Mapping the future of Super Low Carbon Live Music with Massive Attack

Commissioned by the band Massive Attack, researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research – in collaboration with The University of Manchester – produced a roadmap that sets out emissions reduction goals that would make the live music sector compatible with targets in the Paris Agreement.

The live music industry is known to be a high carbon, high polluting sector. Pre-pandemic, carbon emissions from festivals alone were rising dramatically year-on-year.

Despite taking steps to reduce the environmental impact associated with touring, Bristol-formed electronic trio Massive Attack remained concerned with the carbon footprint of their schedules and the wider issues in the music sector as a whole.  

The band felt that any protest they made alone would not make a meaningful difference, so they decided to make a wider, more profound contribution to decarbonisation efforts.

Driving industry-wide action to guide positive change 

Massive Attack partnered with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and a team including director Professor Carly McLachlan, Dr Chris Jones and Sarah Mander, to obtain and analyse data from the band’s touring schedule with an aim to provide information and guidance to the wider music industry.

The project saw Tyndall Manchester map the carbon footprint of Massive Attack’s tour cycles to highlight opportunities for low carbon practices that could be implemented quickly and have an immediate impact. 

Based on these findings they created an open information resource for the music industry, offering clear, direct and highly transferrable recommendations.

A Roadmap to lowering carbon emissions in the live music sector 

Based on sector-wide analysis, the Roadmap identified four focus areas for driving super low carbon activity:  

  • moving people and equipment; 
  • energy use at venues; 
  • audience travel;
  • emissions reduction targets. 

For each of these areas the Roadmap made clear and actionable recommendations. These included:

  • limiting air travel to a sector maximum of 80% of pre-pandemic levels; 
  • reducing energy consumption and emissions from buildings – for example no use of fossil fuels in heating or catering; 
  • making sure that public transport, walking and cycling are the easiest and most affordable options for audience travel; 
  • ensuring emissions reduction targets remain until emissions reach zero (for example aiming for ‘zero’ rather than ‘net zero’).

Overall The Roadmap sets out three key principles to deliver super low carbon tours:

  • Super low carbon practices should be central from tour inception.
  • All those working in the sector should use their direct power and wider influence to adopt and champion new practices.
  • Practices must be monitored and reviewed – at sector and organisational scales.

We hope the Roadmap will be a catalyst for change. This starts from the very inception of a tour and requires the creativity and innovation of artists, managers, promoters, designers and agents to be unleashed to establish new ways of planning and delivering live music tours. This creativity is so evident in the sector, that I believe they can do it and inspire transformation elsewhere.

Professor Carly McLachlan / Director of Tyndall Manchester

Immediate industry impact worldwide 

The project generated global media engagement, industry debate and political interest, with headline news coverage across the world. Its comprehensive formula empowered Massive Attack to become the first artists to commit their touring company to the UN Race to Zero.

Crucially, it accelerated government support. Evidence presented at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee resulted in the government’s commitment to supporting low carbon festival initiatives. 

While at COP26, the UNFCCC joined with Massive Attack to encourage the global music community to activate the Roadmap in their own practices and join the Race to Zero.

Connected activity