Key figures from across the live music industry came together at The O2 arena’s Overheated event to call for a more united approach by the industry to tackle climate change.
Among the speakers at the event, hosted by Billie Eilish (pictured), were her mother Maggie Baird who is the founder of plant-based food advocacy group Support + Feed. Alongside REVERB director of touring & projects Lara Seaver, Baird has helped lead sustainability initiatives throughout Eilish’s ongoing Happier Than Ever tour.
She called for a cultural shift within the live events industry and suggested an open-source sustainable rider be made available to all artists.
Baird also revealed some statistics resulting from the move to vegan food for all crew members involved in the US leg of the Eilish tour. She said the switch saw 7m gallons of water, 268,000 pounds of grain, 18,700 square metres of forest and 134,000 pounds of carbon saved. “That was just the backstage crew, we also had venues moving to vegan food for fans,” she said.
Live Nation was represented by UK head of sustainability Victoria Chapman and VP touring Lesley Olenik, while other panellists included The O2 arena VP & GM Steve Sayer, Julie’s Bicycle music lead Chiara Badiali, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research’s Carly McLachlan and Backlash Productions tour manager Jamal Chalabi.
Chalabi, who has worked closely with Massive Attack on sustainable tour initiatives, said the live industry needs a baseline of sustainability standards to work from. He suggested the granting of festival licenses should be dependent on their sustainability status meeting that baseline. He also suggested sustainability requirements be an integral part of artist contracts and not just their riders.
The experienced tour manager also emphasised that increased sustainability doesn’t have to be more expensive: “We’re using less power, using less plastic and we’re having less wasted space than in the past.”
Steve Sayer said that The O2 had already taken a series of measures to reduce the venue’s environmental footprint, including installing water filling stations, the recent banning of beef burgers from menus and the use of non-biodegradable confetti by artists being outlawed in stage productions. He said that the results of The O2’s move to vegan-only food during the six Billie Eilish shows at the venue had been positive so far and would be made public in the near future.
Badiali said the music industry should take a more active role in encouraging the Government to step up its sustainability strategy: “We are all operating in this wider system, so what I would love to see is the music industry play a more active role in lobbying government to help make real change. You can’t tell people to find more sustainable ways of travelling to venues if public transport stops at 10pm.”
Olenik spoke of the promoter’s work with venues on the Eilish tour to encourage increased sustainability measures at the buildings. In the case of the KFC Yum! Center in Kentucky, it meant changing the name of the venue for a day and plant-based food replacing meat on the menus.
“There was no chicken at the chicken centre – that was huge,” said Seaver. “It goes back to pushing boundaries and constantly pushing people to make change.”
With audience and crew travel identified as one of the key areas of concern, Carly McLachlan said it was vital to consider travel when planning tours and allow extra time to make journeys by more sustainable means. She also suggested promoters work with rail operators and ticketing companies to enable fans to purchase affordable, super-advance train tickets, simultaneously with show tickets.
The sustainability specialist insisted the focus should be reducing tour and show emissions rather than achieving net zero by offsetting: “If you can make the current system net zero by buying offsets, I do not need to be doing my job working on climate change every day. It must be about reduction, about system transformation.
“One of the things you need to do is have targets for every bit of your system. So keep declaring what your emissions are, and talk about what your emissions reduction target is rather than going to net zero by Tuesday. You have to keep learning and reviewing because you will be able to bring emissions down more as innovations progress and costs come down. You have to be really open about that and open to the idea that you might get it wrong. You’ll definitely be able to do it better in the future as you learn.”