Ecological Sustainability: the European Music Sector takes action!

The global climate crisis has led many organisations from the music sector to act towards a more eco-conscious future. Culture can be a strong driver for positive changes in society. In this article, we highlight ecological initiatives and concrete tools from the live music sector, both at national and European levels.

Why We Need to Change

We are facing a global climate crisis. Because the urgency of it has not been taken very much seriously yet by governments, civil society is finding ways of doing their part to change habits and find alternative ways of living and working to reduce their ecological footprint. Cultural sectors need to make the transition towards a more livable future, which would respect human rights and the planet’s ecosystems.  

When we speak of sustainable development, we envision it through three pillars: social, economic and environmental. Many people argue that culture should be the fourth pillar of sustainability

The Role of Culture in Ecological Transition

Culture is strongly interconnected with our vision and way of life. It indeed has a powerful role to play in ecological transition. The societal impact of culture must not be underestimated. Cultural activities, access to them and participation in them, plays a crucial role in individual and collective emancipation. They can influence our values and behaviours. In his 2017 thesis Social Marketing Through Events (University of Gothenburg), Swedish academic Henrik Jutbring studies the impact on audiences behaviours and values that the music festival Way Out West had when it proposed only vegetarian diets to its festival-goers in 2012. This forced adoption of a new eating behavior stems from a want from festival organisers to reduce their ecological footprints and raise awareness among their audiences on the dramatic ecological impact of meat-consumption. This action has had a tremendous impact on peoples’ values and behaviours: more than 15% of surveyed audience reported to have reduced their meat consumption after the festivals’ initiative. In other words, music events can be a driver for societal change. They can give examples of how to do things differently.

Many cultural organisations are doing things differently and work towards impulsing and facilitating this transition. The objective of this article is to provide a panorama of various initiatives at national and European level which work towards an ecological live music sector. As so many initiatives exist, we will not reach an exhaustivity of projects, organisations and initiatives. We would rather like to present the most active initiatives from our network as well as very concrete tools for live music venues to implement change within their organization and serve as role model for the people which gravitate around them.

Panorama of Actions at Supra-National Level

Heads of State and Government, senior UN officials and representatives of civil society gathered in September 2015 and adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 goals form sustainable, universal and ambitious development programmes. These goals must be reached by 2030. Although culture is not explicitly mentioned in any goal, we can argue that all SDGs can be considered in some way relevant to culture, either directly (culture as a driver of sustainable development) or indirectly (culture as an enabler). The SDGs serve as a basis for many (if not all) projects involving ecological transition.

More info
About the role of culture in the SDGs – Voices of Culture Brainstorming Report

In September 2020, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) pointed out that the Creative Europe projects can be used as an opportunity to exchange good environmental practices in content production, distribution and consumption. The resolution argues that programme participants should also be subject to an environmental charter to be developed with stakeholders from the cultural and creative sectors. This rise in ecological awareness from EU policy-makers echoes the European Green Deal launched in 2020 by the European Commission, which provides an action plan for Europe to be the first climate-neutral continent in 2050. These are examples of how EU institutions tackle the theme of ecology and put them more and more in their agenda. In the future, we hope to see ecological values more and more implemented in EU programmes and policies.

About the MEPs call for greening EU culture and education programmes
About the European Green Deal

The European Music Council (EMC) strives to be a leader in sustainability. They take consideration of environmental sustainability in their administration, events planning and publications. After releasing a practical set of guidelines for working in a more sustainable way in their office, they have organized in 2020 the European Forum on Music on the theme of “Music as a Driver for Change”. At this occasion, they organized an online panel with EU officials, artists and activists on this theme and released a conference reader providing very interesting articles on the relationship between culture and sustainability as well as highlighting projects which go in this sense.

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The SHIFT project is led by a consortium of 9 partners (European Music Council, On The Move, Trans Europe Halles, European Choral Association, European Union of Music Competitions for Youth, ELIA, Face, IETM and the International Music Council) which aims at providing training and resources to cultural operators on the following themes: cultural leadership, environmental sustainability, gender & power relations and inclusion.
They have produced interesting resources regarding environmental sustainability, notably fact sheets on carbon calculators and green certifications, as well as annotated bibliography and best practice examples.

Access the SHIFT website.

Since 2014, the European Jazz Network (EJN) is taking actions towards a more sustainable and ecological jazz sector. They wrote a Green Manifesto which lays out their intentions and commitments. They also developed the project Take the Green Train which aims to foster collective action, explore the environmental issues facing the arts and cultural industries, and how the jazz sector can respond as part of a global movement addressing climate change practically and inspirationally. Europe Jazz Network has partnered with Julie’s Bicycle, a charity working on environmental sustainability in the arts, for this Creative Europe funded programme. As part of this project, they have also gathered many resources (practical guides for indoor and outdoor events, tools, factsheets…) on ecology and the jazz sector which can be helpful for other live music sectors as well. They also present some case studies from their members who have taken action which can be inspiring.

Access EJN’s resources on environment

On the Move (OTM) is a cultural mobility information network with 50+ members in over 20 countries across Europe and internationally. Their mission is to encourage and facilitate cross-border mobility and cooperation, contributing to building up a vibrant and shared European cultural space that is strongly connected worldwide. They have a dedicated page with some resources on Green Mobility where interesting resources can be found such as the Green Mobility Guide for the Performing Arts Sector.

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The Center for Music Ecosystems is a new global NGO founded by Sound Diplomacy. Its objective is to enhance the inclusion of culture and the SDGs into supra-national cultural policies. Their Guide to Music and the SDGs is a comprehensive guide which links all SDGs to actions which can be taken in the music sector.

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Music Declares Emergency is a group of artists, music industry professionals and organisations that stand together to declare a climate and ecological emergency and call for an immediate governmental response to protect all life on Earth. They believe in the power of music to promote the cultural change needed to create a better future. As an individual, an artist, a live music venue or a music organization, you can join the movement.

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MUSIC x GREEN creates more visibility for organisations and initiatives that make the music industry greener, less impactful on the climate and ecology, and more sustainable overall. It was launched in Berlin on Friday 20 December, 2019 at noon, coinciding with the usual kick-off time for Fridays For Future rallies. Many resources and initiatives can be found on the platform.

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A Greener Festival is a not-for-profit company, committed to helping events, festivals and venues around the world to become more sustainable and to reduce environmental impacts. Their activities include consultancy and research on festivals’ ecological impact, conferences, Green Festivals Awards and resources. Their resource platform is public: you can find there many articles which can be interesting for festival organisers.

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Touring Artists is an information portal for artists and creatives working internationally. There, you can find information concerning social security, taxes, or insurance issues, which pertain both to work stays and collaborations within the EU and projects beyond EU borders.

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UIMA (United Independent Music Agencies) aims to work towards a more sustainable future. Major steps can be taken when reducing flying, eating differently, wasting less and using green energy. Their Green Rider help artists reduce their footprint, and also states alternatives for promoters, venues and festivals to steer towards a greener future. The focus is on re-usability (no single use items), zero waste, green energy and favoring plant-based diets.

Access the UIMA’s Green Rider here

Concrete Actions and Tools from the Live Music Sector

In cooperation with PULSE, cultural network for ecological transition in Flanders, we are launching a series of Digital Safaris on Sustainability in live music venues, festivals and clubs. The Digital Safari on Sustainability gives live music professionals the opportunity to virtually visit live music scenes which work in an ecological way. From catering to sustainable building, up to the mobility of the audience and artists or the way they manage waste, participants benefit from concrete tips on how to think and act in a sustainable manner in their live music venue or club. The Digital Safaris on Sustainability take place via Zoom. Places are limited to 30 participants to ensure a privileged and in-depth discussion between live music professionals from all over Europe. Live music professionals from all branches (communication, catering, administration, technicians, directors…) are invited to these intimate visits and exchanges.

More information and recordings of previous Safaris

Based on venues and festival’s experience on organising a sustainable festival, this Green Roadmap has been developed by the Norwegian live music association to provide an overall direction for the practical environmental and sustainability work in the arts and culture sector. The roadmap provides a guideline for how each individual can contribute to the green transition, and contains ten immediate measures for organizations and businesses, five immediate measures for artists and cultural workers and five immediate measures for the authorities. The Green Roadmap was released in March 2021 and is written in Norwegian.

Access the guide here
The NKA Association have also put up many resources for Norwegian live music operators. Access their resources here.

The Danish association Dansk Live has released in 2019 a Green Guide for festivals and venues. This guide is for concert organisers who want to work with environmental sustainability. It breaks down the sustainability work into concrete actions in selected areas (Waste & resources, Food & Drink, Energy, Water, Transport, Shopping, Camping areas, Communication and Partnerships). The guide is available in Danish.

Access the guide here

In 2019, FEDELIMA and their members decided to mutualize their resources to purchase gourds for all live music venues who wanted to. Although the gourds were produced in China (there are no gourd-factory in Europe), the gourds were delivered to France by cargo using empty-spaces of cargos who were already planning to sail to Europe. Over 3000 gourds were delivered to 56 live music structures in France. The gourds were sent to the live music venues for the staff, technicians and artists to use and to fill with tap-water. Once the concert was over, the artists were asked to leave the gourds for others to use. This action helps live music venues to reduce their plastic use. It shows that the mutualisation of resources and collective effort are crucial in saving money, logistic time and energy.

In 2020, FEDELIMA also started the Working Group STARTER (Spectacles et Tournées d’ARTistes Eco-Responsables / Shows and Tours of Eco-responsible artists) with other representatives of the French music sector. Its goal is to enable structures from the cultural sector to mutualise their research work in order to establish common guidelines for sustainability in live music events. They insist on the values of cooperation, solidarity and mutualisation of means and tools.

More information about STARTER

The Swiss network “Vert le Futur” (a pun between “Green the future” and “towards the future”) was founded in July 2020. It is committed to supporting the cultural sectors to a future which is inclusive and respectful of the environment and of climate. They believe in sharing knowledge and best practices to mutualise resources to work towards a more sustainable cultural landscape. PETZI, the association for Swiss live music clubs, is part of this network. The networks gathers experts from cultural sectors, environment and computer science.

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This cultural policy report by Istanbul venue IKSV aims to draw the gaze of the arts and culture scene in Turkey to the ecological crisis and present the approaches that analyse its social and political reasons on one hand, and reflect on the transformative role of arts and culture for a sustainable planet, on the other. The report also presents case studies from the Netherlands and the UK. It can serve as a great basis to find arguments on how culture and the arts have a role to play in ecological transition.

Read the report

DEMO is a transborder project between live music actors from North of France and Belgium which tackles sustainable development in the live music sector. Find more about DEMO in our dedicated article here. On the DEMO website, you can find many resources such as recipes for vegetarian catering or their end of project report, which notably presents the carbon footprint calculator which they used to calculate the footprint of their venues. The Report is available in French here

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Clubtopia devotes itself to sustainability and climate issues within the Berlin club scene, addressing clubs, event organizers, as well as club guests. Their goal is to raise awareness and change behaviour for a brighter and climate friendly future. They believe that Berlin’s nightlife has the potential to find creative solutions to become more sustainable. At the same time, clubs, venues and parties can positively influence their audience by being a lighthouse of green clubbing. In 2015, Clubtopia released a Green Club Guide, which they updated again in 2020. The Green Club Guide provides concrete information from waste-reducing measures, to energy effiency and improved mobility to run a nightclub in a sustainable way. The Green Club Guide is available in German.

Access the Green Club Guide here
More information about Clubtopia

Footprints is a collaborative project that aims at reforming the music sector and introducing the values of social, economic and environmental responsibility to its activities. Created on the initiative of the Periscope from Lyon (France) and Wytwórnia Foundation from Lodz (Poland), Footprints will introduce a series of activities aiming at helping all the actors of the music sector to move around the European music market and at consolidating the European creative music community around shared values. Designed as a support mechanism and a network of experts on a European scale, this Creative Europe project will mobilise young cultural entrepreneurs and professionals in the sector. Over the 4 years of the project, Footprints will support two groups of artists and producers to help them set up a tour in Europe and introduce them to practices in line with ecological, social and economic issues.

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Julie’s Bicycle is a UK charity which supports the creative community to act on climate change and environmental sustainability. They run a programme of events, resources and provide the creative and cultural sectors with skills to act in a more sustainable way. They have a rich resource database. The following resources are particularly interesting for the live music sector:

More information on Julie’s Bicycle

This bottom-up guide gives concrete examples of how Belgian music events can become more eco-friendly. This guide was written by young (between 18 and 25 years old) Belgian citizens as part of a project by a community center. Input from many live music professionals in Belgium was collected to write the guide. The guide tackles the subjects of waste, catering, mobility, prevention, energy, togetherness, biodiversity, communication and financial sustainability.

Access the guide here

The Green Touring Network’s mission is to support artists and players in the music industry to actively contribute to environmental protection. They have notably released the Green Touring Guide, a document aimed at artists, artist managers, tour managers, booking agencies, promoters, venues and anyone involved in organising and running a tour. The Guide tackles the subjects of mobility, catering, communication, venue infrastructure, hospitality and merch. The guide notably presents a chart with the footprints of each part of a live tour. The guide is available in German.

Access the Green Touring Guide
More information on the Green Touring Network