountability. Consider actively supporting artists that openly speak about caring for the environment. By doing this, you are not only amplifying their message, but also encouraging other artists to switch to more eco-friendly music making and touring habits. 

Individuals and artists both play an integral role in fostering sustainability within the music industry, and together, these collective efforts can pave the way for a greener future for music and our planet alike.