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Julie’s Bicycle talks sustainability and music: ‘Start wherever you can’


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The latest episode of our Music Ally TV Show focused on sustainability and the music industry: the case for companies in our sector upping their efforts even more to help tackle the climate emergency.

The first section of the show was a discussion between Dr Allen Hershkowitz, one of the world’s leading experts on the area, and Mike Jbara, CEO of MQA. You can read our writeup of that here.

The second section was an interview with Chiara Badiali, knowledge and sector intelligence lead at Julie’s Bicycle. It’s a London-based charity that helps the music and creative industries to step up their activities.

Its website has free resources and tools for measuring a venue, office, tour or festival’s carbon and environmental impact, while the organisation also works with music companies more deeply as a consultancy.

“The first thing is just to start. Start wherever you can, and things will start falling into place once you start taking action,” was Badiali’s opening message.

“You might not have all the answers when you set out, but we are talking about retooling the way that we work in such a short period of time. We’re not going to have all the answers before we get going. We will raise more questions, we will probably make mistakes, but that is not a reason not to do something.”

Badiali went on to talk about two key areas. First, putting together a credible plan for reducing the emissions from how you work, and second, looking out more widely at the behavioural changes that will be necessary.

“Here in the UK, the committee on climate change, who give advice to the UK government on what we have to do, they estimate that around two thirds of the emissions reductions we have to achieve in the UK are going to require some kind of change in how people live,” she said.

“There is a big opportunity there for us to role model those shifts in our own spaces, influencing and nudging people. And the two focus areas there are around travel and what people eat.”

The third area where the music industry can act is in using its influence (and that of its artists) to help campaigns, and to create and push political will for action.

Badiali was asked whether the Covid-19 pandemic and its lockdowns has been an opportunity for action on climate change, given the disruption to offices, commuting and other aspects of working life that might also need to change to become more sustainable.

“In terms of [reducing] global emissions, it’s barely caused a blip. Despite all these changes that have happened, we’re still a really long way from where we need to be,” said Badiali.

“But what it has done for all of us is illustrated how quickly we can change when we need to, and I kind of take heart in that. When we have to, we can get stuff done. You can move mountains, and you can be super, super creative.”

One of the music industry companies that Julie’s Bicycle has worked with is independent label Ninja Tune, which was already one of the first labels to talk and take action on the climate emergency. We covered MD Peter Quicke’s talk on the topic at the Aim Connected conference in February 2020, for example.

“They have done a huge amount off their own backs… Peter and [co-founder] Matt Black have been trying to create a company that aligns with their values and beliefs,” said Badiali, who explained the three principles that Julie’s Bicycle works through with any client.

The first is commitment: have they put in place the systems to see sustainability through, rather than simply assigning it as a task to someone who already has another job there, without providing enough resources. The second principle is understanding, which starts with measurement.

“You can only start managing stuff if you’re measuring it,” she said, citing Julie’s Bicycle’s ‘creative green tools’, which were developed with companies in the music industry.

“You create an account, you have your electricity bills and your gas bills to hand, you keep track of your business travel, things like that, you plug it in, and it’ll give you a number, and that’s the starting point.”

The third principle is learning: giving a company’s staff the opportunity to learn about the climate emergency and the ways to make a positive difference.

“We need to upskill the whole workforce of the music industry. From managers, from people who negotiate sponsorship agreements, from people who run and manage venues. I think we’re a long way from having that skillset, necessarily, of knowing ‘what am I going to do?’ and we need to get there. We need to get there really really quickly,” she said.

Change for companies can start with employees and work its way upwards, or start at the top and work its way down. “In the end, you need both things to make a change happen,” noted Badiali.

She talked about a project working with festivals in the UK, and their energy production – specifically trying to move on from using diesel generators. Julie’s Bicycle worked with Chris Johnson, co-founder of the Shambala Festival, to set up a group called Powerful Thinking to attack the problem, and to share the results with the festivals community.

That’s an example of a smaller festival that’s able to take risks and innovate, but Badiali also pointed to the positive results when bigger organisations like Festival Republic work with suppliers to use technology like LED festoon lighting, which is more energy-efficient.

“You need everyone in the music ecosystem, from the big companies to the small companies, from your person working at an operational level to the leaders to be talking about this, and to be wanting to take change forward.”

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Badiali was asked about meeting opposition within companies to some of the challenges of sustainability, and how the organisation confronts some of those barriers. She said it often comes back to remembering what’s driving the need for change.

“We have a huge ethical imperative about life on earth, both locally and the impacts that are already being felt internationally… especially in countries that are much less responsible for the emissions that we put in the air,” she said. “We have to come to grips with this. There is no alternative, ultimately. We have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Legislation can also drive change, with various countries addressing their commitments to reduce emissions through new laws and regulations for businesses.

“Every country including the UK has agreed to ambitious reduction targets, and that starts filtering through into policy, so there is a real incentive for us to be ahead of that as an industry,” she said.

“Local authorities are declaring climate emergencies left, right and centre. What does it mean for a festival to be compliant with a declaration of climate emergency? Are we ready for that? That is a really big driver.”

Badiali also offered encouraging words for people within the music industry who care about these issues, but have felt isolated sometimes in those beliefs, and perhaps as a result have been worried about speaking up.

“They feel like no one else cares, but there are more people in that position than there are people who don’t care. What we found when we work with different companies is actually, people are much happier, because everyone wants to work for a company that’s doing the right thing on climate, where you get given permission to care about climate change and to drive that forward,” she said.

“All of this is about giving people courage, in some ways. Courage to step out and to take action,” she continued, citing the Music Declares Emergency campaign as a key plank in that strategy.

“You have all these artists who care and you have all these companies who care, and that should be giving confidence to people who work in the industry as well: to take more action and more courageous action.”

Badiali admitted that speaking out can be worrying for artists, nervous about being criticised or accused of hypocrisy if they talk about the climate emergency publicly.

“Especially if there is not an industry that has your back, in terms of also changing the way that we do business,” she said. “So a lot of the work that we do is really about how do we create that scaffolding around artists so that they can then go out there and they can speak out with confidence, if they choose to, knowing that there is an industry working towards reducing its own emissions, and that has got their backs basically.”

The work continues, with a lot of focus on breaking down the different challenges for the various sectors of the industry. For festivals, for example, they include getting off diesel generators and onto battery technology and renewable energy sources; making it easier for people to travel to the event by public transport; and working with food suppliers in “exposing people to a diet that has less meat in it”.

“You have events that are making statements around that. Like Shambala went fully meat and fish free as like: we need to start a conversation about what we eat,” she said.

For music venues, the big challenge is the power used, with potential to shift to renewable energy through a combination of changing supplier and exploring technology like solar panels. Food and travel are also issues that can be explored. For labels and other music companies, offices are ripe for changes.

Is there a tipping point coming where all of these challenges will be seen as necessary, across the industry? Badiali said that for some, it’s already here.

“If we meet our climate targets, there is no future within which we will still be powering outdoor events – or construction sites for that matter – with diesel generators. And that means there is a really clear trajectory on that,” she said.

In this specific case, festivals may benefit from the investments being made in diesel alternatives by that other industry, construction. In other examples, the music industry may be able to take the lead role in experimentation.

“There is a great project at the moment, an EU-funded project, which is trialing hydrogen fuel generators at festival sites. They’re using them almost as laboratories trialing out the technology. Seeing more of those projects into the future is one of the things I’d love to see,” said Badiali.

As the conversation neared its close, she also talked about the power that artists have to spark changes, even if they’re not big stars with the clout to tell venues, labels and other companies what to do.

The concept of ‘green riders’ is something Julie’s Bicycle has been working on. That means clauses focusing on environmental sustainability in the contracts with venues for tours. It has published some examples here.

“Really that should go into tour planning from start to finish. Actually at the moment you’re having the conversation with a potential venue that you might play at is: is this venue powered by renewables? What is your waste and recycling policy? How good are your public transport connections? What’s your vegetarian and vegan food offering like?” she said.

“Already at that point when you’re negotiating those dates, the agent sort of collects some of that key info for the venues, and as you’re choosing ‘I’m going to go with this venue over this one’ you have that information to feed into it.”

For artists earlier in their careers, Badiali said that simply asking questions to labels and other companies they work with about their sustainability policies can be a useful nudge.

“It starts creating that sense of: there is interest in this,” she said. “One of the things I hear most often from venues, labels, festivals, is ‘We would make this change, but to be honest we’re just not sure the artists care or the artists are going to be on board for it’,” she said.

“And the thing I hear most often from the artist / management side is ‘Well, we want to do all this stuff, but it really depends on the labels and the venues and the festivals’. That conversation isn’t happening enough yet… So just bring it up. Have that chat!”

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash


Written by: Stuart Dredge