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No touring till they're green

CULTURE

British band Coldplay have put plans to tour their new album on hold due to concerns over the environmental impact of concerts.


Frontman Chris Martin told BBC News, “We're taking time over the next year or two to work out how our tour can not only be sustainable [but] how it can be actively beneficial.”


Coldplay's new album Everyday Life has just been released and, instead of spending months on the road, they are playing just two shows in Jordan, which will be broadcast free to a global audience on YouTube and a one-off concert for fans at the Natural History Museum in London with all proceeds donated to an environmental charity.


The band last toured in 2016 and 2017, performing 122 shows across five continents to 5.4 million people, grossing $523 million. The tour employed 109 crew, 32 trucks and nine bus drivers.

“Our next tour will be the best possible version of a tour, environmentally,” Martin said. “The hardest thing is the flying side of things. But, for example, our dream is to have a show with no single-use plastic, to have it largely solar-powered. We've done a lot of big tours at this point. How do we turn it around so it's not so much taking as giving?”


It's not just the flights for the band. Fans travelling to and from shows are the biggest source of pollution; but there's also an environmental cost to producing merchandise, powering the spotlights and moving stages from venue to venue.


Other musicians have made efforts to become more sustainable. Radiohead swapped spotlights for LEDs, which use a fraction of the power needed for a standard lighting rig. The 1975 have stopped making new merchandise, and are donating £1 from every ticket sold to One Tree Planted, a not-for-profit that plants trees all over the world. 


However, efforts by Irish band U2 over the past decade, point to a more comprehensive approach. Which is probably a good move given the band’s use of 120 trucks to move around a massive “claw” structure they took on the road in 2009. By contrast, that same tour, the band did:

  • recycle guitar strings 

  • produce travel FAQs for fans covering public transport, ride shares, carpooling, shuttles, and sometimes making bicycle racks and special parking for electric or hybrid cars available

  • ask venues to use paper rather than plastic straws, and to allow concertgoers to use refillable water bottles and to provide clear signage for water stations, recycling, and (when an option) composting

  • provide vegetarian or vegan options at each meal for the nearly 200 staff and tour crew as well as reusable water bottles — there’s a water refill station backstage — saving a minimum of 1,000 plastic bottles a day.


In 2009, U2 offset their 360° tour by providing villagers in the Siaya and Bondo counties of Kenya with filters to purify drinking water. Previously, the villagers had cut down trees for firewood so as to boil and purify drinking water. The initiative has improved the quality of life for more than 10,000 people and also protected the rainforest. A similar offset was used in the 2015 tour but with a twist. Villagers in the Santrokofi community of Ghana were again provided with water filters, but were charged an affordable 25 cents apiece per month for each filter, which gave villagers ownership of the devices. All payments were collected and pooled to buy food and other supplies for the Santrokofi community. A number of other bands, not-for-profits and corporations have opted for this model.


Coldplay will attempt to go one step further: to design tours that are actually good for the planet. It is a high bar. If successful, though, others may emulate. Certainly Coldplay can afford the time off, even if it means giving up a huge pay day.

ABOVE Chris Martin

PHOTO Bjorn Jansen

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