The sustainability panel was packed with attendees – quite the contrast to the experience Effect Partners founder/CEO Mike Martin had at his first Pollstar conference, where he was at a little booth and nobody came to talk to him. 

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Photo: Barry Brecheisen

Sustainability - with Jack and Kim Johnson

Sure, this year’s panel had the star appeal of Jack Johnson, but more than that, sustainability has become a way of life for many people. Santa Barbara Bowl event operations director Eric Shiflett said he’s “seeing the market pressure switch from top down to bottom up a little bit more. People are making the right choices and forcing us to make the changes rather than us trying to force them to make behavioral changes.”

Jack Johnson said his fans inspired him to get involved in the greening of the music industry.

“For me it’s all about relationships. ... I think about the fundamental one between the artist and the fans. We’re coming together to share this experience. … [Partisan Arts’] Tom Chauncey has been a part of our crew from the beginning. Early on we started brainstorming about what we could do to make the greatest experience for the fan. … Another relationship is the venue with the community. … I really do sense the change in the concertgoers since we first started to implement this stuff. Times are changing. I feel the difference. People are expecting more. They want that quality from their venue.”

Of course, there is still room for improvement when it comes to making touring and concerts more sustainable. To give attendees an idea of the opportunity the concert biz has to make a difference, if you look at the top 100 tours – which sold about 59.78 million tickets – fans travelled approximately 240 million miles to get to the events, emitting 58,000 metric tons of CO2. Roughly 130 million paper goods were used, which is about 160,000 trees, and approximately 60 million plastic water bottles were sold, the equivalent of 48,000 barrels of oil.

The discussion centered on five keys areas the industry can have an impact, which are included in Effect Partners’ EnviroRider: fan transportation, reduce waste (especially plastic), sustainable food, reduce emissions, and track and communicate progress.

Kim Johnson – Jack Johnson’s wife and co-manager, who co-founded the Kokua Hawaii Foundation and the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation – talked about how 80-90 percent of carbon emissions at concerts come from fan transportation.

She noted that “anything we can do to reduce that is huge,” including setting up bike valets at shows, encouraging carpooling by offering priority parking for those who share rides, and offering incentives at the venue for fans who use mass transportation. Artists can work with ticketing agencies to allow fans to add a $1 or $2 donation to their ticket purchase for carbon offsets. Since 2008, more than 50,000 of Johnson’s fans have offset nearly 10 million pounds of carbon, which is equivalent to planting 250 million trees.

Shiflett shared how the Santa Barbara Bowl was able to divert 91.1 percent of its trash last year to compost or recycling. Because so many fans would put recyclables in the trash and vice versa, the Santa Barbara Bowl has one bin and spends hours sorting every piece after the shows. The venue also has an audit to analyze every piece of waste - “How was it used? Is it recyclable? Is it recyclable well - aluminum or glass? Or poorly - a plastic beer cup.”

Speaking of plastic cups, the venue was an early adopter of Jack Johnson’s reusable pints and cups, where fans can purchase one for $10 and bring it back to receive a dollar off refills. Shiflett also proudly talked about how the venue reduced cardboard waste by doing away with pizza boxes. This was a win-win, on an environmental level as well as saving money for the Santa Barbara Bowl and the local pizza venue.

When Brian Yost, Live Nation’s president of on site products, approached Live Nation President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Rapino in 2013 about adding vegetarian items to the menu, Rapino suggested the company take it a step further and look at humanely raised proteins and locally sourced produce.

Live Nation worked with the Humane Society of the United States, which recognizes three accredited organizations – the Global Animal Partnership, Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved, to make changes at all LN owned and operated amphitheatres.

Yost said, “These folks create guidelines about how animals are raised and harvested and how they’re treated while they’re alive. Not only does it take better care of the animals and better care of the planet but it creates much better quality product, which is in everybody’s best interests.” As for the vegan and vegetarian options, many items have a great mass appeal with omnivores and Live Nation had to double and triple production to keep up with demand.

Tanner Watt, who served as the associate director of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance and now manages partnership and program development at Reverb, talked up the benefit of using biodiesel, a renewable fuel that’s made from vegetable oil or animal fat, for touring. He pointed out that it “burns almost 80 percent cleaner than petroleum diesel and you can do it in blends as well. … Any step in that direction is a great way to reduce your emissions.”

Watt recommend that artists and their teams talk to bus leasing companies about whether it’s OK to use this fuel and if you have difficulty finding biodiesel, go to Biodiesel.org to find a national map of biodiesel distributors across the U.S.

Small changes can be made by switching to CFL light bulbs, higher efficiency fixtures and low-flow toilets. Watt noted that some of these options are cheap, while others aren’t initially, but almost all save money over a long period of time. John Marler, senior director of energy and environment at AEG, explained that AEG tracks sustainability progress through annual EcoMetrics reports that cover a bunch of data including electricity use at venues and gallons of diesel used, etc.

The company issues newsletters to employees to highlight progress and hosts an award program to recognize achievement. When it comes to engaging fans, Marler recommends making sure it’s a message that’s going to be well received.

“One of the problems in the sustainability space is this stuff is depressing. It's complicated and overwhelming. We try to keep it positive, inspiring – a tip they can take into their lives. … It’s basic stuff – try to use public transportation, bike, make sure you put recycling into the proper receptacles. Small things – take only as many ketchup packets that you need. If you don’t need a knife, just take the fork. Easy, simple, fun, inspiring. Just trying to get the message out."

RPM co-founder Erin Potts added, “This is definitely a moment. Sustainable practices are inevitable in any industry that you’re in. I think there’s momentum right now in the music industry to make this happen as easily as possible. … What we’re hearing over and over again is that there is an opportunity to do good while doing business. Let’s keep collaborating and sharing ideas and keep that forward motion going.”