How about making music business more eco? – interview with activist James Dove
We have already written about ecology in music business here: Dawid Podsiadło, ekologia i prawo – co mają wspólnego? (the article is in Polish).
All of us are jointly culpable for climate change, therefore we should collectively seek for solutions, that will help us save the planet. Musicians and their fans are not an exception. That is why we decided to dig deeper and learn new ways to be more eco.
We managed to interview James Dove – a British musician, producer and activist focusing on environmental aspects of music industry. His initiative – ClimateEQ was founded to promote new innovative music business ideas that would lessen the strain we put on our planet.
Musicodex (“M”): First of all, may I ask you about your journey to environmental activism? Why is it such an important aspect of your life?
James Dove (“JD”): I started to learn more about climate change around 4 years ago when I joined my local Friends of the Earth group in Manchester. Up until then I had always been very conscientious about the environment but I assumed it was ok as long as I made an effort to recycle. At that point I hadn’t realised the full extent of the damage humanity was causing to the planet and how little time we had left to do anything about it. The more I learnt, the harder it hit me. I specifically remember a phone call I made to a family member where I was trying to explain some of these things and I broke down in tears. It felt like I was having a panic attack. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was experiencing a severe bout of climate anxiety. I remember feeling very helpless and angry. I couldn’t understand why most people were just carrying on with their lives as if nothing was wrong.
That’s when I found out about Extinction Rebellion. I started to going to weekly meetings and taking part in non-violent protests in London and Manchester and joined the Regenerative Culture working group, that focused on well-being and regenerative practices.
I soon learnt that it was very common for people to experience these types of wake–up moments when learning about climate change. When you realize you have been unconsciously contributing to the destruction of the planet and that humanity was hurtling towards extinction, it can have a huge impact on your mental health.
M: Can you tell me about ClimateEQ and its actions in the UK?
JD: One of the worst aspects of learning about climate change for me was the feeling of helplessness and thinking there wasn’t anything I could do about it. After all, I am not a scientist or a corporate CEO, or a politician for example.
However, I soon came to realise that I didn’t have to be a scientist, or work for the government, to make a difference. We have enough experts already and the science is very clear. What’s really needed is for people to take action and take action now!
It became clear to me that the biggest challenge we face isn’t climate change, its behaviour change. Each one of us, whether we’re individuals, or CEO’s, or work in a legislative body, we all need to assume responsibility and start to take action right away.
I realised I already had some skills needed to become an activist. I also recognised that a sustainable music industry was a very powerful tool in helping to communicate the urgency of the climate crisis, and in helping to drive positive climate action on a global scale. This is because music connects with people on a much more emotional and deeper level than science and politics ever could.
I started ClimateEQ, in order to help bridge the gap between climate awareness and climate action, by helping people within the music industry learn more about climate change and what they can do to help. ClimateEQ offers an 8 hour accredited course that teaches you about the science and psychology of climate change, the impacts of climate change, and offers the opportunity to explore the solutions.
The name ClimateEQ was chosen because EQ is used within music to manipulate its frequency content, to ensure everything is balanced and clear. The principles of EQ – “less is more”, “subtract before you add” – have parallels with how society needs to change if we are to avoid the worst possible outcomes of climate change.
M: From your observation, are music fans becoming more aware of the challenges resulting from the climate change and of the urgence with which we need to tackle these issues?
JD: I believe that awareness of climate change is very high, particularly in the UK. I believe this is in part thanks to the great work David Attenborough (British biologist) and his team have done, and the recent actions taking by groups like Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and the school strikes for climate groups, as well as a number of other fantastic and important movements.
However, I still believe there is a huge gulf between climate awareness and climate action.This is why it’s important that the music industry does everything it to inspire new societal noms leading to more sustainable behaviours amongst the audience.
Music brings people together, therefore it has the power and responsibility to be a proactive leader in driving climate change action. Big music events and festivals are the perfect testing ground for experimentation and innovation.
M: A lot of musicians try to get involved in environmental activism by including eco messages in their lyrics. Some experts say that it might not be enough. For example, Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” distribution resulted in more than 100 tonnes of plastic waste.
Every stage in music production process requires the use of energy and resources. Even if we abandon physical carriers completely, we still need to remember that streaming may be even worse for the planet. 5 billion views of “Despacito” music video utilized the same amount of energy that 5 African countries use in a year! Although “Despacito” is not an eco-aware song, it’s easy to understand that even a song promoting sustainability could still result in a lot of emissions. Taking all that in, do you think spreading awareness may be a valuable type of activism or should it be followed by some action?
JD: It’s very important that people are aware of the situation we are facing, so spreading awareness is always a very good idea and music has always been a good vehicle for that
We have to work together to start moving towards a more renewable future rather than pointing fingers and accusing others of hypocrisy. We should be compassionate towards the ones who are at different parts of the journey. This is also why I believe the music industry needs to do all it can to become sustainable in order to support its artists to effectively communicate the urgency of climate change. It must address its own environmental issues and commit to aligning itself with emission reduction targets, as many other industries are starting to do.
M: Would you agree that music industry is hesitant or even reluctant to take any serious action concerning environmental activism? If so, why do you think that is and what needs to happen for us to see a meaningful change?
JD: Unfortunately, we don’t have the technologies in place to resolve the biggest environmental challenges facing the industry overnight but we can certainly improve on our practice. In the last year the UK music industry has seen a vast increase in cooperation and communication, with both the live events industry and the recording industry signing declarations and committing to reaching net zero emissions targets by 2030 and 2050 respectively! This represents a huge step in the right direction. The only way the industry will see meaningful change is by working together as an industry to establish carbon measurement methodologies, tools and frameworks that are back by climate science.
You can read more about these declarations here
M: Who – in your opinion – has the most power to impose sustainable solutions on music festivals, record labels and music carriers’ producers? What can artists and fans do?
JD: I always say that climate action is something that is either done with you or to you! After all, audiences will start to demand lower emissions and sooner, rather than later, appropriate legislation will follow. I believe we need to find the right balance between implementing creative, pioneering initiatives and introducing standardised policies.
In regards to fans, I strongly believe that individual action leads to collective action and collective action leads to change. So for example, before going to a festival, it’s very important that fans read up and adhere to the sustainable policies in place and try and embed a leave no trace mentality as much as possible. Make sure to take public transport to events wherever possible, and support any environmental campaigns.
For artists, it’s important that they put sustainability at the heart of everything that they do, such as demanding greener riders with plant based food, selling sustainable merchandise and only working with promoters and venues that align with their environmental values. It’s vital that they route their tours more efficiently and make sure to offset any unavoidable travel emissions. Plus, speak out about the climate crisis!
M: According to Environmental Change Institute’s research, UK’s music industry generates 540 000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, and the bulk of it (about 75%) comes from live music events. Jack Johnson decided to give up live concerts unless the venues meet his strict sustainability requirements. What is your stance on that? Should we abandon live events completely or is finding a balance “the way”?
JD: I don’t think that abandoning live events is the answer. Music brings people together and gives them experiences that they will never forget. There are many social, cultural and economic benefits from live music events. However I do believe we need to reimagine and improve how we organize them and recognise that at the moment we are actively a part of the problem. For example, there is a huge issue with waste at music festivals and this needs to change. We need to immediately stop using disposable single use plastics and move towards a more circular economy. This will require education and commitment from both the festival organisers and its audiences.
We need to shift our perspective from seeing waste as waste to seeing waste as a resource. I believe we have the creativity to come up with new solutions that can make future events, not just sustainable, but regenerative.
M: A lot of bands or music festivals try to take direct action to promote ecology. Kwiat Jabłoni decided not to use plastic wraps for their second album. They used recycled paper and eco stickers instead. Dawid Podsiadło encourages his fans not to print their tickets. WROsound – a polish music festival stopped printing line-ups and festival maps, as they are always available online anyway. They also started organizing water carts for festival attendees, so they can refill their own bottles instead of using countless plastic ones. What else can be done by the music industry to help the planet? What other ideas have you encountered?
JD: There are some fantastic initiatives taking place across the industry. As I mentioned there are more and more festivals experimenting with circular economies. One example is the DGTL Festival in Amsterdam. They conducted a Material Flow Analysis, in which they identified and calculated all the resource flows of materials, energy, and water that enter and exit the festival. This provided the festival with a clear understanding of its metabolism and gave them an inventory of what they were taking from the environment, and what they were putting back.This allows them to make better decisions when deciding future changes to their input/ output model.
Another great example is an organisation called FEAT (Future Energy Artists).
FEAT are a world-first initiative that provides artists with an opportunity to invest into a fund that gives them stakes in solar farms around Australia. I would love to see similar initiatives happen across the world. For example, it would be great for artists to create a similar project that harnesses the huge potential for wind farms in the UK.
There’s also a wonderful initiative in America called Green Disco. They work with event organisers to host a “Leave No Trace” party to tackle the issue of excessive waste at festivals.
Their goal is to encourage those who have attended an event to volunteer and clean up the waste left behind by putting on a free after party with a local DJ and free food that is provided by local food trucks. They also invite sustainably-sourced vendors so audiences can learn about those in the community who are also passionate about reducing their carbon footprint.