Missions over Emissions

The 2010s. A decade when the humblest DJ could find themselves flying from Melbourne to Moscow for a 2 hour set. The artist I have in mind was by no means a household name. His reward was a 5-figure-sum, almost 20 X his usual for a club show.

This was almost a decade ago and was rare at the time, even for a high profile artists, who would only make such long journeys as part of tour.

In our case the fee bought respite on the rent for 6 months and a studio refurbishment. The music he made thanks to this sustains a modest touring schedule until today.

Such wasteful journeys have increased in the last decade. The price to the world in carbon emitted for a Melbourne to Moscow return is over 8 tones.

Looking at the music scene as a whole, this amount is a drop in the ocean. Even a modest act playing 30/40 shows at small and medium sized venues rack up an annual carbon footprint of over 20 tones in Europe alone. For business class flying, top-billed festival names, it totals 100s of tonnes per individual. 

In this piece I will look at some of the urgent reasons why we must change our behavior. I’ll discuss how a touring schedule can be managed with care and consideration and suggest some ideas as to how the industry can move forward together.

My career began specializing in bringing artists to Europe from Detroit. Although the artists clocked up serious air miles it was crucial that these distances were minimized. Not a penny was wasted.

The artists needed to maximize their paychecks. Fees kept the wolf from the door between tours and allowed for small studios investments to keep their careers going.

I can see a wholesale return to this frugal attitude over the next few years. Post pandemic it will be the norm as the events industry cake shrinks dramatically.

Even in 2010 as the budget travel supernova opened up a world of touring possibilities, carbon footprint was not a phrase we considered. We still have a lot of catching up to do.

A quick glance at any top artist’s touring schedule you can see waste oozing from every booking. Agents – including myself – are guilty of filling dates as quickly as possible at the highest possible fee. Thoughts turn to efficient travel routing only after the schedule is finalized.

Efficiency will be paramount to give both our jobs and our environment a fighting chance.

The start of 2020 brought climate change into focus. We saw extreme weather events, ice caps melting and sea levels continuing to rise. Food and water supply problems increase the fear of social unrest and catastrophic migration from high-risk areas.

Amidst this the events industry faces a challenging future.

Up until the dawn of the new decade, the global festival market experienced exponential expansion. Bands and DJs piled on the shows without regard for the environment.

Capitalistic growth requires more. More festivals, more artists, more travel. No one ever made money by putting on less festivals. During the good times we, artists bought into this without questioning.

Capitalistic growth requires more

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has called urgently for rapid transition to a decarbonized world. Global targets include greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction of 45% by 2030 and complete carbon neutrality by 2050.

Campaigns such as Extinction Rebellion remind us just how starkly our enterprising instincts clash with the interests of the planet. 

In technologically advanced nations we must reduce our carbon footprints by 90% within a decade.

Academic research and journalistic discourse on music event’s carbon footprint is virtually non-existent.

4.5bn flights were taken in 2019. In January, industry experts were forecasting that international travel would rise by between 3% and 4% in 2020.

On 7 May, the UN World Tourism Organisation estimated that earnings from international tourism might be down 80% this year on the figure of $1.7tn for 2019. 120m jobs could be lost.

With aviation, tourism and events industries grounded, environmental campaigners feel now is the time to impose limits on commercial and leisure travel. The world we come back to is likely to be working with a different set of rules.

From top to bottom tough choices must be made. Our touring model is unsustainable. The planet cannot take it.

Governments and corporations must finally be held to account.  A public increasingly anxious about the environment must take action individually and collectively.

Greenwashing is becoming ever more transparent. Sacrifices at all levels have not been made yet. For acts proudly proclaiming their carbon neutral credentials without decreasing their mileage, think Titanic staff proudly rearranging their deck chairs.

Calls for carbon quotas and caps on air mileage are becoming ever louder. Every business will need a progressive green policy ready for when restrictions on touring are lifted.

The planet cannot take it.

There are pressing problems but the solutions present a new set of conditions and opportunities.

Environmentally conscious consumers will demand businesses engage them on new levels. Fresh brand loyalties can be built. Radical business models where individuals invest trust in companies with green credentials can emerge.

Carbon-guzzling one-night-stands in Moscow for even the most famous DJs will fade into a distant memory.

Travelling abroad to party at festivals will be once or twice a year for the lucky ones. Although I would not wish my own 2017 cycle to Dekmantel Selectors and Dimensions in Croatia on anyone, bikes may be a solution closer to home. We all must clean up our act.

Half way to Croatia 2017

Food, merchandising and drinks at festivals will need to be addressed. Industrially processed meat sandwiches or oil-soaked plastic merchandising must become a thing of the past. Single use plastics must be stamped out of use by fans.

We can look to football where surface studies have been done. The World Cup’s carbon footprint is comparable to grouping 100 of Europe’s biggest festivals into one consecutive month. Attendance is in the tens of millions from around the world.

Governing body FIFA estimates that the carbon footprint of the 2014 finals in Brazil was 2.72 million tones of CO2, predominantly through air travel. The final carbon offset was just 12 per cent of the total emissions. There is no data on how much carbon is offset in the festival market.

At the other end of the scale and on a shoestring budget, fourth tier English league club Forest Green Rovers are striving to go carbon neutral. Rovers claim to be the most environmentally-friendly side in the world game.

They are fully vegan, carbon-neutral and powered entirely from green energy. The pitch is irrigated with rainwater. Last month planning permission for a brand new wooden stadium was granted.

Fully vegan, carbon-neutral and powered entirely from green energy

Music and festivals stand solidly on the World Cup end of the waste scale.  Even festivals like Terraforma, held in July just outside Milan for around 1000 people are no-where near the level required. The Italian festival is closer in approach to Forest Green than any of its rivals but still has a huge gap to make up.

In their respective sectors two organisations are one positive example in a hundred if not thousand.

We have a lot of disruption to go through but events that emerge into the 2022 or 2023 recovery predicted in June by Goldman Sachs wont be out of the woods just yet. They will need to contend with carbon restrictions as well as needing to meet the needs of a radically more conscious consumer. Its clear that strategies aiming at mid decade success will need to be greener than ever.          

Graphical optimism but who has the staying power?

In any city in Europe, on any given weekend, touring musicians are being driven around, accommodated and catered for by competing promoters. We must look past this and identify where resources can be pooled.

Efficient organization will be essential. It could also save livelihoods.

Properly coordinated promoters can work locally together with necessities such as airport pick ups and accommodation to make them more efficient.

I have taken an example based on an artist I worked with in 2018, first looking at their schedule for a month, then over 2 months.

Efficient organization will be essential

First I looked at hypothetically re-routing the month’s shows to cut out unnecessary journeys and use trains wherever possible. A train journey has a small carbon footprint compared to a flight of the equivalent distance.  Carbon use for a rail passenger is around 1% of an air passenger.

Of course to make this happen there would need to be concessions given from promoters eager to confirm to gain advantage in announcing their events early.

Just any one month, what actually happened on the left vs a more ideal scenario –

01-MarOslo  01-MarOslo
Actual dates vs optimised for a month

I just needed to swap a few things around dates wise, I changed Glasgow for Graz, move Edinburgh to Mar 3 to do 3 dates on the same weekend. Moving Warsaw to 22 Mar to link with Berlin cut out another long flight. In doing so we cut out 4 flights from 13 to 9.

Clubs will need to give agents more time to fix schedules and not be able to announce their events so early, all dates will need to be flexible until 6 weeks ahead. Clubs will need to plan further ahead but announce later to give agents time to make the schedules more efficient.

Here is how it would look with our example. Here is how it could look with 2 months.

Again, what actually happened on the left vs what we could have done better –

Actual dates vs optimised for 2 months

This way we were able to half the number of flights. After looking at flights I looked at what we could do with promoters with the ground arrangements such as taxi rides and hotels.

Then I ran the numbers based on a few realistic concessions from artists and promoters to make things more efficient.

Ground transport from home – The artist’s taxi is shared to and from airport with 3 other DJs or other business travellers.

Ground transport in destination city – The artist’s taxi is shared with 3 other DJs playing that city or other business travellers.

Accommodation – Artist stays at good qualityAir BNB shared with 3 other DJs playing that city or other business travellers.

Dinner – We will allow a treat here and invite a specialist chef to cook at Air BNB using only locally sourced ingredients.

Example one across one month

 Actual RoutingImproved RoutingDifference%
Total Carbon3.92.1-1.8-46.6
Total KM12658.08621.0-4037.0-31.9
Total Cost€3590.0€1930.0-1660.0-46.2

Example two across two months

 Actual RoutingImproved RoutingDifference%
Total KM22,847.016,926.0-5,921.0-25.9
Total Carbon6.63.2-3.4-51.3
Total Cost€7,675.0€4,103.3-3,571.7-46.5

The results were staggering, showing that we can decrease total carbon emissions, distance travelled and of course costs by up to 50%. Factor this over thousands of artist’s schedules per year and the amounts we can save are as stark as the amounts we have already squandered.

This is only a very lose model but I feel it’s a strong indicator of the power we have. While we have the time off during the pandemic we should be very much considering these options and thinking what conversations we need to have. Clearly promoters, artists and agents need to work closer together.

It will take sacrifices in time, comfort, privacy. But otherwise it is your career, your standing with your fans and peers and ultimately, the world you live in.

It will take sacrifices in time, comfort, privacy

To reach Carbon Neutrality by 2050 Guardian columnist and activist George Monbiot says we will need to work with a carbon quota of just 1.2 tonnes per capita. We have just discussed bringing ONE show down to 2.1 tonnes, which shows just how desperate the situation could get.

Of course even with each of us doing our bit then we still need corporations to hit their own zero emissions targets. Last year 4.5bn passengers took off world wide, this number will continue to fall into 2021 and beyond. Airbus are aiming to launch a zero emissions short haul jet by 2035. In the mean time we are going to have be innovative and efficient with how we use our carbon quotas.

Those who make the profits must come closer to the product itself. With far away executives real change is impossible.

Take Saudi Arabia buying 5% of Live Nation. Who owns these institutions and what connection do they have to an event in a muddy field in England? For a sustainable future those with the local knowledge and passion for the music must have 24hr lines of communication with those who own it.

Institutional corruption needs to be addressed. In the 80s campaigns like Keep Britain Tidy provided a smoke screen for big polluters. With politicians blessings oil companies built their rigs with enough height to accommodate the future sea level rise that their own scientists warned them about. We all need to hold corporations to account.

Although they pose problems to the environment, events are essential and have brought us together for millennia. The pandemic if anything underlines the sinister consequences of segregation. People need to be close to each other to share ideas. The more we are separate the more insular we become.

Is it a coincidence that destructive behaviors such as cancel culture are on the rise the less time we spend in the proximity of one another? If festivals did not exist the oceans would still be rising but we cannot hide from this. We need to pay attention to every activity and collectively mobilise to hold corporations to account. 


The Blizzard – Green Future

The Athletic – Football and global warming

The Guardian – The end of tourism

Festival arrival circa 2023
Dalmations 4 Donations 2017, £2500.00 raised

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