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Clip: The greening of rock 'n' roll

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  • Carl Z.
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5, 2006

      The greening of rock 'n' roll

      By Althea Legaspi
      Special to the Tribune
      Published December 3, 2006

      Rock 'n' roll is paved with artists' calls to action, from penning war
      protest songs to rocking to abolish world hunger. More recently,
      there's a growing cry to save the environment, and it's one that
      groups hope will be heard loud and clear, with many bands and the
      music industry turning a "green" eye to the way they do business.

      From iconic rockers Pearl Jam, who donated $100,000 in June to various
      environmental causes, to British indie darlings Gomez, which "greened"
      its tour in October by purchasing "clean energy" offsets, recycling
      and making other environmentally friendly changes, artists of all
      levels are working to reduce the environmental "footprint" caused by
      daily business such as touring, packaging and producing albums.

      According to the Natural Resources Defense Councila non-profit
      organization whose mission is to protect the environment through law,
      science and activism, the primary greenhouse gas (which causes global
      warming) is carbon dioxide; electric power plants and motor vehicles
      account for two-thirds of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. There are no
      definitive statistics mapping how much CO2 the music industry emits at
      large, but Native Energy, a majority Native American-owned company
      that funds future renewable energy projects through selling offsets,
      has measured the amount an average shed tour produces. In a nutshell,
      renewable energy offsets are environmentally friendly energy sources,
      which "offset" negative ones. For example, when "green" or renewable
      energy (which does not create CO2) is fed to the electrical grid,
      overall CO2 emissions from fossil fuel are reduced or "offset" by that

      "For a decent-size, 40-show shed tour -- four or five trucks and two
      or three buses -- total carbon footprint is in the ballpark of 500
      tons," says Native Energy's Brian Allenby. That number is culled from
      250 tons of venue energy use, 200 tons from travel (buses and trucks)
      and 50 tons from accommodations.

      "That's the equivalent of the emissions from approximately 83 cars
      driving for one year, heating 125 average homes for one year or the
      electricity used by 62 average homes for one year."

      Offsetting emissions

      To offset emissions from tours, bands such as Dave Matthews Band
      (which is offsetting all the CO2 caused from touring since its
      inception), Guster and Barenaked Ladies purchase Native Energy
      offsets, which are retired when used to fund a new renewable energy
      project, such as wind energy and farm methane projects.

      Though many artists are employing ways to green tours, Radiohead's
      Thom Yorke recently told The Guardian, "I would consider refusing to
      tour on environmental grounds, if nothing started happening to change
      the way the touring operates." The band does not buy offsets,
      according to the Guardian, "because they are not convinced of the
      environmental benefits of such schemes, which claim to make activities
      carbon-neutral by planting trees or investing in renewable energy

      This is an issue in the offset industry.

      "To date there is no national standard or methodology for measuring
      CO2 impacts or the specific CO2 offsets," says Patrick Nye of
      Bonneville Environmental Foundation, a non-profit that offsets
      emissions by buying green tags that fund new and future renewable
      energy sources. "This is a very new and largely unregulated market
      that could benefit from some standardization, however there isn't
      wholesale agreement on methods."

      Despite the offset market being unregulated, many view it as a
      valuable source for reducing emissions. Organizations such as Music
      Matters and the non-profit Reverb, which coordinate greening music
      efforts, are working to help bands tour green, and offsets are also a
      component. From offsetting CO2, coordinating biodiesel (which is made
      from vegetable oil) fueling, to sourcing "green" hotels, organic
      merchandise and foods, the companies make it easier for bands to go
      green. "We developed what's called enviro-riders," says Music Matters'
      Chris Baumgartner, "to identify all of the environmental impacts that
      could be improved upon or that could be standardized for when an
      artist went on tour or in their day-to-day business operations."

      Music Matters and its client Clif Bar created a green notes program
      that encompasses enviro-riders. They also created Clif Cool Tags,
      which have been sold online and to fans at shows. The $2 offset,
      through Native Energy, reduces the equivalent of 300 tons of CO2, or
      300 miles of driving.

      "The lion's share of the carbon footprint does not come necessarily
      from the venue from the concert itself, but from the fans who are
      driving to and from the show," says Reverb's Lauren Sullivan.
      "Reverb's creating a lot of programs to engage fans in that effort to
      offset their carbon footprint -- their drive to and from the show and
      get them to engage in that concept."

      Reverb is traveling with tours to make sure enviro-riders take place,
      and has also assembled eco-villages, where fans can learn about local
      and national environmental non-profits at shows. During a recent
      Guster tour, its eco-village had eco-friendly products, such as beauty
      products and organic foods, to sample. "You can taste biodiesel," says
      Guster singer/guitarist Adam Gardner, who co-founded Reverb with his
      wife, Sullivan. "People can actually dip their finger in and taste
      'cause it's less toxic than table salt." Guster, along with its
      eco-village, comes to Chicago this month.

      Fans can participate too

      Music Today, which connects artists with bands online and beyond,
      created a way for fans to reduce their environmental impact before
      setting foot in a concert. "Our Tickets Plant Trees program [gives]
      fans the opportunity to basically plant a tree, a grove, a forest for
      every ticket that they buy," explains Music Today's Nathan Hubbard.
      "The artist can choose to make that mandatory and build it into the
      service fee, or they can make it optional." Fans can also offset
      driving emissions when they purchase tickets. Since the programs
      launched in the summer, Hubbard says 25 percent to 50 percent of fans
      have opted into the program.

      Labels are going "green" as well. Chicago-based Smog Veil Records is
      revamping the way it conducts business to be more environmentally
      friendly. It is building a live/work space, which will use wind
      turbines and solar panels to create energy, and it's using geothermal
      cooling and heating systems.

      "We have a responsibility to make sure our business doesn't negatively
      impact the environment, No. 1," says co-owner Frank Mauceri. "No. 2,
      it's become obvious to us that we can be as profitable, or even more
      profitable by going green."

      He surmises incorporating reusable and recycled material on an ongoing
      basis will save money and make the label more profitable. Smog Veil's
      environmental initiative includes the elimination of jewel cases and
      the use of a waste-vegetable oil delivery vehicle in 2007.

      The indie label Merge offsets its office emissions via the electric
      company it used, which offers the option to buy "green" energy
      directly from the utility, and SubPop offsets its office electricity
      emissions through Bonneville Environmental Foundation. "The cost for a
      business such as SubPop is fairly modest," says BEF's Nye. "Most
      office-based environments run from around $500 to $3,000 annually to
      green 100 percent of their energy use depending on size."

      While small to midsize businesses opting to offset may seem to have
      little impact, they make a difference by funding renewable energy
      projects that would otherwise probably not exist. Though SubPop's
      Chris Jacobs admits their efforts are small scale, he says, "You're in
      effect subsidizing renewable energy. ... It seems like a responsible
      way to do it." SubPop was inspired by one of its young staffers, who
      offset his electricity at home, as well as by one of its artists,
      Kelley Stoltz, who produced his album, "Below the Branches," using
      "clean energy" by purchasing offsets from BEF.

      "I tried to figure out what I could do about climate change,
      pollution, etc. by buying renewable energy credits, which offset the
      electricity I used in my home studio," Stoltz says. "I was able to at
      least feel somewhat accountable for my use of amplifiers, tape
      machines keyboards and things that are turned on for about 10 hours
      every day. ... [I] pay a little extra to have the same amount of power
      I used to be put into the electrical grid by way of wind power."

      Eco-friendly packaging

      Major label Universal has launched an eco-friendly packaging
      initiative, in conjunction with a sustainability initiative with
      Wal-Mart. Universal released its 60-title Millennium series using
      sleeves and trays that are paper-recyclable.

      "We have been researching companies to find the right technology and
      products that would also satisfy the CD-buying public," said Michael
      Davis, Universal Music Enterprises' executive vice president and
      general manager. "It was just recently that we found the
      [biodegradable] paper foam trays. The combination of the new tray
      technology and Wal-Mart's focus on `green' made it the perfect time to
      make the switch."

      In November it releases an eco-packaged "Rhythms Del Mundo," which is
      a collaboration between Buena Vista Social Club and artists such as
      Coldplay and Radiohead. The album aids Artist Project Earth, which
      supports natural disaster relief and climate change awareness.

      WEA, Warner Music Group Corp.'s U.S. sales and retail distribution
      company, began a companywide greening initiative more than a year ago.
      The NRDC met with WEA to help the company green its practices. "I had
      candidly been a card-carrying member of that organization for 18
      years," says John Esposito, president and CEO of WEA Corp. The meeting
      resulted in recycling throughout its U.S. operations as well as
      changing other paper practices. "It was revenue-neutral," says
      Esposito, who was honored in April at NRDC's Forces of Nature event as
      Person of the Year. "Because we'd be buying the right paper and we'd
      be using less paper and that we could be green and it wouldn't cost us
      anything." The company has also begun using postconsumer recycled
      paper for inserts in CD packaging, though jewel cases are still the
      norm. "Artists like Green Day, Alanis Morissette, James Blunt, The
      Chili Peppers, to name a few, were very encouraging if not adamant
      about us making sure we use, for 100 percent of their releases, paper
      that was postconsumer content," Esposito says. "All of our releases
      [will have] a minimum of 30 percent. ... We have set an implementation
      date of January of next year."

      Though the greening of the music industry is taking place behind the
      scenes as well, mainstream awareness is created by the musicians who
      are in the public eye, and they're hoping to bring fans along for the

      "Bands are in that unique position where fans are actually interested
      in what they have to say," says Guster's Gardner. "It makes me feel
      better knowing that there's stuff out there that represents my
      interests outside of music. It also connects our band with our fans
      more intimately as well because they're given an idea of some other
      passions of ours."
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