Greener Than Thou: Bands Clean Up Their Acts

In the faddish world of the music industry, green is the new black.

Rock stars from John Lennon to Bono have always been outspoken activists for social change, but rockers' renewed interest in environmental causes -- to be highlighted July 7 at the Live Earth global concert series -- is leading to important changes in their own industry.

"The most important thing that Live Earth is doing is setting out to create a green event standard for the entire live entertainment industry," said spokesperson Matthew diGirolamo.

Summer tour season, including the nine massive concerts that are part of Live Earth, can generate huge environmental impacts. Between tour buses criss-crossing the country, fans driving to and from shows, and the electricity used on stage, musicians contribute their fair share to global carbon output every year.

CD manufacturing and shipment also generate trash and pollution, though these effects could diminish as online sales numbers grow and physical CD sales drop.

Forward-thinking musicians and nonprofits are reforming industry practices on both the production and performance ends. They're finding that the more artists adopt these practices, the easier it becomes for other musicians to join them. With all the cachet that comes with a "green" stamp of approval, bands, festivals and labels are racing to position themselves as environmentally conscious.

'Resetting the Bar'

The most visible display of industry action and innovation will be the massive Live Earth concert. It is organized by former Vice President Al Gore, in partnership with Kevin Wall, who organized the Live 8 anti-poverty concerts in 2005.

The Live Earth show involves nine concerts and 150 bands -- as well as a webcast from a band of British scientists in Antarctica.

The Live Earth team worked from the beginning to "design out" waste and excess energy consumption, diGirolamo said, with carbon offsets as a last resort. Live Earth has secured "green" power for its shows, and concert lighting will come from efficient LED systems. DaimlerChrysler has also supplied Live Earth with a fleet of its superlow emission BluTec cars, which are not yet available to the public.

ABC News contributor Michael Smith is an internationally recognized DJ who has a music-services business. He works with a variety of corporate clients. www.smitheventmusic.com or info@smitheventmusic.com. Judy Coleman is a freelance journalist who covers the music industry.

To reduce transportation impacts, Live Earth has also arranged its concerts in cities with efficient mass transit systems, such as London and Sydney, and fans at the American show at Giants Stadium will be encouraged to carpool, which would be necessary anyway because the stadium has limited parking.

By employing so many different tactics for energy and waste reduction, Live Earth's team hopes to inspire a "friendly spirit of competition" in the industry, according to diGirolamo, who would like to "see the bar reset" July 7.

On the Road

Even before Live Earth was announced, movers and shakers in the industry had already started greening up their concert schedules. For regular touring bands that have shows several times a week, there isn't much time to coordinate a massive green effort the way Live Earth did for its bands.

The nonprofit organization Reverb, formed in 2006 with help from Bonnie Raitt's ARIA Foundation, has stepped in to coordinate these efforts. Its artist roster includes John Mayer, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Norah Jones, and the list is growing.

Reverb has mapped out a national network of biodiesel suppliers and works with trucking and busing companies to help route the band's tour accordingly, according to founder Lauren Sullivan. As Reverb develops relationships with suppliers, it will become easier and easier to plan each show without reinventing the wheel -- or the engine, so to speak.

Reverb has a small team of full-time employees who coordinate an army of volunteers and work with corporate partners like Ben & Jerry's and the yogurt company Stonyfield. Sullivan founded Reverb with her husband Adam Gardner, a member of the band Guster, who used Reverb to organize its "Campus Consciousness" tour last year.

At one summer radio festival show where Guster played, the band set up an "ecovillage," where, in one demonstration, the vegetable oil used to make a day's worth of French fries was used as fuel for a biodiesel car. Reverb also provides ways for fans to buy carbon offsets for their drive to the show. Fans who attended the Barenaked Ladies concerts last year offset over 8 million miles of driving, according to Sullivan.

ABC News contributor Michael Smith is an internationally recognized DJ who has a music-services business. He works with a variety of corporate clients. www.smitheventmusic.com or info@smitheventmusic.com. Judy Coleman is a freelance journalist who covers the music industry. Carbon offsets usually involve donations to research and development in clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power. Though the booming carbon-offset industry has come under scrutiny lately for bankrolling higher profit margins or potentially fruitless research, Sullivan uses a company called Native Energy, which directly funds new wind turbine projects on Indian reservations. Gore went through Native Energy to offset the book and movie versions of "An Inconvenient Truth."

Word of mouth is meaningful. No other carbon-offsetting company was mentioned by the bands and labels interviewed for this article.

The popular band Taking Back Sunday, for example, used Native Energy to offset its concerts on its latest tour. As lead guitarist Fred Mascherino said, its offset money went to fund the construction of a new wind farm on a South Dakota Indian reservation. Like Moby and other rock stars before him, Mascherino is a vegan who drives his own biofuel car.

Taking Back Sunday started small with its efforts to get greener. The band would recycle all its own cans and bottles (many, on a rock tour), place recycling bins at its concerts, and sell organic cotton merchandise. Even Gore had heard of the band's efforts, and the members were invited to play Live Earth's New York show. Mascherino noted with a wink that Gore told the band he was not running for president.

Back to Business

For all the publicity of Live Earth and the carnival-slash-science-fair atmosphere of enviro-concerts, the true test of the industry's environmental commitment will be the changes it can make in the less glamorous process of album distribution.

Live Earth's compilation CD will be released on a new label called Green Owl Records, which is committed to environmentally sound practices like using postconsumer paper in packaging and using offsets to mitigate the impact of the manufacturing process. Certain solo artists have insisted on these changes themselves -- for example, Jack Johnson through his Brushfire Records label -- but Green Owl will initiate these changes labelwide.

ABC News contributor Michael Smith is an internationally recognized DJ who has a music-services business. He works with a variety of corporate clients. www.smitheventmusic.com or info@smitheventmusic.com. Judy Coleman is a freelance journalist who covers the music industry. "When we sign a band, we're not asking them to go around preaching the word," said Green Owl's Stephen Glicken. "It's more that we're acting in as good a way as possible." The label is soon releasing a compilation including tracks from Bloc Party and Muse.

On the Live Earth project, the label is working with the Warner Music Group, which partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to overhaul its album packaging practices. Earlier this year Warner released a Guster disc that is allegedly the first entirely carbon-neutral EP, where the band bought offsets to take into account the shipping from factories to distributors and all other costs.

But other labels may not accept the second place title so easily. Earlier this year Universal Music released its Millennium Collection CD series in recyclable paper packaging, including both the CD sleeve and the tray. The liner notes will be available online only. The label's news release explains that consumers rarely keep their jewel boxes anyway.

Taking Back Sunday's Mascherino said he had to admit he is a bit surprised by the interest he is seeing in the industry these days. He has been persuading, apparently without much effort, bands on this summer's Project Revolution tour to get greener.

"It's an issue that's been there since I was a kid, when we first started recycling, but it really wasn't out there the way it is now," he said. "I never thought I'd see all these acts coming together for this issue."

ABC News contributor Michael Smith is an internationally recognized DJ who has a music-services business. He works with a variety of corporate clients. www.smitheventmusic.com or info@smitheventmusic.com. Judy Coleman is a freelance journalist who covers the music industry.