Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Rock goes GREEN

Portland Press Herald
April 3, 2007

Sheryl Crow is touring in a bus that runs on biodiesel. The Dave Matthews Band uses clean fuel, too, and invests enough money into renewable energy to offset its fossil fuel use for the past 15
years. The Barenaked Ladies sell concert T-shirts made with organic cotton and collect broken guitar strings so they can be recycled into bracelets.

A lot of rock stars are going green as they and their fans grow concerned about global warming and the environment. Those musicians also share something else in common: They get help from a Portland couple who use their passion for music and the environment to "green up" some of the biggest names in the business.

Lauren Sullivan and her husband, Guster guitarist Adam Gardner, run Reverb, a nonprofit environmental consultant to the rock stars. Reverb helps musicians reduce the environmental effects of their concert tours and at the same time spread the message to their fans.

"Just since Reverb started three years ago, there's been a lot of momentum," Gardner said in an interview last week before a Guster concert in Macon, Ga. "Now, all of a sudden you're seeing a whole new wave of artists."

Rock star environmentalists are not a new phenomenon. Bonnie Raitt, a major inspiration for Reverb, has made it a big part of her career since the 1970s. In the 1980s, R.E.M. had a hit song about acid rain and named an album "Green," and Sting tried to save the rain forest.
But now, partly because of global warming concerns and partly because of new options for renewable energy, the notion is taking off in a big way.

Sullivan and Gardner have also worked with Avril Lavigne, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack Johnson and O.A.R., among others, and they're talking to more artists, including Incubus.

Reverb does what the performers ask, from arranging for biodiesel fuel to negotiating contracts with concert halls that require organic food and reusable or recyclable cups, plates and utensils.

"We sort of meet the artists where they're at," Sullivan said.
On some tours, the group sets up an eco-village with educational tents for fans to learn more about global warming and other environmental issues.

Reverb covers its costs in different ways, depending on the tour.
Some bands donate 50 cents from every ticket, and corporate sponsors such as Stonyfield Farm or Ben & Jerry's also provide support. The group also auctions off VIP tickets to concerts and autographed guitars, Gardner said.

Reverb was a natural for Sullivan and Gardner, both 33 years old. Sullivan has a degree in environmental education and used to work for the Rainforest Action Network, while Gardner and the other members of the Boston-based band tour so much they used to call their bus "the Earth eater."

Guster is now one of the greenest groups around. Its new CD, for example, is billed as being carbon neutral, meaning that the group invested in renewable energy and reduced carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere by the same amount that was added to produce the disc. Scientists say carbon dioxide emissions are a primary driver of global warming.

And Guster doesn't just pay its way out of feeling guilty. Switching to a biodiesel fuel blend alone has meant the band kept 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere over the past year, Gardner said.

Gardner and Sullivan are now traveling with Guster's second Campus Consciousness Tour, which takes its music and green message to college campuses. Before last Friday's concert in Macon, for example, Gardner met with students and faculty at Mercer University to discuss environmental issues.

"The feedback from fans has been great," he said. "I just got an e-mail today that says, 'I learned about biodiesel from one of your shows and now I'm starting my own biodiesel company.'"

Guster's current tour will not bring the band to Maine, but Reverb is helping to plan a music and environmental festival for Portland's Deering Oaks park in September, Sullivan said.

Gardner also plans to continue a Reverb radio show he started last year on WCLZ, a Portland-based rock station. The talk show format will be replaced with shorter broadcasts about the environment, he said.

Reverb clearly is part of a bigger trend.

The convergence of music and environmentalism will become a huge global spectacle July 7, when the Live Earth rock concert series is scheduled to take place on all seven continents within one 24-hour period. The concerts are intended to focus attention on global warming.

"There's a lot of energy behind the greening of the music industry," said Wren Aigaki-Lander of MusicMatters, which has been consulting with musicians for more than a decade. The Minneapolis-based business is setting up a nonprofit organization to provide a certification standard for green musicians.

Some performers are spending more than others on the efforts, though it doesn't add significantly to the cost of a rock tour or a concert ticket, according to Aigaki-Lander.

"There are some items that do have an incremental cost," she said. "But there are plenty of things an artist can do that don't have an increased cost and in some cases save money. Being energy-efficient can save money in the long run."

Along with recognizing the massive amount of energy that goes into the modern rock tour with light shows and bus caravans, the trend also is driven by the large audiences that rock stars attract. "You have a chance to have exponential impact when you're spreading the message among thousands of fans," Aigaki-Lander said.

The movement seems to be injecting social activism back into rock 'n' roll. But, the rockers say, they're still out to entertain, not sermonize.

"As artists, we don't want to be coming at this from a preachy standpoint," Gardner said. "It's just, 'Hey, this is what we're doing. If you want to learn more about it, you can. If not, here's the next song.' We understand our main mission as a band is to entertain people."

And, Gardner said, it feels good to be doing it without the "Earth eater."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or


Anonymous said...

Bad taste what that

Anonymous said...

Just that is necessary, I will participate.