Industries in Depth

Coldplay stop touring to save the world: is pop music going sustainable?

Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay, performs during the half-time show at the NFL's Super Bowl 50. The band will stop touring for now.

Coldplay will stop performing concerts to curb carbon emissions. Other musicians are taking action on climate change, too. Image: REUTERS/Mike Blake

Robin Pomeroy
Podcast Editor, World Economic Forum
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SDG 13: Climate Action

  • Coldplay will stop touring for the foreseeable future in an effort to be more environmentally sustainable.
  • Rock concerts and music festivals generate waste and carbon emissions.
  • Fans traveling to concerts generate one-third of the carbon emissions of a typical concert, while the concert venue generates another third.

They're one of the biggest stadium-rock bands in the world, but Coldplay will not be touring for the foreseeable future, as they seek to make their concerts less environmentally damaging.

"We’re taking time over the next year or two to work out how can not only our tour be sustainable but how can it be actively beneficial,” lead singer Chris Martin told the BBC at the release of the band's new record, Everyday Life.

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Rock concerts and festivals may be joyous celebrations of music and togetherness, but they generate a serious carbon footprint and mountains of trash. After their last album, Coldplay performed 122 shows on five continents.

"Our dream is to have a show with no single use plastic, to have it largely solar powered," Martin said, adding: "We would be disappointed if (the next tour) is not carbon neutral."

"The hardest thing is the flying side of things."

Rock stars' jet-setting is not the biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Green Touring Network, a German organisation that aims to improve the environmental performance of live music. While band transport produces less than 10% of total emissions, the carbon emitted by fans travelling to and from gigs accounts for a third. Another third is emitted at the venue itself.

Carbon footprint of a tour
Transport, accommodation and the venue are the main sources of a gig's greenhouse emissions. Image: GreenTouring

Coldplay are not the first band to examine their carbon footprint. In 2008, Radiohead – vocal campaigners for climate action – said they were trying to make their tours 'eco-friendly,' choosing, among other things, to perform at venues accessible by public transport.

Most recently, Billie Eilish said she would reduce the environmental footprint of her world tour next year by, among other things, banning single-use plastic and ensuring the availability of recycling facilities. The singer, who will be 18 during her Where do we go tour, also plans to install an 'eco-village' at each gig where audience members can learn about the environment.

With more than 40 million followers on social media, her calls to action, including this YouTube video, will not go unnoticed.

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Eilish is following in the footsteps of veteran blues singer Bonnie Raitt, whose Green Highway tours include environmental awareness booths.

To green-up her own tour, Eilish is working with REVERB, a consultancy set up to build on the work started by Raitt, which has also worked with artists including Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, Maroon 5, John Mayer and Barenaked Ladies to improve their performances' environmental performance.

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