DMB, Madonna, Pearl Jam Lead Tour Industry's Green Revolution

Big-name artists team up to fight global warming

Pearl Jam
Stefan M. Prager/Redferns
Eddie Vedder performing at the Olympiahalle in Munich, Germany.
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When Ben and Jerry's launched Dave Matthews Band One Sweet Whirled ice cream in 2001 to raise money and awareness for the fight against global warming, the singer had an epiphany. "I produce far more CO2 than the average person," Matthews says, referring to the emissions created by the caravan of trucks and buses DMB require when they hit the road every summer. "My karmic debt to the environment is enormous."

Matthews contacted MusicMatters, the marketing company that hooked the band up with Ben and Jerry's, and said he was uncomfortable preaching to other people when he was doing so much damage. "Dave told us he felt hypocritical with all the buses and trucks he traveled with," recalls Michael Martin, director of MusicMatters. "He wanted to see if there was something he could do, but no one was doing anything." Matthews and MusicMatters spent the next several months researching the problem – canvassing energy experts, trucking companies and venues – and came up with a solution: "carbon offsetting," by which Matthews would pay to build turbines and create renewable wind power in an effort to make up for the ozone-depleting CO2 generated by the band's tours.

Six years later, Coldplay, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack Johnson, Pearl Jam and dozens of other major touring acts offset carbon emissions as routinely as they play soundchecks. In fact, 2007 is turning out to be the year the concert industry goes green in a big way. An increasing number of organizations are providing carbon-offset services by planting trees, generating wind and solar power, and converting cow manure to fuel; the biggest trucking companies allow their buses to run on cleaner-burning biodiesel fuel; major caterers, like Dega, employed by Bob Dylan and John Mayer, buy local organic food and compost organic waste wherever possible. "People have started to battle for the business of environmentalists," says Johnson.

Every year, about 1,200 tour buses and trucks hit the road, according to MusicMatters, traveling more than 60 million miles, using 13 million gallons of fuel and releasing more than 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – about the amount 30,000 cars generate in a year. Upstaging Inc. – the industry's largest provider of trucks – started allowing biodiesel to be used in its vehicles in 2004. Most biodiesel combines biological material, such as vegetable oil, with petroleum-based diesel, reduces carbon emissions by approximately twenty-five percent, costs about the same as regular diesel and works in all diesel engines. "We have to be available to do whatever the client wants," says Upstaging manager Peter Maggio. "Offering biodiesel is definitely helping us."

But because the fuel isn't widely available (about 650 gas stations stock it nationwide), Maggio contacted Reverb – a nonprofit organization that helps artists go green – to arrange "biodiesel routes" for tours. Reverb identified gas stations stocking biodiesel or arranged to have tankers meet caravans at venues. "We have it down to a science," says Maggio, who recently worked on providing biodiesel to four buses and eleven trucks for a Red Hot Chili Peppers tour.

Reverb and MusicMatters work with the growing network of eco-conscious vendors – and their client lists are multiplying. In 2004, when Guster singer Adam Gardner and wife Lauren Sullivan founded Reverb to advise musicians on green touring, they had one client: the Au Naturale Tour with the Barenaked Ladies and Alanis Morissette. This summer, they're consulting on more than a dozen. Unlike Reverb, MusicMatters, which also works on campaigns for brands like Clif Bar, is a for-profit business – and business is booming: The company has gone from fourteen to forty-eight clients in the last three years. "We're at the proverbial tipping point," says Reverb's Sullivan. "Everyone gets it now."

The Fray hired Reverb to help plan their first arena tour, which kicks off in July. In addition to offsetting the tour's carbon emissions, the band added a fifty-cent surcharge on tickets to offset the added costs of Reverb's initiatives, which can run from several hundred to several thousand dollars a gig. The group uses real plates and utensils, and it set up an "enviro-rider" banning disposable paper goods backstage. "It's much easier having somebody helping us do this," says Fray guitarist Dave Welsh. "Their role is to make it easier on the band and, in turn, it's a lot more effective."

"It's a lot easier than it was even a couple years ago," says Johnson, who created and, with Eddie Vedder, co-headlined the recent Kokua Festival in Hawaii to raise money for local environmental groups. Johnson has turned the offices and studios of his Brushfire Records into a model of ecofriendliness, with solar power, recyclable CD packaging and energy-saving air conditioners. The biggest symbol of the industry's new environmental awareness comes on July 7th, when more than 100 artists, including Madonna and the Police, will participate in Live Earth, Al Gore's twenty-four-hour, seven-continent concert for the environment. "I guess it's a bandwagon now," says Matthews. "I hope it's more than just a fad."

This story is from the June 14th, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.


From The Archives Issue 1028: June 14, 2007