Musicians have always helped to sculpt the cultural landscape. Though the term sustainability wasn’t popular in the 1960’s and 70’s, a great deal of the music from that time dealt with issues of protecting the environment and heralding social justice. Joni Mitchell wrote back in 1969, “Hey farmer, farmer, put away the DDT now. Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees, please!” in one of the greatest hippie ditties ever written: Big Yellow Taxi. This helped to further the message of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to young people and ultimately bring about the banning of DDT in 1972.
Though most musicians subscribe to a progressive ideology, there are many elements of the music industry that could use a major overhaul in order to be more sustainable. U2 frontman Bono constantly preaches about climate and social justice, and yet his band’s 2009 world tour generated enough carbon emissions to cover a return trip to Mars. Major arena concerts generate tonnes of waste every night.
Though there are many positives. The widespread digitization of music means that physical copies are fewer and fewer, requiring no waste or emissions from production, labelling, packaging, and transporting. The massive growth in popularity of music festivals is an opportunity for artists and brands to connect to make positive change. Portland is home to Pickathon, the first major music festival to eliminate single-use beverage containers and cutlery. Lightning in a Bottle Festival in Temecula, California is one of the most sustainable in North America, with ongoing talks and seminars going throughout the festival set to electronic music. Sustainability isn’t just an afterthought — it is one of the core tenets and purposes of the festival.
I feel it is not just an opportunity, but the responsibility of musicians to use their voice to inspire positive change, and not just talk the talk, but rock the rock. The best way to do that is to be instrumental in changing the very practices they use to get their music out there.