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Climate change threatens everyone and everything, not least the music scene we all love. As our summers heat up, as fires and floods get worse and our living planet buckles under the strain of the modern world, it’s natural for us to want to step up. We know that a planetary environmental crisis can’t be solved with individual efforts – it needs coordinated, collective action. Every industry has its role to play, and the music industry is no exception.
From inefficient lighting, to audience and artist travel, and thousands of tonnes of unnecessary plastic waste each year – our sector has an outsized environmental impact that needs to change.
Just as we have a responsibility to protect musicians, staff, crew and audience members from injury, we have to play our part in protecting the environment (after all, there’s no music on a dead planet). With a few simple changes we can make a big difference and use our unique cultural influence to inspire others to do the same.
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What to do first?
Environmental challenges can often feel overwhelming but it’s remarkable how much of a difference we can make with just a few well thought-out actions. By looking at the way we consume energy, create waste and manage transport, we can reduce our impact substantially.
It’s also worth remembering that the cliché that sustainability is a path, not a destination, is true. Instead of trying to be perfect, it’s in fact better to make achievable steps and bring everybody along with us on the journey.
STEP ONE : ELIMINATE OR REDUCE THE PROBLEM
This could look like:
- Reducing your reliance on single use items such as water bottles
- Promoting the use of public transport to your audiences
- Reducing the use of electricity through energy efficiency measures
- Divesting your bank accounts, see here for all the dirty polluters
STEP TWO : OFFSET THE PROBLEM
This could look like:
- Offsetting all business travel
- Adding a green levy on ticket sales and investing in green community projects
- Becoming carbon neutral
STEP THREE : TELL THE WORLD
Music has a huge cultural influence on society. So make sure to harness this power when making change.
Share the message:
- Publish your environmental credentials on your website
- Share your initiatives with artists and managers, and link to Green Music Australia’s Sound Country guide
- Help other businesses along on their green journey by sharing knowledge
- Share your environmental wins and external green initiatives on your social media channels
- Sign the Music Climate Declaration and support other Green Music Australia climate campaigns
Still want to do more? Becoming ‘Carbon positive’ means going beyond carbon neutrality by offsetting more carbon than your business emits. Very few Australian organisations currently do this, but what an amazing world we’d live in if it became the norm.
The biggest environmental issue facing the planet is global heating caused by burning coal, oil and gas, as well as by logging and agriculture. So how much and what kind of energy we use matters.
STEP ONE: REDUCE
There are a number of relatively easy ways to measure and reduce our power needs. Some places to start include:
- Leaky and old fridge seals (behind the bars as well as walk-in fridges)
- Inefficient heating and cooling systems
- Lack of staff checklists (i.e., ensuring everything that can be turned off, is turned off at the end of each shift)
- Lack of insulation
- Lack of draft-proofing around windows and doors
- Inefficient lighting (most lights now can be replaced by LED, including old fluorescent light bulbs)
- Lack of energy consumption monitoring
Not sure what you’re looking for? You could ask your electrician for advice on all things electrical, or book in an energy auditor to do a thorough check for you. These cost anywhere between $1500-$2000 but can easily save you this x 100 over the lifetime of your venue.
CASE STUDY – CORNER HOTEL
As part of the Green Action Program, Green Music Australia worked with the Corner Hotel to undertake a TYPE 1 onsite energy audit. The venue discovered that by doing a few minor retrofits, changing seals on fridges, influencing staff behaviour and upgrading their light bulbs to LEDS, they could significantly reduce their electricity and gas consumption. Energy savings also created cost savings. Within one year, the Corner Hotel estimates that they will recoup set up costs, and then save $22,000 annually in lower energy bills.
STEP TWO: OFFSET THE PROBLEM
While the renewable revolution powered by sun and wind is well and truly underway in Victoria, the majority of our state’s energy still comes from highly-polluting brown coal. The first step music venues and studios can take is to shift away from this sort of energy use.
By far the simplest way to do this is to contact your current electricity retailer and ask to be put onto their green power scheme. These schemes ensure that clean, renewable energy is generated to cover all of your electricity usage, replacing coal and helping the clean energy industry grow.
While all green power schemes are credible, some are better than others. Greenpeace have created The Green Energy Guide which helps you find the greenest energy supplier.
If your rooftop allows for it, consider installing solar panels to supplement your energy needs. With energy prices skyrocketing, the return on investment for rooftop solar is usually very short. There are often local, state and federal government schemes to help make this investment even more affordable, so make sure you do some early research to help your investment go even further.
Food and Drinks
Setting guidelines on the procurement of the products you supply to your customers is important work. Your business may want to prioritise some of the following values when deciding what to buy:
- LOCAL – within a radius, state, country
- ETHICALLY MADE – ask your suppliers to provide their ethics information
- SUSTAINABLY MADE – ask your suppliers to provide their sustainability policy
- ORGANIC / NO CHEMICALS – products that use no chemicals in their production
- VEGETARIAN – Limit meat products on your menu (see below)
After energy, the biggest driver of climate change is raising livestock for meat. If your venue serves food, one effective way to reduce your impact on our climate is to include more vegetarian options on the menu and limit the highest carbon options like beef and lamb. By encouraging patrons to choose delicious, climate friendly eating, you can have a big impact beyond your own space.
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Food waste costs the Australian economy around $36.6 billion each year and accounts for approximately 3% of our annual greenhouse gas emissions.
STEP ONE: REDUCE
Think of innovative ways you can reduce what gets thrown out. Can you offer different sized meals to patrons? Would it be wiser to offer less options on your menu? Have you got food fit for human consumption but nowhere for it to go? Get in touch with Ozharvest who can collect the food and distribute it to people in need.
CASE STUDY – Brunswick Ballroom
In 2022, Brunswick Ballroom modified their ticketing system to ensure that patrons pre-booked their dinner when purchasing a seated meal & show. This gave the venue 100% certainty around produce supply and preparation, cutting food waste and staffing costs. It also reduced the number of food deliveries needed through the week, cutting indirect carbon emissions.
STEP TWO: OFFSET THE PROBLEM
How can you eliminate food waste going to landfill? Can you partner with a local gardening group who could use your waste as compost? Can you collaborate with local businesses to buy a commercial composter?
Rubbish is ugly; it fills up landfill, hurts and kills wildlife and contributes to global warming. Fortunately, there’s lots we can do to avoid creating the mess in the first place.
STEP ONE: REDUCE
Single use packaging should be eliminated wherever possible. Instead of selling water bottles, we suggest providing accessible taps, and jugs of water or refilling stations at bars and backstage. Use fun and creative signage to encourage patrons and artists to use them.
Likewise, disposable cups should be replaced with reusable ones. This goes for “bio” cups too. The fact is, no single use is a “good alternative”. Whilst working with Brisbane venues, Green Music Australia discovered that there were no local commercial composters that would accept “bio” materials, stating that they leached “forever chemicals” into our land and waterways. There is also this great case study that shows that a reusable cup only has to be used seven times to be more sustainable than a compostable cup.
Your best option? Buy quality cups and invest in energy-efficient dishwashers.
Lastly, keep an eye on how products you bring into the venue are packaged, favour those items with minimal packaging or with packaging that can be reused or easily recycled.
CASE STUDY – Brunswick Ballroom
Brunswick Ballroom has chosen to only provide beer to artists using glass growlers filled from tap beer, saving 4992 cans per year. They also only sell house wine (local and high quality) on tap, saving 16,640 bottles per year.
STEP TWO: OFFSET THE PROBLEM
It’s important to make sure that you have adequate, and separated recycling bins (or comingled if your local council supports it) for glass, plastic, paper and aluminium.
Place these recycling bins behind bars, backstage and in public areas.
Recycling bins should be well-marked (fun and creative signage options can help increase usage) and staff should be trained and required to use them properly.
You may also like to consider having a specific place for artists to place used batteries backstage. Planet Ark has a fantastic online resource which helps you find the closest recycling centres for unusual waste items, you could even order your own collection box.
When we think of transport emissions in the music scene, most people focus on artists flying around on tour when in fact the biggest environmental impact is from audience travel, going to and from gigs by car.
One easy and important step to reduce audience travel emissions is to promote up-to-date public transport information and ride-share options on your website, via social media channels and at point of ticket sale.
Another important option, particularly for inner city venues, is making safe cycling infrastructure such as enclosed bicycle racks available. Again, promoting it properly is vital.
In each of the cases above, providing incentives to patrons can help encourage them to ditch their cars in favour of more sustainable transport. You could offer a small discount on their next ticket, drink or meal to people who come by bike or public transport.
Consider adding a dollar figure (i.e. $1 / $2) to your ticket sales to help pay for your in-house environmental initiatives, or to go towards supporting your local charity of choice. You may also want to consider making the switch to a ticketing company with high social and environmental credentials, such as Humanatix.
CASE STUDY: Beyond the Valley’s Partnership With Humanitix Generates $250K for Charity
Over 30,000 audience members who attended the 2022/23 edition of Beyond the Valley kicked-in $250,000 for good causes, many of them without even realising it. By choosing Humanatix as their ticket provider, Beyond the Valley’s booking fees contributed to donations going towards multiple children charities including Yalari, an organisation which provides Indigenous children from regional, rural and remote communities across the country the opportunity to receive a full boarding school scholarship for their entire secondary education. Click here to find out more.
Music as activism
Music has always been an art form that has attracted, supported and nurtured activism – from civil rights and indigenous self-determination to feminism and nuclear disarmament – and musicians have always been at the forefront. A powerful contribution to protecting the environment can be as simple as supporting events and bands who raise awareness about issues or are raising funds for campaigns. And don’t forget to sign Green Music Australia’s Music Climate Declaration.
Some tips on how to communicate what you do to amplify your impact:
- Promote the great work you do for the planet on your website and social media channels and stand out from the crowd.
- Make sure you have clear instructions on tickets and your website about how to catch public transport / ride / walk to your venue
- Let your artists know your aspirations and vision
- Talk to other venues, council, landlords about your goals, work together
- Promote Green Music Australia’s SOUND COUNTRY guide to artists performing in your venue
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A Green Guide for Musicians, Sound Country
Reusable cups vs single-use cups case study
Ethical Bank comparisons by Market Forces
Green Electricty Guide by Greenpeace
Sustainability Program for music businesses, Green Action Program
Music industry environmental Case Studies + Research
Food collection service, Ozharvest
Battery recycling service, PlanetArk
This chapter was produced by Green Music Australia – the peak national body for music and the environment
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