Sustainable Rock & roll!

Written by Michael Sheridan

7 mins read

The ‘live fast, die young’ Rock & Roll lifestyle is a cliche, but like most, based in reality. With fame and fortune, Rock Stars are almost obliged to live up to expectations. It would be rude not to drive a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool, throw TVs out of hotel windows and buy a huge jet aircraft to blast an entire entourage around the world. Who wouldn’t want to live the rock star life? Chris Martin of Coldplay apparently.

The lack of sustainability in the music business is his issue. So as Mrs Merton might ask “millionaire and long-established rock star Chris Martin, why don’t you want more of what you already have?”

The lead singer of the British band has been an advocate for green issues for a while. In 2019 he declared the band would not tour again unless it’s concerts were carbon-neutral. To achieve this Coldplay has rewired its business to be a more effective agent for change by creating a new sustainability action plan. Martin acknowledges that the greenest thing to do would be not to tour at all, but he admits he is driven by a desire to meet and engage with people and fans. He also freely admits he cannot argue against many aspects of their new tour being ‘less than green’ but believes they are getting closer to the ideal of sustainability. The band’s new ‘World of Spheres’ tour was launched with a light show on New York’s Empire State building. The tour visits South America, USA, Germany, Poland, France, Belgium and the UK. So how green is Coldplay’s new tour and what is being done by the band that will help make the music industry more sustainable?

The logistics in staging a concert tour are vast, varied and consume a lot of energy. In order to meet its own noble target Coldplay required a 50 per cent reduction compared to their 2016/2017 gigs. With any concert tour there is literally tons of air, cargo and road freight to shift from continent to continent and venue to venue. Transport alone equals a lot of CO2 and NOx emissions, all before a single amp or light is plugged in and turned on. Concert goers generate a lot of emissions too as they have to transport themselves to and from venues by whatever means possible. Only a few will have access to green modes of transport. Coldplay’s carbon-neutral tour at first glance looks suspiciously like a green-washing publicity stunt. 

Enlightened artists are taking note of climate change and have the opportunity to be a positive force for change. Ireland’s U2 for example have been known to use clean hydrogen to power amplifiers, while Coldplay, also known by some as ‘U2-light’, appears to be going further. Some of the more interesting sustainable innovations Coldplay is using include biodegradable confetti, two areas of the concert floor are kinetic and generate electricity from fans dancing up and down. Concert goers can further sing for their supper by pedalling bicycles on stage to generate electrical power. The giant screens used in the show are low power LEDs and there are other green power saving and power generating features e.g. solar panels plus extensive recycling. A special phone App rewards concert goers who take green transport to see the band.

Collaboration and partnerships are key to any business gaining greater sustainability and Coldplay has reached out. The band has committed its own hard cash to fund a number of green initiatives such as ‘Rewilding’, seagrass restoration, and for each ticket sold a tree will be planted. To put the scale of Coldplay’s commercial appeal in some context the band’s last tour took in $500m and they played to 5.4m people – that would be a lot of trees. Another interesting beneficiary of the tour will be air quality, through innovative direct-air carbon capture by Climeworks.

The British band says it is doing this for the planet and yes, it is a very noble cause but let’s not kid ourselves there is money to be made through sustainability. Motor manufacturer BMW has paid the band handsomely to enter a long-term collaboration. Martin’s track “Higher Power” is being used by the German brand as the soundtrack for its new iX and i4 all-electric models. BMW expects all-electric models to account for at least 50 per cent of its global vehicle sales by as early as 2030 and is anxious to get on board the sustainability train.

Coldplay’s latest tour is bringing much needed attention to how rock, now rolls with clearly one of the greenest shows yet. The private jets are not quite gone but will be replaced if a commercial airline flight is available. The development of green aviation fuel cannot come soon enough as it will play a massive roll in reducing the impact of air travel on our planet. On the world’s seas, hydrogen powered shipping is being introduced and will, in time replace the highly polluting oil burning fleet. Green hydrogen made from renewable energy sources is the future for cargo transportation on land (HGVs) and sea, but we must be aware that not all hydrogen production is green and can be highly polluting also.

Identifying what needs to change is the first step towards greater sustainability and this in turn will spark the debate on the actions needed to make the planet a better place. Good leadership is vital and Chris Martin’s example by setting ambitious targets for Coldplay’s tour is no different to any action a CEO of a multi-million dollar business would or should take. Martin should be applauded, but he is also prepared for the inevitable and disproportionately loud abuse that always follows calls for change. All industries/businesses should take note of the truly important 3 Ps of business sustainability: Planet, People, Profit. 

For now conspicuous consumption to some degree is unavoidable. Beyond concerts the logistics of say football, Formula 1 and business supply chains in general can all take a leaf out of Coldplay’s book and start implementing sustainable initiatives. Like a good hillwalker the goal is to leave little or no footprint behind. Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg have inspired countless people including Chris Martin with their calls for action. While we can’t see through Attenborough’s eyes or do a ‘Greta’ and sail from country to country, both campaigners have forced us all to take a look at what we can do to help sustain our planet.

As I write I have an electric car in the driveway, but I’m also sitting in front of a flaming wood burning stove, small steps, please don’t tell Greta! Coldplay’s music mightn’t be to everyone’s taste, but its sustainability message is.

Michael Sheridan is a well-known and highly respected motoring journalist whose credits include The Irish Times, RTE (radio and television), Today FM and Motorhub to name a few. For over 20 years he has judged Irish Car of the Year and many other awards including Fleet and Van of the Year awards.

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