The music industry is going green. Will it make a difference?

Records made from sugar and climate certificates are just a few of the music industry’s efforts to improve sustainability. “They have good intentions, but have limited opportunities to create change,” says a music researcher at UiO.

GREEN FESTIVALS: The Øya festival in Oslo is often mentioned as one of the greenest music festivals. They introduced the public to edible and biodegradable plates for festival food and reusable cups for beer and wine.

Photo: Heiko Junge/NTB.

If you’re going to a music festival in 2022, chances are you’ll be served organic food, there’s bike parking, or the artists have signed an agreement to travel climate friendly.

Disposable beer glasses are a thing of the past, and artists can donate a portion of the profits from their record sales to good climate causes. This is all part of a larger climate accounting effort.

“There is a widespread desire to create climate-friendly solutions in the music industry,” says Kyle Devine, professor of musicology at the University of Oslo.

In 2019 Devine published his book Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music, where he discusses the environmental impact of music, particularly the recording industry. It has generated strong interest from the music production communities and international media, and the book has led to offers of consultancy positions in key environmental initiatives. But it also led him to ask new questions about music and climate.

“The music industry is one industry among others, where the climate is now a priority. It can be seen as a microcosm for society as a whole. Therefore, what happens there is also relevant for other areas.

A greener alternative to vinyl records

One of the points Devine made in his book was that the music industry’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased with the transition from CDs to streaming. In many interviews about the research, he was asked if this meant people could go ahead and buy vinyl records and CDs with a good climate conscience.

Portrait of Kyle Devine.  Young man, smiling.
MUSIC INDUSTRY CLIMATE ADAPTATION SURVEY: Kyle Devine is a professor of musicology at the University of Oslo and part of the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities.

“It’s a matter of scale. For example, if you buy a vinyl record and listen to it over and over again, it may have a smaller footprint than if you stream music,” he says.

“No matter how you listen to music, it will always have a climate footprint – but the format is a big factor in determining the extent.”

Devine started toying with the idea of ​​a more sustainable alternative to traditional vinyl. Many people had already explored this idea, and the researcher got in touch with a British company called Evolution Music.

“Over the past few years, Evolution Music has developed a bioplastic LP, made from renewable raw materials.”

In September, they released their first enduring 12-inch single, featuring the A-side song “Future if Future” by none other than REM frontman Michael Stipe. 500 copies of the single were made, all of which were quickly snapped up by fans.

This does not solve all the problems

Devine was invited to serve on the advisory board of Evolution Music. This meant he could contribute his professional opinions and collect data for his ongoing research.

“The ethical aspects of research involved in the role of both adviser and researcher are addressed in the book I am working on,” he points out.

The bioplastic in music records is made of sugar. Currently it offers 90-95% of the quality of a regular vinyl record, but the goal is an equally good quality record.

“The advantage is that it is more environmentally friendly than plastic, which is made from petroleum. It will also fill an urgent need in the music industry.

There are currently long queues to have vinyl records pressed. The combination of big stars like Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and Beyoncé releasing their records on vinyl, and the continued shortage of vinyl, means the bioplastic alternative is emerging as a very attractive option for the industry.

However, that doesn’t mean Devine thinks a greener LP will solve all the problems.

“Sugar also has a problematic history, which I know the company is fully aware of. If this were to be extended, they might have to think about raw material production in a different way.

33 rpm record and a cover, saying earth percent.
VINYL ALTERNATIVE: On Earth Day, Evolution Music released a single featuring a song by REM vocalist Michael Stipe. Photo: Evolution Music.

Fundraising for climate projects

While greener products offer music lovers an alternative when buying music, foundations and campaigns are a way to redirect some revenue to the environment.

“An example is Earth/Percent. They encourage musicians and music organizations to donate a percentage of their revenue to them,” says Devine.

Earth/Percent was founded by Brian Eno, the 74-year-old musician who, after his time at Roxy Music, became best known as an ambient music pioneer.

“The idea is that the money will go to actors who work specifically to stop climate change. Among other things, they have collaborated with Music Declares Emergency, which focuses on political influence through artists and music organizations under the slogan “no music on a dead planet”.

Earth/Percent have also invited the professor to sit on their Scientific Advisory Board, and they are collaborating with Evolution Music. There are a number of similar initiatives. In the UK, a unified music industry launched Julie’s Bicycle, which receives donations from companies such as Universal Music and Warner Music Group.

Climate certificates and labeling of green alternatives

Norway’s Øyafestivalen has already won awards such as the International Greener Festival Award and the AGF Circular Festival Award. It’s one of many festivals that strive to label the climate themselves.

They are not alone in doing so.

“Many take courses and certificates to further their knowledge of carbon footprints and to show the outside world that their festival or concert stage is climate-conscious.”

As part of her fieldwork, Devine has participated in such courses through Climate EQ in the UK.

“You learn more about carbon footprints, maybe increase your awareness – and most importantly get a certificate for taking the course.”

Hymns of the Anthropocene

Kyle Devine has been following the music industry for many years and finds that new industry-specific ways of dealing with the climate crisis have emerged after the year 2000. Although there is a high level of awareness , he thinks it’s still unclear what music has to do with climate change.

“You can look at the technical, administrative or cultural side of things. Measures such as more sustainable products, reduced emissions from concerts and festivals, and climate certificates, belong to the technical and administrative side of things.

Culturally, Devine takes a closer look at how it is possible to think about the influence of music on environmental thought and action.

“It’s a trend that goes back at least to the 1970s. You would think that music can raise awareness about climate change. That if the music says something that changes a listener, that listener can change the world.

An example of this trend is the many playlists that music websites or individuals create. The Guardian newspaper, for example, places Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi at the top of its list of the best songs on climate change (guardian.co.uk), while ANOHNI and Weather Station are among the artists listed by Pitchfork during music compilation. tackling the climate crisis (spotify.com).

“While such lists certainly have a function, this understanding is very much centered on the individual. The music as such will have a limited impact on the complex that constitutes the climate issue”, underlines Devine.

Fesitval concert stage and a large crowd at night.
According to Kyle Devine, new industry-specific ways of dealing with the climate crisis emerged after the year 2000. Photo: Muneed Syed/Unsplash.

“Greenwashing” is too simple a criticism

When business actors fly green colors or promote sustainable solutions, accusations of greenwashing are never far away.

“Such accusations are justified when big companies deliberately use the term sustainability to trick us into buying something that, strictly speaking, is not climate-friendly,” says Devine.

But when someone develops alternative solutions, whether it’s plant-based discs, edible festival plates or greener concert halls, the Professor thinks the picture is more complicated.

“It’s too easy to point the finger at something that doesn’t solve all the world’s problems and call it greenwashing. There may be good intentions behind it, and many people do their best. »

The researcher points out that the market, as it functions today, sets a framework that leaves little room for maneuver for individual players.

“To require an organizer or an artist to do things in a way that does not allow them to earn a living is asking too much,” he says.

The climate is not the culprit of the climate crisis

While working on his analyzes of the music industry’s climate adaptation, Kyle Devine still thinks he needs to carefully evaluate these efforts. In the book he is currently working on, Recomposed: Music Climate Crisis Change, the goal is to provide constructive criticism.

“If tackling the climate crisis is the answer, then maybe we need to look at the question the industry asked itself in the first place.”

He suggests that actors tackling music’s carbon footprint also focus on the structures that caused the climate crisis.

“The fundamental foundations of the crisis are found in the economic arrangement, i.e. capitalism, and in the social architecture, i.e. class society. If we are to work decisively against the climate crisis, these are the arenas where change must also take place,” concludes Devine.

/Public release from the University of Oslo. This material from the original organization/authors may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author or authors. See in full here.

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