Coldplay’s Sustainable World tour — Viva la (Green) vida?
Coldplay was my favorite band in my teenager years.
The love story could have lasted longer but I did not match with their bright Pop-ish turning point in mid 2010’s. Even though we drifted apart, I still have a genuine curiosity for every new album out there and projects they make public.
In regards to my battle — Sustainability — I’ve also kept a keen eye to get updated on Coldplay’s actions. Indeed, Coldplay has always been a band concerned about Climate Change. We Never Change, do we?
Anyway, last year, I saw they were planning a Sustainable World Tour for their latest album; Music of The Spheres. As far as I am aware of, that’s the first time a mainstream band like Coldplay shares such a pledge to fight Climate Change. Radiohead actually did it 10+ years ago but I don’t see them as popular as Coldplay (sorry if you’re a fan of Thom!)
As they kicked-off the tour last week, that’s the perfect occasion to deep-dive into their pledge & vision. They hired a sustainability expertise company to accompany their incentives, so I was hopeful to find think interesting insight.
To get an acute opinion about what Chris, Guy, Will & Jonny (no need for Wikipedia to get the names, as a good fanboy I remembered them!) have been up to, I visited their website extensively. Every piece of information I found is available here, on the website!
This article aims to “rank” the solutions in terms of impact/cost/effort and innovation. You can find my full study on this open Google Link!
Important disclaimer; I will not bear judgement on Coldplay here. Not because deep inside I still love them (ok, partly true), but because my goal here is to analyse the consistency and approach they have deployed for their tour. Also, instead of mocking them, let’s salute the courage they show — in my opinion. They took a big risk to be that loud about this.
So let’s focus on an overall assessment and take the best out of their incentives to inspire a more sustainable music world.
My methodology was simple;
- Read the pledge & actions
- Find some supporting data to help me assess the actions
- Rate the actions
- Extract some trends and ideas that can be deployed for other band and transform the music industry
So Don’t panic and let’s go!
Square One; Coldplay’s pledge
As mentioned earlier, this is not their first rodeo. Coldplay has been acting for Climate Change for some time now. Some of the band members claim to be vegan, they took part in awareness incentive worldwide, …but they brought the idea to the next level this time.
This is the core of their pledge;
REDUCE — Reduce our consumption, recycle extensively and cut our CO2 emissions by 50%.
REINVENT — Support new green technologies and develop new sustainable, super-low carbon touring methods.
RESTORE — Make the tour as environmentally beneficial as possible by funding a portfolio of nature - and technology-based projects and by drawing down significantly more CO2 than the tour produces.
It’s clear Coldplay focuses on CO2 emissions and energy sources supporting their tour operations. The pledge sounds simplistic for sustainability experts but it has the benefits of being easily understood by their audience. We can also notice that Nature Regeneration is part of the plan. That’s reassuring because it shows they share a wider vision than just CO2.
When I need a friend; Green Touring’s report
To prepare the ratings, I wondered. Did anybody work on a sustainable tour & music industry? There is actually not much literature about it but I found a gem from Green Touring Network. I used their valuable transversal study to help me assess the solutions Coldplay mentions.
Based on the “We Invented Paris” 2014 tour CO2 emissions, the report splits the carbon footprint of a tour like this;
- 1/3 for Audience Travel
- 1/3 for Venues
- 1/3 for the rest; Merch, Band travel & Accommodation almost equally split
There is not enough data to make it as a general rule, but I took this repartition when I had to rank Coldplay’s actions to come.
You can find the report on this link.
Sustainability in Technicolor; The rating!
Following my study, I split the list of solutions in Tiers as following;
Tier 1 — “Champion on the world” AKA great ideas
Mostly about around Waste Management, Sobriety & Ethic partnerships. Examples; Less shows, sustainable biofuels for the tour operations, lighter venue operations, …
Tier 2 — “Daylight” AKA Great ideas on paper but we shall see
Mostly about Renewable energy systems & Fans engagement. Examples; Recycle programmes and Offsetting & Nature regeneration, Water management in venues, carbon footprint of fans, …
Tier 3 — “Twisted Logic” AKA deceitful ideas
Most ideas Coldplay shared are valid, and many are solid. But a few ideas are really borderline and one can argue it’s greenwashing.
Case in point; renewable fuel for travel. Sounds great but it’s almost impossible to deploy and that’s not in their hands so.
Another example is reforestation. Idea’s fair but planting 1 tree FOR 1 ticket. To balance a fan’s footprint, you would not need a tree but a small forest. Stating this as a solution is tricky because it does not show the orders of magnitude involved here. As for merch, well. Merch is not eco-friendly by essence and allowing worldwide delivery from their online marketplace is a Rainy Day in the middle of summer…
Every Teardrop is a Waterfall; Towards a greener music/touring industry
A careful reading of Coldplay’s objectives shows 3 trends;
- Engaging fans to act more sustainably is a must
- Impossible to have a sustainable music industry if venues do not play their part
- The band has limited power over decisions but can definitely be an influencer through decisions on their own scope
The music industry also has its part to play in fighting Climate Change. Writing songs about awareness is good but not enough. Integrating Climate Change in the core of a world tour strategy is a game-changer, and that’s why Coldplay’s hopeful transmission should be louder.
I am clearly not a music expert, but analysing Coldplay’s use case helped me identify a few high-impact incentives the music industry can use to scale up impact.
- Less shows = lower emissions
Sounds as bas as it is but well. Less shows can actually be seen differently. The entire production can go from one country to the other. We will never stop World tours but we can make them better! Travelling at the other end of the world for one show makes no sense. So why not thinking about an “Asia/Europe Tour” and spend most of the tour there? And switch to another continent for the next Tour? Or promote smaller cities? I am sure people from UK would love to see Coldplay out of Wembley! The possibility to do online tours is also possible but that’s another topic…
- Incentivise Fans & Venues
Raising awareness is necessary but not enough. This is why bands must engage their fans & partners beyond just understanding Climate Change. And it comes with incentivising. Sustainability does not have to be a punishment and Coldplay got this right. I don’t know if this incentive programme will work, but at least they showed that people can act together and feel gratification for it. As for vendors & suppliers, companies & influencers like Coldplay must force their entire network of vendors to shift with them. There’s no impact if one organisation is acting on their own in their little spot. Think Big, it does not have to be Them Against the world!
- Greener operations and show the example with quick-wins
Waste management, ethic vendors, eco-friendly merch, plastic ban, vegetarian menus, the possibility to pool machinery and equipment… It starts with this! Any band/artist can relate, no matter the tour. Then comes renewables energy, funky recycled stages. You don’t have to be fancy to be sustainable.
In any case, hope this article got you thinking about the role of Music in Climate Change. We cannot live in a world without music, so that’s our role to change things at our level and get things right. Now that Coldplay paved the way for a greener tour, every player in the industry must follow and innovate too.
Here comes the Hardest Part…!
See you soon, gonna listen to A Rush of Blood to the Head now!