Tuesday, April 11, 2023
While in 2022 music regained some of the activity lost during the pandemic, this year's figures could surpass past trends. So much so that a report published by the consulting firm EY states that this industry was one of the most important in Europe, with a turnover of 643 billion euros, which represented 4.4% of the GDP of the European Union in total terms. In Spain, more than 805 festivals were held in 2019 with an influx of more than 6.5 million people, which placed our country as the first festival tourist destination on the continent, as explained in the study of the Association of Music Festivals (FMA), with data from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport.
Given such significant figures, it is worth asking what impact this sector has on the environment. In a typical festival, it is estimated that each person, whether worker or visitor, can generate a footprint of 25 kg of carbon dioxide, which gives us a volume of approximately 160,000 tons emitted in 2019. This figure has alerted the artists themselves. In this regard, Alejandro Sanz has committed to zero emissions on his tours, and to prove it, he analyzes CO2 emissions after concerts and then offsets them with investments in planting trees or mitigating his carbon footprint.
Many years earlier, in 2007, Radiohead was one of the pioneers in measuring their environmental impact and started a campaign to raise awareness of this phenomenon. Among their proposals were alternative fuel transportation, using solar energy, not eating meat during shows and, also, explicitly rejecting a physical edition of their album In Rainbows.
Coldplay, musical leader of the green movement
Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay, surprised the world when he declared in 2018 that they would take some time to define how their tours could be sustainable and "actively beneficial" on all levels. Thus, they decided that each tour should reduce CO2 emissions by 50% compared to the previous one.
Music of the Spheres, the seventh concert tour by this British alternative rock band started in March 2022 and will end in autumn 2023, is now organized around 12 key points: emissions, electricity, merchandising, food, and waste management, among others, as aspects that have been considered for these events. For example, all their flights—commercial and charter—will use sustainable aviation fuel (SAF); the stage is built with a combination of reusable lightweight materials, including recycled steel; they use solar photovoltaic panels located behind the stage, around the stadium or on the outdoor concourses to generate electricity; and, in addition, they developed together with SAP a free app to raise awareness among their audience to use low-carbon means of transportation to and from the shows.
A Greener Future (AGF), an NGO formerly known as A Greener Festival, is an organization that since 2005 has worked to help festivals and venues around the world become more sustainable. AGF provides certification for the events that it considers to carry out best practices.
What must a live music event do to be considered sustainable? The director of AGF, Teresa Moore, explains that in the early days, festivals had no budget to look for new solutions, and "there was hardly any green supply chain to help reduce the impact." However, the new generations have brought about a change in mentality and the elimination of single-use plastics "long before there was any legislation on the subject," the increase in vegetarian and vegan food, and responsible usage to reduce energy consumption are some of the examples she noted as principles of today's festivals.
"The change was driven by those passionate about greening their events, who often held multiple jobs or volunteered. A greener festival survived largely because of passion and goodwill," Moore told Planet Energy.
Regarding the challenges of the near future, AGF considers that the organizers "could make much more effort to solve the problem of waste," especially in campsites, which is deeply rooted in this type of event. For them, the culture of "if I leave my waste, someone else will pick it up" must change. In other words, the attendees must take responsibility for their own waste and for anyone who chooses not to, they must "be more willing to economically penalize anyone leaving trash."
Sustainability encompasses several aspects
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to protect the planet and its inhabitants. For this purpose, 17 independent, but at the same time integrated, points were established to be solved. The live music industry, from its sphere of action and aware of its capacity as an economic, touristic, and cultural catalyst, has dived into SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities).
The Sinsal festival, which is held on a small archipelago in Galicia made up of two islands, San Simón and San Antón, located in the Rías Baixas, is considered one of the first sustainable festivals in Spain. One of its co-directors, Julio Gómez, assures that this distinction does not arise from a specific plan, but from applying common sense when organizing the event. For them, it all stems from protecting social sustainability, understood as equal opportunities—their artists never repeat on the bill and are always little known—and group awareness of environmental respect.
Setting up a festival, whether for 500 people or 50,000, requires significant infrastructure for decoration, design and image, sound and lighting, along with catering, security and sanitation, cleaning and waste management, in addition to communications and transportation, technology centers, ticketing and customer service, not to mention power generation points. This complexity ensures there is active debate on the sustainable viability of this type of massive spectacles.
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