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Musicians Spread the Enviro Vibe

By Brian Allenby, Evan O'Neil | Reverb | September 7, 2007

Dave Matthews Band. CREDIT: Bryan Rosengrant (CC).

Evan O'Neil talks with Brian Allenby of Reverb about the carbon offset market and how musicians are reducing their environmental footprint.

Brian, the entertainment community is really taking the lead on environmental issues in the United States. How does Reverb help the artists themselves go green?

Brian Allenby: Reverb works with artists on a number of fronts. The main goal is to make their tours and concerts carbon neutral—balancing out the waste and energy use with biodiesel for vehicles and generators, biodegradable catering supplies, recycling, and efficiency measures. And, of course, there's the band merchandise, which is made with organic cotton and bamboo fiber.

To help bands educate their fans about how they can reduce their footprints we erect an Eco-Village at each show. It's a festival-like atmosphere with tents staffed by local and national nonprofits. Fans can learn about green technologies, buy carbon offsets, register to vote, and sample eco-friendly products.

Are the artists choosing this path out of pure good will?

Many bands now approach this as a cost of touring. Just like you have to lease a tour bus for the summer, you have to pay a little extra for biodiesel. Some bands choose to make a tax-deductible donation to Reverb (we're a 501c3), some choose to put it on the books as an expense, it all depends on the individual situation. We try to work with the band to help the greening process be as inexpensive as possible. The last thing we want is discouraging financial news for a band that truly wants to green up its tour.

How do you calculate the CO2 for something complex like a summer band tour?

When calculating a large tour we'll look at a number of areas that result in CO2 emissions. Traditionally, we'll look at ground travel, air travel, venue energy use, and hotels. There are standard formulas used to calculate the carbon output from each of these activities, such as average emissions per passenger mile for airline flights. Some artists even choose to look at fan travel to and from the show and help offset that footprint.

I've heard that most of the emissions from a big stadium event come from fans traveling to the venue. How can they pitch in?

Fans sure do add to the emissions—more than 80 percent. The simplest thing they can do is carpool! It's so easy, and it helps with a number of other issues, like traffic congestion around the shows. Some venues are even starting to give preferred parking to folks that arrive with more than three people in the car. It's also important to drive the most fuel efficient vehicle you can, inflate your tires properly, don't drive over 65, accelerate slowly, all the usual tips. Many of our artists offer the opportunity to purchase offsets during the online ticket purchasing as well as at the shows themselves. And you get a nice sticker as a thank you!

Reverb buys carbon offsets for the bands to make up for emissions that can't be eliminated through other means. Where do you buy them? How much do they cost?

Reverb has chosen to partner with NativeEnergy as our provider of carbon offsets and renewable energy credits (RECs). They help build projects—wind farms, farm methane capture—that would not exist without the help of offsets and credits. They also bring critical financial support to communities in need, such as family farmers and Native Americans. It's the combination of helping support projects that are environmentally and socially beneficial that has kept us working with NativeEnergy.

Offset costs vary depending on the total purchase for the tour. Retail prices for individuals start at $12 per ton and the price decreases as volume increases.

Who puts the Native in NativeEnergy?

NativeEnergy is majority-owned by a group of Native American tribes, the nonprofit Intertribal Council on Utility Policy. They sell RECs from the wind electricity generated on the reservations.

Offsets are a new industry with evolving standards and terminology. Can you explain additionality?

I would recommend reading the Tufts Climate Initiative study or the study released by Clean Air Cool Planet for a layman's approach to additionality. It's essentially a system for determining whether an offset is truly an offset—whether a new project is just business as usual or really financing some fresh and additional emissions reductions.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has laid down some standards on this. They start with the assumption that the project is not required by law and was built after the opportunity for offset revenue became available. They then ask whether the money from offsets will help get the project started and make the return on investment worthwhile, whether it will help overcome technical barriers as in a developing country, and whether the project is pioneering in its market or region. If a project passes the test, then its offsets are considered additional. This level of certification can be laborious, but it assures quality.

Another way to determine additionality is through performance standards, where offset credits are awarded to all projects with emissions below a benchmark rate. The danger there is that the rate will be set too high and even business-as-usual projects like natural gas will reap offsets. NativeEnergy, for example, prefers the project approach to performance standards for this very reason.

What about retirement? I assume this has nothing to do with aging rockstars.

True. Because renewable energy credits are tradable commodities, they need to be "retired" from the market to keep things climate neutral. Retirement assures that credits are sold only once and never traded or sold again, never double-counted as an emissions reduction. You could just tear up your RECs and solve the problem that way, but it's more effective to donate them to a nonprofit that retires them for you. It's kind of like donating land to a trust or conservancy. Dave Matthews Band, a Reverb client, did this when they retroactively bought offsets for fifteen years of touring.

Are offsets tradable like pollution permits?

Voluntary offsets (the type we utilize) are not currently a tradable commodity, but that's not to say that some day they won't be. RECs are, however, a tradable commodity, which is why retirement is crucial to the process. When the REC is retired, it assures the world that the only way to create more RECs is by producing more renewable electricity, and this is exactly what we want!

Are there any changes on the government level that would help the offsets industry?

The government could choose to regulate the CO2 market in the future. This would certainly have an impact on the commercial end of the offset market, but probably no impact for the residential or individual level. Although government regulation of some types of CO2 reductions would be beneficial, the real need is for some regulation as to the quality of offsets that can be sold, whether into a voluntary market or a mandatory cap-and-trade system.

Reverb connects a huge network of artists, businesses, nonprofits, and music fans. Have you learned any lessons from building this megacommunity?

We've learned a ton in only three years of existence. So far, we've come away with two commandments:

  • Thou shalt not preach.
  • Thou shalt not be a buzzkill.
What we're doing is about enhancing the touring and concert experience for both artists and their fans alike. It's not about being doomsday prophets, but about encouraging everyone to start taking small steps today to make a large-scale impact in the future.


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