RESEARCH COLLABORATIONS

Massive Attack turns to academia to green the music business

SOURCE: Anthony Delanoix/Unsplash
Live concerts and festivals attract millions of fans resulting in a larger carbon footprint.


By U2B Staff 

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One of the hardest truths about climate change is the sheer scale of its impact.

Nothing on the planet can escape the consequences of climate change, from the individual person to the local community, from the single business entity to the entire industry or economic sector.

The music industry is no different. Besides record sales, music artists rely on live tours and music festivals as a source of revenue. These concerts are attended and enjoyed by dedicated fans who cross borders on carbon-emitting commercial flights to reach the venue. 

But although great for business, these events can be an environmental drag.

Studies have indicated that environmental concerns regarding live concerts are mostly weighted on the large carbon footprint they leave due to transnational travels of both artists and concert-goers and the wide-scale use of plastic during these events. 

Concerts are also huge contributors to food wastage, light pollution and the mass-production of concert goods that contribute to even more environmental pollution. 

Making music festivals greener

For this reason, many national and international event organisers, and even chart-topping artists, have decided to reduce the music industry’s growing carbon footprint and explore greener ways to share their music with the world. 

For instance, one of the world’s biggest music, arts and culture festivals Coachella has implemented sustainable measures such as recycling centres, kinetically-powered mobile charging stations, and even a carpool campaign aimed at reducing carbon emissions caused by long-distant travels by festival-goers. 

At the same time, billboard toppers Coldplay has decided to halt all plans for a world tour for their latest album and instead look into how to make their next tour more eco-friendly and ultimately carbon neutral. 

The band is currently brainstorming green initiatives to offset their carbon footprint. Plans for their next tour includes meeting and negotiating with environmental organisations and charities to explore the possibility of having a show with no single-use plastics and subsidising public transport or ride-sharing schemes to ferry fans to the concerts. 

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Another vocal advocate of efforts to green the music business is Massive Attack. The Bristol-based rock band is among the early starters, having rolled out unilateral measures to reduce its carbon footprint over the past two decades, from planting trees to prohibiting single-plastics and swapping plane rides for train journeys where possible.

They’ve also explored carbon offsetting as a measure and toyed with the option of ending touring altogether.

But as much as these efforts do help advance the climate cause, on the grand scheme of things, they still fall far short of achieving their required impact. Unilateral actions, the band has realised, mean nothing if the music industry doesn’t move together as a single collective.

“To create systemic change, there is no real alternative to collective action,” wrote vocalist Robert Del Naja, AKA 3D, in an article for the Guardian.

This dilemma was what led Massive Attack to seek the help of academia.

Massive Attack
Concerts can still be enjoyed by music fans with sustainable measures. Source: Nicholas Green/Unsplash.

An academic approach 

In a recent announcement, the rock band said it was teaming up with climate scientists from the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research to jointly examine key impact areas of the music industry on the environment. 

Massive Attack’s own tour schedule will provide the data for the study, the results of which can be used by other musicians to reduce their carbon footprints.

The band said Tyndall researchers will analyse data from its touring and recording schedule, looking at three key areas where carbon emissions are generated: band travel and production, audience transport and venue.

The ultimate objective is to build a roadmap towards decarbonisation that will be shared with other touring acts, promoters and festival and venue owners to create a more collective effort towards reducing the environmental impact of the music business.

“Given the current polarised social atmosphere, uplifting and unifying cultural events are arguably more important now than ever, and no one would want to see them postponed or even cancelled.

“The challenge, therefore, is to avoid more pledges, promises and greenwashing headlines and instead embrace seismic change,” De Naja wrote.

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The partnership marks a momentous effort between the music industry and academia that will spur on more green initiatives in the future to keep the industry sustainable without compromising on the enjoyment of live concerts. 

“We will be working with Massive Attack to look at sources of carbon emissions from a band’s touring schedule. Every industry has varying degrees of carbon impact to address and we need partnerships like this one to look at reducing carbon emissions across the board,” said University of Manchester research fellow Dr Chris Jones. 

“It’s more effective to have a sustained process of emissions reductions across the sector than for individual artists quit live performances. It will likely mean a major shift in how things are done now, involving not just the band but the rest of the business and the audience.”