Attend any of Coldplay’s Music of the Spheres World tour dates this spring, and you’ll find kinetic bikes stationed outside of every stadium in effort to use fan-power to drive the band’s intercontinental tour. If that doesn’t do it on its own, there’s also kinetic dance floors outside to generate storable energy, solar panels built and used on each stop, and buses and trucks being powered with hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) — a renewable fuel made from a variety of waste materials including used cooking oil that has over 90% lower emissions than diesel fuel.
Since the pandemic shut down concerts for the better part of two years, touring is returning greener than ever. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the world had the opportunity to rethink just about everything and that included sustainable touring. Mega stars like Billie Eilish, Justin Bieber, The 1975 and more have found ways to limit their impact on the environment and, just as importantly, engage their massive audiences to do the same.
Three years ago, Coldplay’s 2022 green touring solutions were a pipe dream. In 2019, the band opted not to tour in support of their album Everyday Life with lead singer Chris Martin explaining at the time, “We’re taking time over the next year or two, to work out how our tour can not only be sustainable [but] how can it be actively beneficial.”
Now, these new tactics are all part of Coldplay’s sustainability initiatives to help the band reach their missions of shows powered by 100% renewable energy, cutting their emissions by 50% as compared to their last tour in 2016 and 2017 and providing an example of climate conscious actions for their millions of fans.
“Having fans engage and participate is a hugely important part of the plan. We want to get across that we can all make a difference, even by doing relatively small, simple things,” says Luke Howell, founder and director of Hope Solutions – the company that put together the activations for Coldplay’s 2022 tour. “The kinetic floor and bikes are the next step in audience participation – the fans can literally help create the power for the show.”
Coldplay’s ambitious initiatives were developed alongside Hope Solutions and tour promoter Live Nation’s Green Nation sustainability division, and include the band mainly flying commercial instead of private; LED wristbands for fans made from 100% compostable, plant-based materials; 100% biodegradable confetti; recycled steel for the stage; solar and battery systems for power and more.
“When I saw what [Coldplay] had planned, I thought it was just incredibly impressive and forward-thinking, and of course we wanted to make sure we could do whatever we could to support,” says Live Nation director of global sustainability and head of Green Nation Lucy August-Perna. The band’s ideas would help build on the framework Live Nation had been developing over the past five years on their tours and venues.
Green Nation is working with Coldplay to adopt their plans and help standardize what they learn and best practices to provide sustainable touring options for the many artists who have approached the world’s largest promoter about creating greener tours.
“The thing that I love about what [Coldplay] has done, is it’s not about doom and gloom,” says August-Perna. “It is really focused on tangible solutions that have an inspiring benefit to the millions of fans that are going to interact and see that something can be done.” The movement towards more environmentally responsible touring isn’t exactly new. For decades, touring has run on fossil fuels without much focus on climate consciousness or standardizing green alternatives, meaning interested artists were often priced out of environmental options. Now, as the effects of global warming become more severe, that’s shifted with urgency. Many of the initiatives are directly replacing something that was more carbon intensive originally, so costs are often balanced out or in some cases potentially outweighed by the emissions and resource saving,” says Howell. “Some aspects will cost more, but we definitely feel that’s a price worth paying.”
The impacts will soon be seen throughout the sector, too. Last year, ASM Global, the world’s largest venue operator, launched ASM Global Acts – their social responsibility platform with commitments to protect the environment by reducing waste and creating more sustainable venues through capital investments. ASM Global president and CEO Ron Bension says the initiatives will do “nothing but good,” adding “these programs will boost local economies, employ area residents and provide meaningful opportunities for the communities we call home.”
Non-profit organization Reverb has been selling live music fans on the green music movement since 2004 with acts like Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, The Lumineers, Dead & Company, as well as Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, Tame Impala and Lorde in the last year alone. Reverb has worked musicians, festivals and venue to green their concert events and engage fans with a “build-your-own” sustainable tour ethos. Reverb partners can pick from a range of initiatives from eliminating single-use water bottles to coordinating local farm food to fueling sustainable biodiesel in tour buses to composting and donating food waste.
“We create a river to help cross that chasm between intentions and actions on the road,” says Reverb co-founder/co-executive director Adam Gardner, adding that when he and his wife Lauren Sullivan started the company in 2004 environmentalism was viewed as exclusively “for hippy crunchy people.”
“We pride ourselves on meeting artists where they’re at,” Gardner continues. “Let’s let them know what all their options are, but it’s not an all or nothing proposition.”
Artists working with Reverb, for example, can simply raise awareness or replicate something like The Lumineers’ “climate positive” tour from 2020, eliminated more greenhouse emissions than the tour created and also raised more than $280,000 to fight climate change by donating a percentage of ticket revenue. In order to architect a tour like this, Reverb measures a tour’s CO2 emissions output, reduces them as much as possible and then neutralizes the emissions even further with other initiatives like sourcing local and sustainable farm food, donating unused meals to local shelters, and funding solar and other climate-friendly projects.
In 2021, Reverb launched its Music Climate Revolution campaign that aims to make the entire music industry climate positive with artists like Eilish, Shawn Mendes, Jason Isbell, Brittany Howard, Maroon 5 and more signing on in Juen 2021 to do their part.
Climate change is accelerating at a pace that demands more action now, says Gardner: “Being neutral on climate is no longer good enough.”