When we take in the music, we leave a carbon footprint.
My interest in carbon footprints started with compact discs. As a music critic, I end up with too many. Until recently, I've always been able to give away the extras. But in a new world of music downloads, unless I vouch for the music's high quality, fewer people want them. And you can't just throw away CDs. They have to be recycled.
So, taking a few hundred to the Lane County disposal site, I started wondering about the ecological cost of the disc and its packaging. The numbers surprised me - not only for CDs, but for the entire music industry.
Concern for music's carbon footprint (measured as carbon dioxide emissions) began in Europe. The leading organization is Julie's Bicycle, a nonprofit group that promotes ways to reduce the music industry's environmental impact in the United Kingdom. The group's motto is "taking the heat out of music." Don't let the group's cozy name distract you. Julie's Bicycle is a serious and effective outfit at the forefront of a growing movement.
Starting at the organization's Web site, I discovered that a single CD has a carbon footprint of 2.2 pounds. That includes all aspects of production and distribution, but not disposal. CDs have been around for only 20 years, so we'll have to wait a few thousand more to figure out their final toll.
Measuring pounds of CO2 released into the air was new to me. Immediately I looked for comparisons to make sense of it. For example, the CD's 2.2 pounds is the equivalent of running a computer for a working week of nine hours per day, or producing 10 plastic bags, or four plastic bottles.
The UK's major record labels have agreed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from CD packaging by 10 percent this year. Abandoning plastic CD cases completely in favor of "card wallets" - a paper-based format - could cut emissions by 90 percent. But the biggest problem isn't CDs, it's concerts and festivals.
Australia's outdoor music festivals release more than 100,000 tons of CO2 per year. Now, an outfit called Green Tix asks festival-goers for an extra $2 as a "carbon offset" fee. The carbon offset program works like this: A person or an organization declares a carbon footprint. Then they buy a carbon "credit" that is spent elsewhere to limit emissions. Green Tix also offers a "tree per ticket" option in which one tree is planted for every ticket purchased.
Green music festivals are advertising aggressively around the globe. England's Glastonbury Festival has promised to be the "greenest ever" music event. Scotland's T-in-the-Park Festival calls itself the "biggest carbon neutral event in the world." Other prominent green venues include Portugal's Boom Festival, Denmark's Roskilde Festival, and dozens more in such countries as Sweden, Norway, Lithuania and Canada.
Aggressive advertising suggests that not only are green music festivals good for the planet, they are good business. And promoters are targeting young people as being especially receptive to the message.
America is catching up with green festivals in a number of states, including New Jersey, Colorado, California, Tennessee and Washington. The only official green venue I found in Oregon is the Indie Roots Music Festival in Happy Valley.
The Rothbury Festival in Michigan offers some practical ideas. Working with Gov. Jennifer Granholm, organizers found a local bio-diesel supplier for vehicles. Concessions use biodegradable plates and cups. Eighty percent of all waste stays out of landfills, an impressive number considering that 40,000 people attend the festival.
The carbon footprint of transportation may be the music industry's greatest challenge. The numbers are depressing. Flying an artist round-trip from Europe to the West Coast releases about 2.8 tons of CO2, the equivalent of driving a Prius for 12,000 miles. A round-trip from the East Coast releases 1.4 tons, the number of an average person's yearly waste and recycling. While artistic quality sometimes relies on visiting artists, we still have options, especially with artists who are not headliners. Consider two violinists of equal artistry, one of whom arrives from California and releases a "mere" one-third of a ton of CO2 while a European costs the planet nine times more.
Audience travel is another problem. Significant discounting of ticket prices for use of local mass transit offers one important solution here.
Heating and cooling concert halls, lighting and amplification were the most difficult carbon costs to find. Although the Hult Center doesn't measure carbon footprints at present, director of operations Mark Loigman, who also supervises Cuthbert Amphitheater, told me that Bonnie Rait has the measurement taken when she plays Cuthbert. He also says that the Eugene Water & Electric Board has a carbon footprint formula. Finding the number for a concert at the Hult - which is critical for assessing the ecological cost of many local groups - isn't a mystery. We just have to ask.
Despite Oregon's paucity of official green music events, the state has a virtual "eco-music-warrior" in Linda Magee, executive director of Chamber Music Northwest. Magee, not incidentally the first person in Portland to buy a Prius, is on a carbon-conscious prowl throughout her festival's operations. Like Rothbury, her festival uses biodegradable plates and cups. Electronic solutions reduce use of paper and mailings through online access to documents. Artists "sign" e-mailed contracts and no longer find bottled water backstage but iced water in a pitcher instead.
These are but a few of Magee's efforts. And it's important to remember that small changes add up. But Magee's decision to suspend the mailing of two annual printed newsletters in favor of online access really impressed me. Printing and mass mailings are one of the music industry's biggest carbon culprits.
But anecdotal evidence, however commendable, may distract us from the real challenge. Any serious effort must start with public disclosure of an organization's carbon footprint, determined by an outside specialist. Then we have a yardstick to measure results.
We're used to seeing numbers from a music outfit's year, measured by ticket sales and fulfillment of particular goals. A carbon-conscious public will expect a new kind of press release - something such as, "Ticket sales exceeded last year's figures, while we reduced our carbon footprint by 10 percent."
The arts, by nature and history, have a deep responsibility to make a bond with citizens in pursuit of an enlightened community. Any new commitment must have reliable information about carbon footprints and offer serious steps to reduce emissions.
This is the kind of issue easily dismissed as too complicated to figure out. That won't wash. Public information alone allows for some basic estimates and comparisons.
Arts groups can consider carbon footprints a problem or an opportunity. Earth-friendly music festivals will increasingly help ticket buyers choose among a multitude of events. And in the competition for funding, the greenest music festivals may well pull in the most "green."