Over the last year, travel as we knew it came to a stop. The only people flying in, out and about in Australia currently are generally essential workers and those trying to get back home. For the environment, this is actually a pretty great thing. That’s because the air travel industry is usually responsible for 5% of all global CO2 production – and that’s with only 3% of the global population taking those flights. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), if the remaining 97% joined them for just one long haul flight per year, industry emissions would make aviation one of the largest polluters globally, second only to China.
The halt on travel has hit many industries hard, and in particular tourism and events. Concerts and events have been cancelled and rescheduled, replaced by a new trend of live-streamed and pre-recorded gigs popping up in the digital space. Soul-crushing restrictions on live events and border lockdowns have at least been a moment of reprieve for Mother Nature, as tours are guilty of being high carbon emitters during a standard season. In 2010 for example, research findings concluded that live music in the UK generated over 405,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
Whilst the pandemic has helped bring forward the market for VR and digital hybrid festivals, there is still no substitute for the atmosphere and good vibes we get from attending a real, live event. In preparation for their return, the public and live events industry should be considering what they can do to travel more sustainably on tour in future, so they can entertain crowds not just now but for many more decades to come.
Professor Carly McLachlan of Manchester University’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, whose research aims to help concerts and touring become more environmentally sustainable, was sought out by Massive Attack back in 2020 to help the band look at how they could tour with less emissions. She highlighted three major “hotspots” for the environmental impact and carbon intensity in concerts and festivals; the carbon emissions caused by travel of the band and crew, energy consumed at the concert or festival venue itself, and carbon emissions from audience travel.
Carbon emissions from the travel of a band and crew.
Whether it’s by work ute, air, or tour bus, travelling from location to location creates emissions, adding to the climate crisis. Whilst big, internationally renowned bands like Coldplay can afford to pause touring over environmental concerns, this isn’t a solution for the greater industry.
A great place to start is with the re-evaluation of your company’s travel policy.
Avoid travel when possible
Whilst tours obviously can’t exist without some form of travel involved (the giveaway is in the name!!), travelling to/from business meetings (e.g pitch meetings, contract negotiations, pre-production etc) could easily be labelled as avoidable travel to a socially and environmentally conscious business.
Photo: Campaign Creators
Travelling for business meetings are already starting to become a thing of the past. Sure, it’s a nice perk of the job to get out the office for a day, bump up your own frequent flyer points on the company’s dime, go that extra mile to build a connection with a potential client, artist, or stakeholder. But is it really necessary?
These days, the majority of business meetings can sufficiently be handled over Zoom or Microsoft Teams. There are still ways you can make your clients feel like you went the extra mile for them; order them lunch from a local business to be delivered to their office just before your meeting. Send them a dessert box or a hamper from a local business after the meeting to thank them for their time. Send them tickets to an event your company is working on locally to them in future, so they can see firsthand what you’re all about and still feel like they’ve been ‘gifted’ something from you at the same time. It’s time to get creative!
Say no to business class (where possible)
Travelling in business class doubles your carbon footprint, according to ICAO’s calculations from 2017. As such, consider reducing the number of people flying business class and making it company policy. This may not always be possible, especially when dealing with VIPs and artist riders, but you can start with you own team, ask your suppliers to follow suit, and work your way up to the band’s entourage and production team when and if possible.
Photo: Josh Withers
Say yes to low-emission airlines
When air travel is absolutely necessary, that’s where low-emission providers can come in. Airlines with modern, fuel-efficient fleets have smaller carbon footprints, making them a wiser choice for your environmental management policy.
Other airlines to consider are those offering carbon-neutral flying. Qantas, for example, offers flyers with the option to donate to offset the flight. These contributions go directly to “environmental projects across Australia and the world,” as noted on their website.
Say yes to sustainable accommodation
It may surprise you, but after air and road travel, the next biggest carbon emitter is accommodation, emitting an average of 10 to 13 tonnes of CO2 per room per year in the UK.
Hotels are notorious for producing large amounts of waste and consuming high amounts of energy – but that’s not to say all hotels are out of the picture. Make it company policy for your travel coordinator to go the extra mile in actively seeking out hotels and accommodation that are taking measures to be environmentally friendly.
You can start with a travel site like Greener Getaways, which features everything from eco resorts, luxury cottages, to hotels and conference venues. Build your own research from there and keep a list of key environmentally friendly accommodation options in each state to hand for when needed.
Photo: Darya Jum
Carbon emissions from audience travel.
Audience travel produces 68% of the festival sector’s total emissions and 24% of all music travel emissions. This makes it a key consideration for event organisers looking to reduce environmental degradation.
As the world’s sixth largest country, no matter where your tour stops around Australia, fans travel from all over to get to them. Whether they live rurally, or in a city that your tour bypasses, people will be flying or driving their way to your shows.
Planning a tour route that balances both financial viability for the promoter and the most sustainable route for audiences is a great place to start. For example, Australian indie rock band Holy Holy plan shows in more rural settings such as Torquay, Townsville, and Margaret River. That way, fans don’t have to travel hours to a show, which reduces the carbon emissions they cause.
Whilst we can’t control festival audience travel, we can introduce incentives to help reduce emissions. As outlined in Jules Bicycle Travel Report, three-quarters of festivalgoers travel by car, with half of them being unaware of coach and train services.
This is behaviour event organisers can influence with the use of incentives and advertising. Incentives are both achievable and successful, with data showing that incentives encourage festivalgoers to lift-share and use public transport.
What incentives could organisers offer? There’s a range: food, drink, and music vouchers; lower car parking rates; preferential camping allocation; and discounted public transport tickets to name a few.
Photo: Silas Tolles
Events and music have the power to transform sustainability and how it is viewed in society at large. By taking action to include more environmentally friendly standard business practices in tour and live performance operations, businesses and organisers can communicate the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This can influence what is seen as normal and sustainable in other industries too – creating the possibility for large-scale change.
Whether it’s a transition away from business class and hotels or the restructuring of your tour, there are many actions a business can take to improve the sustainability of travel on tour and show other industries the importance of doing so.
Feature Photo: Jeshoots.com