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Sustainability and the Music Industry

By Anya Wassenberg on February 26, 2024

How can the music industry respond to climate change and sustainability? Organized by the Music Sustainability Alliance, the first-ever Climate Summit in North America took place in Los Angeles this month.  It saw roughly 300 attendees from across the music industry sectors participate in a day’s worth of panels and discussions on everything from carbon emissions to making environmentally responsible choices regarding food offerings.

Organizers had to move the event to a larger venue at the last minute due to a swell of interest, and the mood was enthusiastic. Journalist and sustainability expert Joel Makower was the event’s host

A key concept to the success of any climate-related initiatives is cooperation across the industry, including among organizations and companies that would normally be competing with each other. That kind of cooperation was in evidence at the summit, which saw panels with reps from diverse sources.

The music industry itself may be small when measured against other global industries. However, as the summit underscored, it has a much larger influence because of music’s role in shaping contemporary culture.

One of the speakers is quoted (anonymously, due to the rules of the summit), in Billboard.

“Music makes culture,” they said. It, therefore, helps determine “what things in culture become normalized.”

How does sustainability relate to the music biz?

There are a few basic areas where the music industry and all its players can look at efforts to achieve sustainability.

  • Reducing carbon footprint, i.e. considering travel methods and whether it’s necessary in the first place;
  • Eliminating paper and plastic waste in their operations;
  • Using renewable energy sources.

Reusables provide a simple solution, and the numbers bear out the necessity. More than 4 billion single-use cups are thrown out at live events every year in the US. One initiative alone that provides reusable cups to venues and festivals has eliminated 43 tons of plastic waste. Live Nation is one of the companies that has initiated a successful switch to reusable cups.

Diesel generators are a major source of carbon emissions at live music events. The summit participants noted that better technology (that is also cost-efficient) is required, with a major upgrade to infrastructure.

When it comes to fan travel, another significant contributor to carbon emissions, panels and participants noted that providing alternatives to planes and other major pollution sources also requires cooperation at the municipal and regional levels. Where public transportation is lacking, there are few feasible alternatives.

Food choices, on the other hand, are an area where better selections can be made right now. That includes everything from switching to plant-based food vendors and tour caterers to using renewable bamboo plates and forks.

An online resource tool kit is available, along with additional educational materials.

To keep the momentum going, the MSA will continue to lead work groups around the many and varied issues that come up, including monthly webinars.

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