The True Cost of Live Music

By Elizabeth Sibson, UNH Political Science Program  |  MAY 2017

“Mercy will we overcome this…one by one could we turn it around?”
-Dave Matthews

We hear every day about carbon emissions, recycling, and water pollution, but it’s not always clear how our actions connect to these environmental issues. For instance, what possible impact could the music we love have on the environment?

The carbon footprint of live music.

Tour buses and other large vehicles emit greenhouse gases. In 2013, the U.S. truck fleet emitted an estimated 530 million metric tons of CO2 per day (ThinkProgress). While tour buses may emit less than heavy trucks, the emissions from buses are still substantial, and we must multiply the daily CO2 emissions from buses by the number of days a band is on tour (and the number of bands on tour). It’s staggering. And this is just the carbon footprint from tour buses.

What about air travel? A flight from New York to Los Angeles one way (for one person) has a footprint of 580 pounds of CO2. To put that in perspective, one gallon of gas creates 20 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Take a minute to calculate your carbon footprint!

How much waste do musicians (and fans!) produce when they go on tour?

In 2015, there were approximately 60 million plastic water bottles sold at the top 100 tours: it takes 48,000 barrels of oil to create that many water bottles (Pollstar). And that’s just plastic water bottles. There is a shocking amount of other plastic and paper products sold or used on tour.

Sure, we love to see our favorite bands on tour, but there is clearly an environmental cost. So, what is a die-hard music fan to do?

Reverb might be the answer.

Reverb is a non-profit organization formed in 2004 by Lauren Sullivan and Adam Gardner. They do a whole host of work involving sustainable practices, but something that caught my eye was their work with musicians. I first heard about Reverb through the Dave Matthews Band, but they also work with other artists like Maroon 5 and Jack Johnson to help the bands and tours be more environmentally conscious.

Dave Matthews Band, live at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on July 17, 2016. Photo: Elizabeth Sibson

The amount of energy and other resources required to put on a live show is absurd, and can have a huge environmental impact. Here’s where Reverb comes in.

Reverb’s “Tour Greening” program focuses on making tours more environmentally friendly. They do this by working with the production team and artists to, among other things, plan for biodiesel fueling from sustainable sources, promote composting and recycling while on tour, and provide locally sourced food during the tour. I encourage you to learn more about the other great work that Reverb is doing!

Now that you know about Reverb, I’m guessing you want to get involved. Bully for you!

Reverb offers volunteer opportunities at shows. As a volunteer, you’ll arrive a few hours early, get a FREE shirt and a FREE general admission ticket, and help promote the concept of sustainability to all those people waiting to get into the show. Reverb also sets up an “Eco-Village” at each concert venue where fans can play games, win prizes, and get informed about how to be more sustainable in your everyday life.

In 2017, the bands you can volunteer for are Dead and Company, Dave Matthews Band (That’s where you’ll find me!), John Mayer, and Jack Johnson. What a fun way to merge your passion for sustainable living with your love of live music!

Volunteering at a concert might not be for everyone. But you can still support Reverb’s mission through a donation. Or, maybe you know someone else who’d love to get involved? Spread the word!

See you at the show … 

Elizabeth Sibson is currently a student in the Political Science Program at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). In addition to her major studies in Political Science, Elizabeth is pursuing a minor in Environmental Conservation & Sustainability. 

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