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The 15 Most Eco-Friendly Rockers

How Radiohead, Drake, Phish, the Roots and others are going green by recycling, using biodiesel and planting trees

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The life of a musician is known for its excesses. But the abuse stars do to their bodies doesn't even compare to the toll that recording, releasing and performing music takes on the environment: Just one stadium show might produce as much as 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide. The good news is that increasingly artists are attempting to take responsibility and move toward greener alternatives, either by cutting back on their use of harmful products like fuel and plastic or by devoting time and money to promoting environmental causes. Here's a look at 15 artists on the forefront of a still-growing movement.

 

By Joe Coscarelli

Guster

Members of the cult rock band Guster, known for their bongo-heavy, much-bootlegged live shows at colleges across the country, met during a Wilderness Orientation program at Tufts University in the early 1990s, a perfect setting to predict the band's path over the next two decades. The group's love of the outdoors and penchant for activism culminated in 2004, when guitarist Adam Gardner and his wife Lauren Sullivan, a veteran of the Rainforest Action Network, founded Portland, Maine-based Reverb, a non-profit that consults with musicians about going green and working with environmental causes. Reverb is now preparing to "green" its 100th tour, having worked with artists from Avril Lavigne to the Arcade Fire. Reverb and Guster have taken the lead to help artists increase awareness and lighten their footprint in a variety of ways, including collecting half-used batteries from live shows; ditching styrofoam cups on tour; supporting the use of biodiesel for travel, as well as carbon neutral venues; selling green merchandise; and much more. At Reverb-affiliated shows, "Eco-Villages" are set up to teach fans about environmental issues. The band has also been known to cover the Talking Heads' nature fantasy "(Nothing But) Flowers," which includes lines like, "There was a factory, now there are mountains and rivers."

 

Photo:Adam Gardner of Guster testifies during the House Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee hearing on the future of biofules in Washington, DC, October 24, 2007.

Barenaked Ladies

With the help of Guster and Reverb, Canadian band Barenaked Ladies hopped early on the eco-friendly (probably solar-powered) bandwagon by greening a tour all the way back in 2004. The band welcomed Reverb's "greening coordinators" onto its tour crew not only to worry about organic food backstage and biodegradable supplies, but also to assist in dealing with less obvious moments of musical waste like collecting broken guitar strings that could become recycled jewelry. Clean-burning biodiesel fuel (from fat or vegetable oil) powered the Ladies' travel, while informational "Eco-Villages" called Barenaked Planet were set up at live shows. The band even played a global warning awareness video as an opening act. The band's CDs are sold in 100% recyclable cases and legend has it that when recycling pick-up was lacking from venues in Washington and Texas, some fans even drove home the band's compost materials in their own cars.

 

Photo:The Barenaked Ladies perform in Mountain View, California as part of their 'Au Naturale Tour', July 28, 2004.

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Dave Matthews Band

 The Dave Matthews Band are on the front lines of the environmental musicians' movement, though their humanitarianism transcends green causes. The group's BAMA Works Fund, founded in 1999, worked initially to bolster arts and environmentalism in their hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia but has since spread internationally, donating more than $8.5 million to charities over the years. Known for the spectacle of their live show and near-constant touring, DMB have been extra committed in their eco-friendly efforts — particularly since 2004, when 800 pounds of human waste was dumped from their tour bus into the Chicago River and partially onto a tourist boat below. In an attempt to make amends, the band donated $50,000 to the Friends of the Chicago River and $50,000 to the Chicago Park District. Since then, the band's bonds with Reverb have strengthened and upon their fifth year as a partner, Dave Matthews Band used their spin-off Bama Green Project to run a tour last summer in which fans were encouraged to volunteer, showing up early for the show to learn more about the ecological causes and to help set up the Eco-Village recycling, water and information stations. In exchange, fans received a work pass to watch the show. Attendees of DMB's legendary concerts have also been encouraged to use online carpooling services to cut down on CO2 emissions in accordance with the band's own attempts to neutralize the waste produced by touring vehicles, hotels and venues.

 

Photo:Dave Matthews performs at the 5th Annual Kokua Festival to benefit environmental education in Hawaii schools at the Waikiki Shell on April 20, 2008 in  Honolulu, Hawaii.

The Roots

The Roots perform at the Dow Live Earth Run for Water in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, April 18, 2010.

 

The pioneers of the green scene in hip-hop are inarguably Philadelphia's The Roots, who for six years running have hosted an annual Jam Session featuring four-plus hours of live music and guests like Prince, Jay-Z, Fall Out Boy and Mos Def. Moreover, the event is a forum for social activism and in 2010, helped celebrate the launch of the Green Music Group, an environmental coalition created with the help of Reverb including acts like Sheryl Crow and Maroon 5. Tour posters were printed on recycled paper, signed by the musicians and auctioned to support the cause, and all CO2 emissions were neutralized through support for renewable energy. In the past, the group have also signed and given away compost bins to fans and worked with PETA2 (the youth division of PETA) on an ad reading, "Stop the Violence: Go Veg."

Roger Kisby/Getty

Drake

In the spring of 2010, Drake embarked on his first-ever tour as a headliner in association with Reverb's Campus Consciousness Tour, which began with Guster in 2006. The CCT works to link artists with environmental student groups at schools across the country to raise awareness through literature and activities in tents on the concert grounds, like eco-friendly screen printing from Studio 3, an organic textile company. "I feel like as musicians a lot of the time we underestimate the power of our influence and our voice," said Drake at the time. Following Drake, the 2010 Campus Consciousness Tour featured Passion Pit and in 2011 will star the rapper Wiz Khalifa.

 

Photo: Drake performs at Radio City Music Hall on September 28, 2010 in New York City.

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Jack Johnson

As a surfer, Jack Johnson has never shied away from the outdoors as a creative muse, but his actions as an activist follow suit. In his native Hawaii, Johnson co-founded the non-profit Kokua Hawai'i Foundation to support environmental education in schools. He also hosts the organization's annual fundraiser, the Kokua Festival, bringing in artists like Ziggy Marley and Jackson Browne. In 2010, Johnson focused on his social action network All At Once, which pairs fans with non-profits like Sustainable Local Food Systems and Plastic Free Initiatives. Johnson also donated 100 percent of his tour profits from 2008 and 2010 to his Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation, in association with All At Once, to art and environmental education. The same Johnson-helmed group donated $70,000 to non-profits working to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Photo: Jack Johnson speaks at a press conference for the 2008 Kokua Festival in Honolulu, April 18, 2008.

 

Gary Miller/FilmMagic

Green Day

 With the release of American Idiot in 2004, Green Day cemented their transition from snotty California punks to adults with an agenda. But instead of just singing about suburban wastelands and highways full of gas-guzzlers, they joined forces with the National Resources Defense Council, encouraging fans to demand clean energy and green jobs through action in Congress. "We grew up in a huge refinery town," frontman Billie Joe Armstrong explained in a public service announcement. "I learned that a young age just by the mere smell of it what the oil industry does to the air that I was breathing in as a kid," he said. For bassist Mike Dirnt it was simple: "You don't have to be an environmentalist to have an appreciation for clean water."

 

Photo: Greenday performs in San Antonio, Texas, August 9, 2009.

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Bonnie Raitt

The bluesy Bonnie Raitt's activism predates almost any musician on the green circuit today, beginning most notably with her co-founding of Musicians United for Safe Energy as a response the nuclear incident on Three Mile Island in 1979. Along with Graham Nash, Jackson Browne and John Hall, MUSE hosted five "No Nukes" concerts at Madison Square Garden followed by a 200,000-strong rally at the Battery Party City Landfill in New York City. Twenty-eight years later, No Nukes was still working, with Raitt, Nash and Browne recording a video for Buffalo Springfield's anti-war anthem "For What It's Worth." In 2005 and 2006, Raitt's tours were greened with the help of Reverb, who helped to calculate and offset the carbon emissions. Raitt has been praised for her use of the most expensive B99 biofuel, featuring only one percent diesel, and has been vocal with her fans about moving toward clean energy, telling The New York Times in 2007, "A change is coming. Green power is the way out of this mess."

 

Photo:Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash and Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts hold a press congress calling on Congress to edit the Senate-passed energy bill to prevent funding for nuclear reactors, in Washington, DC, October 23, 2007.

Willie Nelson

In 2005, as a response to the war in Iraq and an urge to support American farmers, Willie Nelson launched Willie Nelson Biodiesel to sell BioWillie, his personal brand of alternative fuel made largely from soybeans. "I knew we needed to have something that would keep us from being so dependent on foreign oil, and when I heard about biodiesel, a light come on, and I said, 'Hey, here's the future for the farmers, the future for the environment, the future for the truckers," he told The New York Times in 2005. Nelson centered operations at a plant he co-owned in Oregon, along with his Texas truck stop Carl's Corner, and the following year brought the company to California. But although it was good enough for his own Mercedes, the high prices — biofuel can cost over $1 more per gallon than diesel — contributed to what wound up a struggling company. Still, Nelson's other environmental exploits have thrived, such as Farm Aid, the concert series he co-founded to support American family farmers, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010. He's also collaborated with Ben & Jerry's to sell "Willie Nelson's Country Peach Cobbler Ice Cream" with all proceeds going to Farm Aid, and has joined the Animal Welfare Institute to support the protection of wild horses.

Photo:Willie Nelson presents BioWillie biodiesel fuel at the Sustainable Biodiesel Summit in San Diego, California, February 8, 2006.

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KT Tunstall

Scottish singer KT Tunstall joined Guster back in 2007 at the 14th annual EarthFest show in Boston to support environmentalist music, but it was far from her first foray into green causes. Dating all the way back to her 2004 platinum debut album, Eye to the Telescope, Tunstall has worked to neutralize her carbon production, first by planting more than 1,500 trees in Scotland and continuing to donate to renewable energy causes in Sri Lanka. Working with the Carbon Neutral Company, which provides estimates in usage and reduction, Tunstall tallies everything from the electricity used in the studio to the fuel used to tour. "The worst thing I've ever done to the environment is to wee in the sea," she told The Independent in 2005. "My copious use of hairspray as a teenager didn't help much either." She also worked with TreeHugger to promote climate change awareness through music and fashion at the 2010 Shift Festival.

Photo: KT Tunstall backstage at the Live Earth New York event in East Rutherford, New Jersey, July 7, 2007.

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

Phish

Phish have used their influence and extensive touring schedule to bring awareness to environmental issues. Their WaterWheel Foundation oversees all of the band's charitable activity by choosing organizations to support through donations and the sale of signed merchandise. With a focus on urban gardening, clean water and land conservation, WaterWheel has donated more than $550,000 to over 325 groups. In association with Reverb, Phish have also started an outreach organization called the Green Crew to clean up their tours, including their 2010 summer trip, and to inform fans about "traveling light" using the band's recommended resources for organic food, ride-share programs (with quantified emissions savings) and eco-friendly lodging. The group even incentivizes action with contests like the chance to win a live taping of the show by signing up to carpool.

Photo: Phish perform at Austin City Limits in Austin, Texas, October 8, 2010.

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Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Perry Farrell

The Jane's Addiction frontman and Lollapalooza founder switched his annual summer festival from a traveling show to a destination weekend in Chicago's Grant Park. But he still works to assure it's beneficial to the community, marking the grounds with an abundance of recycling bins and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to the city's park projects. Interactive tents work to educate fans in the Causapalooza section of the musical playground, while all paper products are required to be recyclable material. On his own, Farrell uses eco-safe packaging for his music and aims to release new material only digitally. He also plants trees to keep his tours carbon-neutral. Together with The Doors drummer John Densmore and actor Josh Hartnett, Farrell launched the Global Cool climate change campaign to encourage the reduction of carbon emissions.

Photo: Perry Farrell at Lollapalooza in Chicago, August 5, 2007.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty

Don Henley

Founder of The Eagles Don Henley, Rolling Stone's 87th greatest singer of all-time, created the Walden Woods Project in 1990 to increase awareness of and prevent development on the land of author and notable naturalist Henry David Thoreau. In 1993, Henley released Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, with proceeds going to the Walden Woods Project; five years later he assisted in the development of the Thoreau Institute to extend teachings of the intersection between philosophy and the environment. Henley's Caddo Lake Institute works simultaneously to fund ecological research, protecting the 26,000 acres of Texas wetland and the state's only natural lake, where Henley was raised.

Photo: Don Henley walks down a path in Walden Woods with President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in Lincoln, Massachusetts for the opening of the Walden Woods Preservation Project, June 5, 1998.

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Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow estimates she neutralized nearly 1.5 million pounds of CO2 by greening her 2010 tour by using biodegradable and compostable catering, biodiesel fuel and reusable water bottles for the band and crew. The tour's total carbon reductions were equivalent to 81 homes not using electricity for an entire year. Portions of the tour also went toward the Laurelbrook dairy farm in Connecticut to help purchase a methane digester to reduce the amount of toxic gas entering the atmosphere. At every show Crow required an Eco-Village to house informational booths for more than 50 environmental groups. In the past, Crow worked with StopGlobalWarming.org on a college tour and partnered with ZimRide to encourage carpooling to shows. She even planned an eco-friendly baby shower in advance of her son's birth.

Photo: Sheryl Crow performs at the final concert of the Stop Gloval Warming College Tour, April 22, 2007 in Washington, DC.

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Thom Yorke

"Plastic anything is like contraband," the band Liars wrote about touring with Radiohead. "Every bus and truck runs on biofuel. There is no idling, rather some new-fangled way to deliver electricity cleanly. They don't do airfreight, either. The list goes on. Everything is supremely managed to reduce the 'footprint.'" Instead of flying their gear, singer Thom Yorke insisted on buying two sets of equipment and at one point even threatened to quit touring altogether, citing environmental concerns. But instead of hanging it up, the band worked to green their tours and support climate change awareness campaigns like Friends of the Earth. Though Yorke refused to meet with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the environment, citing his lack of "environmental credentials," he's similarly critical of himself. "I haven't done enough," he told an Australian newspaper in 2006. "The job I'm in is a job that wastes energy left, right and centre. It's madness."

Photo: Thom Yorke attends the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, December 18, 2009.

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