Low-carbon partying

Last updated Friday 24 October 2008

Disco fever can still be cool for the climate

Whether it's nightclubbing or gig-going, music lovers soon rack up some hefty CO2 emissions. So can you change your tune without being a party-pooper?

Bright lights, huge sound systems and air conditioning use massive amounts of electricity. A club is likely to emit over 100 tonnes of CO2 in a year, which is about 20 times what an average UK home emits. And with big stadium gigs and tours, you need to factor in the travel too, not just the band's but your own - about 40% of the UK music industry's emissions come from audience travel, according to research by Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute.

So what's a green gig-goer or a clubber with a conscience to do? Well, there's a growing trend for bands to mitigate the worst effects of their tours, while one or two nightclubs even claim your dancing could be the solution, not the problem...

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Photo: Low-carbon partying

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How will it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • Carbon footprint consultants Best Foot Forward calculated fan travel was the single biggest contributor to Radiohead's carbon footprint (and to tours in general), followed by band air travel
  • The average CD album from recording through to retail emits about 1 kg of CO2e
  • A large music festival (more than 40,000 people) including audience transport will produce in the order of 2,000 tonnes of CO2e, according to researchers Julie's Bicycle
  • A music venue with a capacity of 2,000 people is likely to produce over 400 tonnes of CO2e a year, according to researchers Julie's Bicycle
  • The average music event emits ten tonnes of CO2e, according to researchers Julie's Bicycle
  • According to research group Julie's Bicycle, the UK music industry emits at least 540,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year - the same amount of greenhouse gas as a town of 54,000 inhabitants
  • If you also take into account emissions from UK bands' international touring, the total adds up to 940,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent
  • In 2007, Madonna's Confessions tour was calculated to have produced 440 tonnes of CO2 in four months - equivalent to 205 return flights to Thailand from London. In contrast, KT Tunstall’s 'Eco-conscious' 2008 UK tour emitted just 50 tonnes of CO2, according to music industry advisers Sustainable Touring
  • A report commissioned by Radiohead from the sustainability consultancy Best Foot Forward shows that, despite the 55 tonnes of equipment they took on US tours, travelling fans were still the biggest contributor to their tour emissions. As a result, Radiohead now chooses venues with with public transport in mind and offers preferential parking to fans who car share - which they reckon has reduced the number of cars used by fans by 12%

Of course, it's a little harder to quantify exactly how much CO2 an individual member of a gig audience would be saving by sticking to 'green' gigs and clubs, but allowing for your travel and the band's, movement of equipment and on-site energy use, Julie's Bicycle estimates (very roughly) that you rack up:

  • 5kg CO2 equivalent at an average gig (a bit more than you save by quitting junk mail)
  • 18kg CO2 equivalent at an arena gig
  • 25kg CO2 equivalent at a festival

Alternatively, if the dance floor is your natural home, you could try sustainable clubbing - so long as you live near the only two clubs we know of that offer it.

The first 'sustainable' dance club opened in Rotterdam in 2006 features a rainwater flush system for toilets, waterless urinals and water-saving taps. The club also uses renewable energy sources and LED lighting. In 2008, Club Surya opened in London using many similar energy-saving devices and claiming a dancefloor that can harvest the energy produced by dancers' movement to provide electricity. The man behind it says it can provide 60% of the club's electricity, even exporting excess energy at times to neighbouring premises. However, some observers are sceptical about whether all of these green measures have been installed.

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What's the debate?

"Surely big tours are CO2-intensive by their very nature. If bands care that much, why not just stop touring?"

It's true that there's a limit to how 'green' anything that involves fleets of vehicles, long-distance travel and thousands of fans can be. The 2007 Live Earth concerts to raise awareness of climate change attracted much criticism precisely because of the climate damage attributable to the gigs themselves. John Buckley of Carbonfootprint.com calculated that the events' total carbon footprint, including musicians' and fans' travel, would have been at least 31,500 tonnes of CO2 - more than 3,000 times the average Briton's annual footprint.

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What's stopping me?

"I'm all in favour of saving the planet, but there are limits. I'm not listening to Radiohead."

No, well, it was just an example. It seems quite a few bands are taking their touring carbon footprint seriously. For example:

  • US singer-songwriter Jack Johnson's tour vehicles run on biodiesel (though we all know the problem with biodiesels); he requires venues to recycle waste; and the tour entourage eat organic local food
  • American hip-hop act The Roots gave away specially-designed compost bins, signed by the band, to promote composting among their fans
  • More famously, bands like The Rolling Stones and Coldplay have said they are paying into offsetting schemes to compensate for the environmental cost of their tours (read the Telegraph article). But seasoned Bloom-ers will know about the problem with offsetting schemes too

Meanwhile, former System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian is proposing an even more radical solution to touring - he's urging bands to project themselves on stage as holograms to reduce travel needs. But maybe, as this Hologram blogger suggests, that would rather undermine the thrill of the live experience.

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How do I do it?

  • Go to gigs by public transport, or car share
  • Go to a 'green' gig or festival that has had its green credentials accredited by AGreenerFestival.com, such as: Big Session Festival, Camden Green Fair, The Cambridge Folk Festival, Download, The Glade Festival, The Glastonbury Festival, Hard Rock Calling, Latitude, Leicester City Blues Festival, Lounge on the Farm, 02 Wireless Festival, T-in-the-Park, Workhouse Festival and 2000 Trees. Wood is a new festival in Oxford featuring local food, composting loos and showers heated by wood-burning stoves and a solar powered stage
  • Try out a few acoustic gigs. The BBC is a good place to start looking for acoustic clubs, sessions and festivals. If you live in London, Power Down is a dedicated 'low-carbon' acoustic night, lit up by candles hand-made from the local greasy spoon's waste veggie oil
  • Look for smaller, more intimate clubs which avoid the excessive inefficiencies of larger venues running at less than full capacity. (You might also protect your hearing in the process - see this BBC article)
  • If you really want to prioritise energy-efficiency in your music choice, try an event run with pedal- and solar-powered sound systems. They're pretty scarce but have a look at Rinky Dink or YouTube for clues
  • Ask your favourite venue to consider installing renewable energy in the form of solar panels and ground source heat pumps
  • If you're in London or Rotterdam, try a club that captures your energy on the dancefloor
  • Avoid massive stadium tours: with huge light and sound systems transported around the globe, and a massive travel footprint from the number of fans attending, these are the worst climate option of all
  • Find out more about what really makes a gig 'green' at Virtual Festivals or Independent.co.uk

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2 equivalence
CO2 equivalence (CO2e) is a way of indicating the global warming potential of a particular greenhouse gas by expressing it in comparison to that of carbon dioxide. One unit of a gas with a CO2e rating of 21, for example, would have the warming effect of 21 units of carbon dioxide emissions (taken over 100 years).

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