Green is the new black. Australian music industry and climate change

If you’ve been following global news recently, then you’ll know this:

  • the Amazon is burning uncontrollably,
  • a dugong (rare marine mammal), previously rescued in Thailand, died with plastic in its stomach,
  • a 16yo Swedish teenager sailed across the Atlantic to lead a climate strike in the US.

Yep, we’re in deep shit on the environmental front. And, sadly, music business has played a part in it, too.


Don’t get me wrong: I love music and live events above all. I’m 1000% convinced that it’s a good thing that brings people together like nothing else. But there are some not-so-environmentally-friendly aspects of the industry we don’t think about every day. Let me break them down for you.

For starters, music falls into the “luxury goods” category (i.e. things that are not essential to everyday life) rather than a “necessity” or “commodity” (that is, things you absolutely need to survive). I know, I know: I can’t live without music, either. But I recognise that having a place to live or enough food on my plate (literally!) are kind of more important to my existence. Makes sense?

Secondly, making and listening to music affects the environment. Music gear and devices to reproduce it are powered by some form of energy. And that electrical current in your socket is still mostly produced from fossil fuels. Let’s face it, even when you listen to Spotify on your tablet, you’re partially to blame for climate change. And so is your favourite guitar player when they plug their guitar into the amplifier.

Let’s take this matter further. Festivals and gigs are the best thing in the whole wide world, I agree. It’s the crazy memories, bands you discover and new friends you make. But it’s increased amounts of water used for washrooms and in bars/kitchens that cater to thousands of gig goers. It’s also plastic that continues to be widely used to serve food and drinks or as packaging for merch. Not to mention the noise levels, harmful to wildlife and domestic animals. The rubbish left behind at festival grounds (tents included) is unbelievable, too. And, to top it all, you wouldn’t believe how many people still choose paper tickets over mobile ones these days.

Now let me ask you this: are you a vinyl lover? That’s great, me too. And I’m excited because it’s making an unexpected comeback this year. But guess what. It’s a type of plastic. Like its successors: cassettes and CDs.

I could go on but you surely get my point by now. Similar to most other man-invented things, and to a certain extent, music has a negative impact on the environment.

Thankfully, music community is made up of progressive, creative people who deeply care about the world they live in.

They are also aware of the power of music and the unique position they’re in to facilitate social change.

I’d like to introduce you to an organisation that’s doing a great job on this front in Australia. Unsurprisingly, it’s called Green Music Australia (GMA) and its motto, There is no music on a dead planet, goes straight to the point.

This Australian non-profit and charity was founded in 2012. Amongst its supporters and board members are both professionals related to music business, arts and culture representatives, and environmental scientists. Some of the names that you might be familiar with are singers Montaigne, Missy Higgins, Gotye and Paul Kelly.

GMA runs various campaigns simultaneously. Some of them are directly related to mitigating the industry’s environmental impact, like BYO Bottle to reduce plastic waste. Other projects highlight important issues in industries that unnecessarily harm the environment – Stop Adani No New Coal being the best example here. Some initiatives also lend a helping hand to disadvantaged communities, i.e. Rubbish To Resource which aids Aboriginal musicians in Northern Territory through recycling.

Apart from lending their voices to the organisation, supporters frequently turn advocacy into action. And they’re not afraid of getting their hands dirty. July was declared a Plastic Free month, so some of the artists performing at Splendour In The Grass (SITG) festival this year participated in the Seven Mile beach clean-up in Byron Bay. The amount of plastic rubbish they collected in just one hour (over 2000 items) is pretty alarming.

GMA’s case studies (like the clean-up above) and info sheets offer valuable insights into the current environmental state of things and predict developments and trends in the near future. Have a look at the very thorough Cleaner Campsite Research, for instance. You can also avail of external resources, like the Green Event Book to help organise your gig in a sustainable way. Many industry partners design funky merch to encourage going green (see the cool Triple J reusable coffee mug). I’m personally loving Austep Music that use innovative solutions in packaging (like the unprinted vinyl cover below) and stage lighting (LED technology).

Being a music industry professional you might also want to check how big (or small) your environmental impact is. No problem. Use the accounting tool. It’s cool because it shows tangible results, related to you personally. So you can start making a change right at the source.

Regardless of the music industry’s “green” efforts, some global “eco fundamentalists” argue that the answer to music’s environmental footprint is simple: stop recording and/or touring. I respectfully disagree. Yes, it’s easier than ever to use the virtual world (i.e. live streaming) for performing arts but nothing will EVER match a live music experience. So what are other options?

There is another industry we cannot live without but, by using it, we’re also contributing to global pollution. That industry is aviation. Some time ago smart, environmentally conscious people working for the “business of freedom” came up with a way of giving back to Mother Earth each time a plane takes off. It’s called offsetting or compensating for the harm done to the environment by burning fuel. Next time you fly, check if there is an option to chip in a small amount towards the plane ticket which – in turn – will be invested in a green project (possibly tree planting). Qantas and Air New Zealand are one of the most passionate advocates of the idea in the ASIAPAC region.

How about making offsetting a permanent part of the music business?

It’s actually not such a revolutionary idea anymore. Pearl Jam do it. Coldplay have done it in the past. The DJ-ing community is quite progressive in that aspect. But the above examples are limited to offsetting on behalf of the artists. Shouldn’t we, as music fans, match that somehow as well?

Personally I think that adding an “offsetting dollar” to a gig ticket price wouldn’t make that much of a difference to my wallet. And it could definitely be a significant step in the greener direction. Australia could also be the best testing ground with such a dynamic, open-minded music community and supportive fanbase.

GMA – do you accept the challenge?

It will take the global music community some time to come up with more lasting and effective ways of mitigating music’s impact on the environment. But I believe we’re already seeing the (green) light in the tunnel.

There are some important things that we can start doing right now, though. Like joining the Global Climate Strike on 20 September (this coming Friday) that musician Lisa Mitchell invites you to attend in the video below.

Photo credits:

Triple J reusable coffee mug –

Recycled unprinted vinyl jacket – Austep Music website

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