Taking on the world, sustainably
Part 1: What can we learn from the music sector about sustainable touring in the Nordic region
[Estimated reading time 11 minutes]
The Covid-19 pandemic has, in practice, brought touring activities to a complete halt for creative professionals. The performing arts field has come to an involuntary standstill. For many artists and other operators, this has also proved to be a time to consider their relationship with international travel.
In the music industry, interesting trials of ecologically sustainable touring activities have been getting underway. In this article, Producer and Publicist Raisa Siivola talks about Jazz Finland’s Nordic network project. We also hear from Drummer Mikko Sirén of world-renowned band Apocalyptica on his views when it comes to ways to make use of social influence. Finally, we summarise three tips for planning sustainable tours.
From environmental ideas to environmental practices
‘The biggest impacts start as the smallest trickles and persistent choices. Even more important than responsible acts taken perhaps once a year, is what we do in our everyday lives,’ explains Ice Hot Helsinki 2022’s environmental policy expert, Elina Levula of Positive Impact. Perhaps rather than environmental acts, we should be talking about environmental practices.
What kinds of sustainable touring practices could performing artists adopt? Answers to this question are currently taking shape in Jazz Finland’s network project, which was launched in January 2020. The project involves identifying and trialling low-impact event production and accommodation solutions, transportation and mobility practices, and productive partnerships in the live music field.
Alongside her work, Raisa Siivola of Jazz Finland is studying environmental planning. She states that the network, besides establishing the environmental impact of its own basic operations as part of the project, is also implementing ecologically sustainable tours in the Nordic region in September 2021, which are being planned in collaboration with bands. This is, in turn, helping strengthen expertise amongst operators in the live sector.
‘The objective is for all parties to gain more information on what kinds of sustainability challenges we are facing, the kinds of solutions we could come up with, and whether, in addition to reducing our carbon footprint, we could also produce a positive carbon handprint.’
The starting points are, therefore, very similar to those for the Ice Hot Helsinki 2022 environmental policy and sustainability development work. Doing is learning, and ideas are shared and promoted between partners.
One concrete tool is the practical guide already compiled for the realisation of small and medium-sized event productions. A sustainable jazz tour production guide for agents, bands and promotors planning Nordic concert activities is due for completion in Spring 2022.
The project partners hail from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, with a total of 14 Nordic jazz clubs and festivals, five national jazz organisations, and five bands involved. The partner organisations have been working together for more than two decades on professional development of the sector and touring networks.
‘On the topic of sustainability issues, progress depends not just on the individuals, but also the choices and attitudes of partner companies,’ says Siivola. ‘To be successful, everyone needs to put their mind to it and want to act and develop together.’
Social influence and tangible trials
Attention has been drawn to the environmental impacts of international touring activities in the wider world by the likes of Coldplay and Billie Eilish, as tours by such megastars bring with them a substantial environmental impact. On the other hand, with such huge audiences, the potential social impact in promoting soft values is also vast.
The importance of communication in creating change is also emphasised by drummer Mikko Sirén of Finnish metal group Apocalyptica. Enjoying success across the world, Apocalyptica have played as many as a thousand concerts across 50 countries, and in their promotional work have also sought to highlight acute climate change issues.
‘One tangible element we believe we can have an impact on is sharing of information, although it’s easy to look like you’re just greenwashing, taking a kind of “do as we say, not as we do” stance,’ Sirén states. ‘We’ve been working with the WWF and done Baltic Sea protection campaigns with Greenpeace. For us, these are solely a matter of goodwill; from the band’s perspective, we don’t feel that the visibility aspect changes much for us. On our part, it boils down to a genuine desire to make a difference.’
‘When artists within the sector put pressure on organisers to start moving in a new direction and begin talking between themselves, it can lead to big forces for change. One great example is Flow Festival here in Finland, where the high level of sustainability requirements is the result of demands from both the performers and the consumers. The sustainable consumption basis upon which the festival is built is part of the festival’s brand, and has also become a market asset.’
Sustainability trials on Apocalyptica’s tours have so far encompassed aspects ranging from performance technology to travel practices. The band, playing 100 shows a year at their most active, encounter a range of challenges whilst on the move.
‘We have chargeable batteries for all the electric sound boards and use them whenever we can, but there are tour situations where we’re constantly flying from country to country and simply don’t have time to charge them. Batteries dying is inevitable.’
Cooperation expands horizons
Resource management is probably one of the key issues in live and touring activities, in the professional fields of both music and dance. The first tentative steps of change, before even considering adoption of new practices, require muscle.
Leverage for these change processes can be found through cooperation. According to Raisa Siivola from Jazz Finland, thinking is expanding in live programming policy practices in Europe, for example.
‘The musicians and the wider sector want to be forerunners, experimenting, even if not always successfully, rather than lagging behind. Even 10–20 years ago, there was a mindset in jazz circles where, for example, big names would be brought in from the USA to perform in Finland on exclusive contracts, based on which artists could not be invited to perform at other venues in the area for a month after the festival. Thankfully, we’ve grown past that, and local networks are now used in smarter ways. Venues and concert organisers might inform competing colleagues that a band is coming to play a show, and ask whether they want to book the group for the next day at another local venue.’
‘I would say that cooperation is the next major step for bands and artists. Doing joint tours from the same country or coming up with something different and new to produce added value.’
Apocalyptica’s Mikko Sirén would also like to see performing artists make greater use of each others’ expertise.
‘There’s no point us all making the same mistakes, particularly as financial savings often correlate with savings in natural resources. Aside from my belief that planes will become more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly in the near future, perhaps transportation solutions could be organised more intelligently in the years to come – concentrating and optimising logistics between several groups.’
The key here is developing environmental responsibility as a network. By pulling together, collective will can be formed, promoting the objective of working in a way that produces less of an environmental impact. In networked projects, a value chain of operators takes shape, with each network member having their own role and opportunities to influence.
It might feel like fighting windmills when going it alone, but working together allows for new practices to be implemented on a bigger scale and throughout the whole chain.
Three sustainability tips for planning touring activities
1. When planning a tour, ask yourself or your group: What kind of tour are we aiming for and why? What are we going to get out of it, and what can we produce for others from it? Think about your own values and those of your community and keep these questions in mind throughout the process.
2. Use an online carbon footprint calculator (one can be found on the WWF website, for example, also Global Footprint Network has their own calculator to try) and familiarise yourself with your operating models as an individual – the same thinking is directly reflected in your choices as a professional. The calculator’s results might be surprising in either direction, and inspire you to consider how you could reduce your environmental impact or whether you could increase environmental awareness through your own organisational or artist image.
3. Direct consultation and sharing information and activities help us learn from each other and save resources. See what others are doing, discuss and be open in asking both performing groups and organising bodies: What helped you organise your tour sustainably and how? With your colleagues, consider what kinds of activities you could share, for example in terms of transporting equipment.
Text by Helmi Saksala. Translation Claire Ruaro.
Author is Communications Specialist and Entrepreneur who contributed to the environmental policy Ice Hot Helsinki published early 2021.