Why See Through Carbon?

  • To manage something, you need to measure it.
  • The most important thing we need to measure for the foreseeable future is carbon. The standard unit is a metric tonne of CO2 equivalent reduced or sequestered, CO2e’ for short.
  • The current standards for CO2e (‘Carbon Auditing 1.0’) are inaccurate, opaque and proprietary, because commercial businesses charge users to use their standard’s IP.
  • Carbon Auditing 1.0 has grown to a trillion dollar industry over 30 years, yet carbon emissions are still rising.
  • Commercial standards incentivise delivering the lowest number at the lowest cost. This makes current options inaccurate, opaque and proprietary.
  • See Through Carbon is the first and only accurate, free, open-source, and transparent carbon auditing standard.

For details, visit www​.seethrough​car​bon​.org. There you’ll find details of Pilot 1, launched in the autumn of 2023, directed at small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in Wiltshire, UK.

Why live concerts?

Events and emissions

Live concerts and sports events produce much lower carbon emissions than, for example, construction and buildings (39% of all emissions).

Music’s cultural prominence, however, gives musicians a disproportionately high potential impact in influencing public and government understanding of accurately measuring true carbon footprints.

Music vs. sport

From a carbon perspective, live concerts and sports events are identical: both produce carbon footprints that would not have happened had the event not been staged, the majority of which are typically generated by fans travelling to and from the event (see the Elephant in the Room section below).

Musicians and music fans are more attuned and amenable to sustainability issues than sportspeople and sports fans. So we’re starting with music.

Impact optimisation

Musicians have a higher public profile and cultural impact than, say, construction bosses or farmers.

This means that though music’s carbon footprint is relatively small, the potential domino-effect impact of it taking carbon auditing seriously would be disproportionately large.

Once a band (such as those participating in the See Through Carbon Pilot 2) gets’ genuine carbon reduction, they can explain it to their fans, and motivate other bands to follow their example. They might even write a song about it.

Musicians punch above their PR weight. Their potential impact on more conservative sectors, starting but not ending with sport, makes the concert business an excellent candidate for STC’s second Pilot.

But but but…

You may be wondering why this is really necessary. You’re probably half-remembering press articles you’ve read about bands who are taking the climate crisis seriously. You may even be mentally name-checking some of music’s green Good Guys.

Maybe the green Good Buy’ bands you’re thinking of are among those in EcoWatch’s 10 Musicians That Are Embracing Sustainability listicle. Here’s a summary of the top 4 on the list, with the evidence for their green credentials cited in the article:

The 1975

Pop rock band The 1975 has made strides in creating a more sustainable future for the music industry and fans alike. The latest merch is made of upcycled, repurposed older merch that is printed with the latest album art. Alternatively, when touring starts back up again, fans can bring their existing merchandise and have it printed on for free.

Coldplay

Planning to create events that have the lowest carbon footprint possible. To do this, the band plans to reduce consumption, increase recycling efforts, implement green technologies, and fund nature- and technology-based projects while also offsetting more carbon than the tour will produce. Coldplay’s concrete goal for the Music of the Spheres World Tour 2022 is to cut emissions in half compared to the band’s 2017 tour.

Despite our best efforts, the tour will still have a significant carbon footprint,” the band explained on the sustainability section of its website. We pledge to draw down more CO2 than the tour produces by supporting projects based on reforestation, rewilding, conservation, soil regeneration, carbon capture / storage (DACCS) and renewable energy.

Massive Attack

The English trip-hop collective is also making a name for itself in the sustainability realm. In a partnership with Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the collective has outlined many ways for the music industry to minimise emissions, from refusing the use of private jets to transitioning to electric transportation for touring. The collective plans to practise what it preaches with an upcoming 2022 tour that will incorporate six emissions-reduction modules. What matters now is implementation,” Robert 3D” del Naja of Massive Attack said, as reported by Pitchfork. The major promoters simply must do more – it can’t be left to artists to continually make these public appeals.” Outside of the music industry, Massive Attack continues to ask the government to take action against the climate crisis.

Radiohead

The English rock band has been focused on sustainable touring for many years. In 2008, the band was already implementing eco-friendly actions on its tour, from swapping disposable cups to reusable options for crew, using biofuels for tour vehicles and banning air freight_. It continues these practices today. In 2019, Radiohead’s official website was hacked, and the culprit stole unreleased music and held it for ransom. Ever so cooly, Radiohead responded by releasing the music on Bandcamp, and it donated all the proceeds to the environmental activist group, Extinction Rebellion._

Status Quo: greenwash

If, having read these details, you’re still wondering what the fuss is about, brace yourself for some inconvenient truths. The bands listed may be are unaware of these truths, or cynically ignoring them, but red flags include:

  1. the almost complete absence of hard numbers
  2. no mention of CO2e, the standard unit of carbon accounting
  3. no disclosure of, links to, or even indication that they’ve undergone a standardised carbon audit of their carbon footprint
  4. ditto for a professional Carbon Reduction Plan (CRP) itemising and quantifying how they propose to reduce it

If bands published 3 and/​or 4, they could justify the sincerity of their green claims, and we could hold them to account for their green’.

If the band has such data but declines to disclose it as a matter of privileged secrecy, they reveal their priority to be PR (i.e. greenwash) and not transparency. They value money over than carbon reduction.

We know this because their financial balance sheet is a matter of public record. They report this not because they choose to, but because the law requires it.

If musicians are sincere in their efforts to set the standards for the music industry, why should their carbon balance sheet be a discretionary matter, devolved to their publicists?

What greenwash’ means

The absence of the 4 items above justifies branding all the sustainability embracing’ bands’ claims to sustainability as greenwash’.

But examine the evidence they trumpet, and even these signal duplicity, disingenuousness or ignorance.

As none of the specific claims made by the top 4 bands listed contains a meaningful verifiable number by which they could be held to account, it’s hard for us to know how much carbon they reduce, but here’s a summary of the specific claims that EcoWatch implies are proof these bands are embracing sustainability’:

  1. upcycling merch
  2. reducing consumption
  3. increasing recycling efforts
  4. implementing green technologies
  5. funding nature- and technology-based projects
  6. offsetting more carbon than the tour will produce
  7. cutting emissions in half compared to the band’s 2017 tour
  8. Supporting projects based on reforestation, rewilding, conservation, soil regeneration, carbon capture / storage (DACCS) and renewable energy.
  9. funding the planting — and lifelong protection of — millions of new trees
  10. refusing the use of private jets
  11. transitioning to electric transportation for touring
  12. incorporating six emissions-reduction modules
  13. asking the government to take action against the climate crisis.
  14. swapping disposable cups to reusable options for crew
  15. using biofuels for tour vehicles
  16. banning air freight

If you’re unaware why every single item on this summary is either so trivial as to be negligible, or so provably ineffective as to be fraudulent, search the www​.seethrough​news​.org website for greenwash’, or read the article/​watch the video titled The Problem’ on the home page of www​.seethrough​car​bon​.org.

Executive summary: they’re all greenwash.

By greenwash’, we mean attempting to gain reputational advantage through activities that don’t, in fact, reduce much carbon at all.

The bands might protest that something is better than nothing’ or at least we’re trying’, but this is classic greenwash-talk. Extraordinary claims require evidence. Even taken on their own terms, the specific green boasts honked about reduce negligible amounts of carbon, while ignoring what’s by far the biggest single element of their carbon footprint.

By claiming – and worse, gaining – credit for their ineffective actions, these bands risk becoming part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Their greenwash encourages complacency, in defiance of both carbon accounting practice and the laws of atmospheric physics.

Are these musicians aware they’re greenwashing, and hence claiming the green high ground cynically? Or are they sincere, but ignorant or mis-informed?

Either way, their concerts emit the same volume of CO2. Talk to the PR, cos the greenhouse gas don’t care. It will sit in the atmosphere, warming our planet for the next few centuries whatever the bands say. CO2 neither knows nor cares how we account for it, or on whose carbon accounting ledger it is or isn’t entered.

The only certainty is that the bands won’t start meaningfully reducing their carbon footprints until they measure them accurately and transparently.

Music’s elephant In the room

The sporadic, sketchy, seat-of-the-pants research that has so far been conducted on the music business’s carbon footprint has produced one consistent result:

70 – 90% of the total carbon footprint of a music concert comes from fan transport to and from the venue.

Carbon accountants categorise fan transport under Scope 3’. See Through Carbon’s The Basics video explains this in more detail, but in brief:

  • Scope 1 covers emissions under your direct control
  • Scope 2 covers emissions from your energy
  • Scope 3 covers all other emissions that would not have otherwise been emitted

With that in mind, review the summary of so-called green initiatives’ above. Decide for yourself whether it’s fair or reasonable to call them trivial’ and negligible’.

If a fire is raging in the middle of your living room, should you claim credit for stamping out the sparks around the periphery instead of tackling the main blaze?

Would you loudly proclaim your pest-eradication credentials by pointing at a few mice that are no longer there, while ignoring the elephant that’s just squished your chandelier?

The music industry elephant is not hard to locate online for anyone genuinely curious to know the truth, rather than ignore or conceal it. Google music concert carbon reduction’, visit sites like Julie’s Bicycle in the UK, or Planet Reimagined in the US, and you’ll find the 80% fan transport figure is well-known.

This suggest the bands claiming credit for recycling backstage food waste, not taking private jets, and banning disposable cups are either mugs, or taking their fans for mugs.

Fortunately, See Through Carbon’s Pilot 2 is about to provide the world’s first comprehensive dataset to quantify all the key issues, and identify granular carbon reduction plans for various size venues and acts. The Pilot is focused on the UK, but musicians anywhere in the world can learn from the data, and if they sign up to the See Through Carbon standard, will contribute to generating data reflecting their local variations.

Once the Pilot 2 data is available, no venue, band, promoter, ticket agent or record label can claim there’s no evidence’ on which to justify any deviation from current practice. Pilot 2 will provide the facts to determine whether any musician’s fine words about wanting to reduce carbon are sincere and evidence-based, and not PR-driven greenwash.

What Pilot 2 will tell us

Given the volume of environmental hot air the music industry emits, you may be surprised that See Through Carbon’s Pilot 2 is the first methodologically sound, comprehensive, survey ever conducted on the sector.

We won’t comment on why it has taken an organisation with no bank account, and hence no dependence on any vested interests, to conduct such a survey. See Though Carbon seeks measurable carbon reduction, not picking fights. We provide solutions to speeding up carbon drawdown by helping the inactive become active.

See Through Carbon’s Pilot 2 data will, in keeping with the See Through policy of radical transparency, be made public. It will cover the following:

Benchmarking

The Pilot will create the first open source, accurate, methodologically-sound, evidence-based baseline of current practice in the concert industry. This is the essential starting point for any measurable carbon reduction. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

A/B testing

Having established baselines for 5 scales of venue (Club, Hall, Theatre, Arena, Festival), Pilot 2 will also collaborate with participating venues, bands and promoters to conduct a series of A/B tests, principally focused on the provision of shared transport for fans. This will form the basis of STC’s music industry Carbon Reduction Plan.

Non-carbon factors

The Pilot will also monitor various non-carbon factors, such as merchandise and bar sales, to determine whether/​how they correlate to shared transport factors.

If the data shows that reducing carbon makes money, we needn’t rely on reputational/​PR rationale to convince future take-up of See Through Carbon throughout the industry.

Reducing carbon is much easier if you can avoid mentioning the c word’, and measure benefits in dollars and cents as well as CO2e.

Liability

See Through Carbon’s Trustees will use the data, and the feedback from all the participating stakeholders, to determine the STC standard for where to allocate carbon liability for the concert business.

Concert promotion is an unusually flexible and chaotic ecosystem. It doesn’t fit neatly into existing carbon accounting models, designed for clearer, linear industrial supply chains where the relationship between upstream customer and downstream suppliers is clear cut.

The STC Trustees will determine how to apply a consistent, fair rule to allocate carbon liabilities between the venues, the acts, the promoters and any other entities who might be responsible’ (in an accounting sense) for putting on a concert.

Because STC is open source, this formula will be made public, so anyone can critique it or suggest improvements.

Should STC’s Trustees concur with any such suggestions, they’ll change the standard to reflect this. That’s the advantage of open source over proprietary, transparency over opacity.

Not Our Problem (NOP)

When challenged to explain why they’re not performing such carbon audits, or publishing their Carbon Reduction Plans, music acts, venues and promoters typically give one or more of the following reasons:

  1. We’ve never heard of a carbon footprint audit’ or carbon reduction plan’
  2. We can’t afford a carbon footprint audit or carbon reduction plan
  3. How our fans travel to our gigs is nothing to do with us

In other words, variations on the theme of business as usual’. For the music industry to move from complacent inaction to effective climate action requires an understanding of the implications of each of these do nothing’ responses:

  1. The Ignorance Defence: while likely to be true, this is the equivalent of protesting to the judge you had no idea that importing cocaine was illegal. If the Law of the Land doesn’t permit ignorance as an excuse, there’s no reason to expect the laws of Nature to give you a break.
  2. No Longer True: See Through Carbon provides both for free. If cost is your problem – which is clearly isn’t for the Top 10 Sustainable Bands listed in the EcoWatch article – email us to participate in See Through Carbon’s Pilot 2.
  3. Not Our Problem: ignorance again, but not a defence once you’re read this article. Fan transport falls clearly within Scope 3. Scope 3 can be complex, with 16 sub-categories, but its rule of thumb is easy to apply: all the carbon emissions that would not have been emitted had you not done whatever you did’. If you put on a gig that attracts an audience, how they got there IS part of your carbon liability.

By publishing the Pilot 2 results, See Through Carbon hopes to trigger a virtuous cycle of measurable carbon reduction throughout the music business, and beyond. STC’s goal is not (only) to raise awareness’, but to facilitate measurable carbon reduction, measured in CO2e.

If the music business picks up the mantle, it can inspire other sectors to share the potential carbon drawdown, financial and reputational advantages of adopting the STC standard. At no cost.

More detail

We’ll shortly be adding more technical detail regarding Pilot 2 to the www​.seethrough​car​bon​.org website. Similar to the Pilot 1 information, this will include:

Radically transparent, open-source information

  • expanded versions of this article, giving an overview and operational detail
  • accompanying video explainers
  • detailed methodology

Participating stakeholders

  • Venues (club/​hall/​theatre/​arena/​festival)
  • Music acts
  • Promoters
  • Ticket agents
  • Other industry stakeholders

Pilot 2 volunteer team

  • Carbon auditors
  • Auditing standard
  • Methodological experts
  • IT and stat specialists
  • Academic consultants

More pilots

Over the coming weeks, we’ll also be publishing details of the locales and scopes of various other See Through Carbon Pilots currently in development. The current schedule is:

PilotGeographic scopeSectorDate of launch
1Wiltshire, UKSMEsQ4 2023
2UKLive musicQ1 2024
3MultinationalIndustrial servicesQ2 2024
4UKHealth servicesQ3 2024
5UKLocal governmentQ4 2024
6GlobalAgricultureQ1 2025

If you’d like to enquire about volunteering for any of these projects, please email volunteer@​seethroughcarbon.​org.