The musical offset: what Coldplay’s world tour tells us about decarbonisation

Words by Selabe Kute
Date 2023-10-04

In 2006, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke criticised the “ridiculous” use of energy by tour events, going so far as to say he would consider refusing to tour on environmental grounds if nothing was done to change the way music touring is structure. Yorke’s concerns about the environmental sustainability of music were not an aberration.

Coldplay, another of Britain’s rock aristocracy, announced an ambitious 12-point sustainability plan to significantly reduce the environmental impact of their 2022 Music of the Spheres World Tour, slated for over 140 shows across six continents.

The plan covers a broad range of activities in their tour value chain, setting commitments to cut the tour’s direct emissions by more than 50% compared to their previous tour, using renewable energy to power stage production, selling ethically sourced merchandise, and donating 10% of all tour earnings to environmental and socially responsible causes.

However, a significant variable in the plan’s success is whether tour attendees will cut their own carbon emissions. Fan travel generally accounts for over 30% of tour’s carbon footprint, which is typically classified as “scope 3 emissions” by corporate actors. This refers to carbon emitted by suppliers, partners, or, in the case of Coldplay, consumers.

To address this, the plan includes a dedicated “Fans” pillar, which outlines efforts to encourage low-carbon transport through a mobile app, reward low-carbon travellers with discount codes, and include educational activations on-site educating tour-goers on clean technology and the natural world. The most pronounced part of the pillar, however, is the CO2 “drawdowns” or offsetting that the band will do by aggregating data from the fans’ use of the app to support nature-based solutions like rewilding and conservation, including planting at least one new tree per ticket sold.

Coldplay’s form of “green touring” underscores the inherent challenge of reducing indirect emissions, which is increasingly emblematic of the biggest challenge facing modern-day sustainability and decarbonisation.

Indirect emissions demand a collective effort from industries, policymakers, and governments worldwide. The music industry, driven by the eco-friendly sensitivities of figureheads like Thom Yorke and Chris Martin, could become an essential bastion to push the sustainability agenda globally. Music is a powerful medium that transcends borders and cultural cleavages, and as sustainability continues to enter mainstream popular culture, artists like Coldplay are starting to leverage their platform to drive advocacy for environmental consciousness and social responsibility.

As the band takes their Music of the Spheres world tour to audiences from Lima to London, their sustainability plan sets a remarkable precedent for the music industry. More importantly, it brings the issue of decarbonisation down to the grassroots, weaving in a sense of responsibility to everyone from food stall servers to stage security to Sarah and her low-hanging sunglasses in the crowd. While some may criticise Coldplay for commodifying the climate crisis to promote their ninth studio album, their sustainability plan presents a transformative shift in the sustainability agenda, a shift that invites artists and musicians to the table.