S4E5: How Does Music Impact The Environment?

Adam Met is the A in AJR, the Founder and Executive Director of Sustainable Partners Inc., host of Planet Reimagined podcast, and a PhD candidate at the University of Birmingham, where he is studying the intersection of sustainability and human rights. With more than 10 million monthly listeners on Spotify, Adam uses his platform to advocate for excitement, positivity, and action in the climate movement.

In this episode, we'll be delving into how the music industry impacts climate change, from touring to music streams to artists' followings. What can you do to help ?

Check out AJR here:

Check out Sustainable Partners here:

Listen to Adam's Planet Reimagined podcast here! For each subscriber, they plant a tree!

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Guest: Adam Met

Hosts: Katherine Li and Georgie Stammer

Producers: Katherine Li, Georgie Stammer, Emily Nagamoto

Audio Editor: Emily Nagamoto

Music: Cali by Wataboi, Way Less Sad by AJR, Netflix Trip by AJR, Bummerland by AJR


KATHERINE: What are your music streaming habits like?

STUDENT: I listen to a lot of music; I follow like 300 something people on Spotify.

KATHERINE: Do you ever think about the way the music industry impacts climate change?

STUDENT: No, all I've heard about is artists doing deals with organizations for the environment: Jaden Smith, Willow.

STUDENT: I've actually never thought of that. I don't know how I would really change my behavior going forward. But I guess I’ll reflect upon that a bit more.

KATHERINE: These are some answers that we got from some students that we talked to. And now, dear listener, we encourage you to think about your answers too as we get into this episode all about the music industry and climate change.

Welcome to Operation Climate, a podcast made by young people for young people where we break down environmental issues through conversations with cool people.

Hey, everyone, I'm Katherine.

GEORGIE: And I'm Georgie.

KATHERINE: And we're with Operation climate.

GEORGIE: I think today we're really coming in with a bang this episode.

KATHERINE: Yeah. And why is that? Because the entertainment’s here. We've got Adam Met today. If you don't know who Adam Met is, he is the bassist in Georgie and I’s favourite band AJR. And he also does a ton of work with climate action.

GEORGIE: And because of that, there will be no shortage of AJR puns in this episode.

KATHERINE: We're gonna be talking about Adam’s sustainability work and the impact that the music industry has on climate change. And we all know that climate change is very much a bummerland. And if we don't do anything about it, we're gonna have more than 100 bad days, right?

GEORGIE: Oh, absolutely. There's a whole future of bad days if we don't really start to take action. And I think with the music industry, we're also involved in it, especially as young people. Yet we don't really think about the sort of impact that it can have on the environment. So this will be a super interesting conversation to have today.

KATHERINE: Yeah, definitely. Super excited for this interview. Adam is amazing. And Georgia and I are both huge fans. Are you ready Georgie?

GEORGIE: I'm ready.

KATHERINE: Today, we are speaking with a very cool guest, his name is Adam Met. You may recognize him from the A of AJR and also his work with Sustainable Partners, Inc. Thank you so much for being here, Adam.

ADAM: Thank you. I'm not a very cool guest. I'm a very nerdy and lame guest.

GEORGIE: Well, first, we would love for you to introduce yourself. So can you tell us a little bit about your work with AJR and Sustainable Partners?

ADAM: Sure, of course. So like you mentioned, I'm the A of AJR. The band is with myself and my two brothers, I play the bass. We write, produce, record everything in our living room. And you might have heard our most recent single called “Bang!” on the radio, it was pretty much everywhere over the last year.

And then on the Sustainable Partner’s side, for the last, I guess, about 10 years or so I've been in school, I did my undergraduate and then my master's, and now I'm about two months away from handing in my PhD dissertation on the relationship between sustainable development and human rights. And because of that, and the platform that we built with AJR, the UN reached out asking if I would help to amplify their messaging around sustainability. So I did that for a few years, going on TV shows, podcasts, radio, helping to explain to younger audiences what sustainability really means and that it's so much more than just climate and so much more than just human rights, and that there's this real need to understand the intersectionality of it. And because of that, I ended up founding my own nonprofit called Sustainable Partners, Inc, SPI. And we create really interesting and innovative partnerships around sustainability. So we have a podcast called Planet Reimagined. And for every subscriber, we plant a tree. We have an academic fellowship program that's not just about creating the academic side of research. But we have the advocacy fellows also that come in to work with the researchers to help translate that high level academic work into something more accessible through graphic design, documentary filmmaking, things like that. And then we have a program called Time for Change that works with big businesses to help make their advertising more sustainable and incentivizing people to watch their ads all the way through in exchange for a positive action, like planting a tree, pulling a pound of plastic out of the ocean. So we really wanted to create something that was about, you know, bringing all of these different stakeholders together from what you can do as an individual, to how you can engage on the political side, to how you can bring businesses into the conversation. And that's how Sustainable Partners was born.

KATHERINE: Amazing. Sounds so exciting. So this episode, we wanted to get into how the music industry impacts climate change. So over the course of your career, what have you noticed about how the music industry impacts the environment?

ADAM: Yeah, the music industry impacts the environment in a bunch of different ways. I mean, the most obvious one is touring. If you think about it, you know, some artists are on tour buses quite a lot, that can have environmental impacts. Obviously, if you have a one off date, which is essentially you're in your home, and then you're flying to a place to go to a show, and then you fly back home, and then a few days later, you fly to another place. We all know that air travel has a significant impact on the environment.

And there is progress being made on a lot of these fronts, both on the technology side, and on the stakeholder side. And when I say stakeholders, I mean, we work with our promoters. And we've added a carbon fee to the price that the promoters end up paying us. And that goes towards offsetting the carbon that goes into the atmosphere for all of our touring, all of our college shows, all of our one off shows, things like that.

And we do a variety of things like direct air capture and planting trees and things like that. So that's one piece of it. But then, in addition, on the touring side, you can work with promoters in a much deeper way. So for example, Live Nation is one of the biggest promoters. I'm sure everyone's heard of Live Nation or Ticketmaster. There's so many ways you can work with partners like that, for example, if there's a way to incentivize fans to carpool to come to a show, if you think about it, the amount of CO2 that ends up going to the atmosphere just from fans going to and from the show, if you're selling 5, 10, 15,000 tickets, that's a lot of cars moving for this one specific event. So if there's a way to incentivize, you know, carpooling or electric vehicle, if you know, you get a 10% discount on merch if you arrive with an electric vehicle, as opposed to, you know, a normal vehicle. The food and the catering that's done at venues, if you can incentivize your promoters to get local food and work with local farmers, so it doesn't travel as much. Having vegetarian options is always great. All of these different things contribute towards climate, and that's on the touring side.

On the other side, over the last decade, I mean, the majority of people in the world are streaming music now, as opposed to downloading it. And the amount of electricity that's used to stream is so much more than the amount of electricity you use when you download a song off of iTunes, or even when you were, you know, playing a vinyl record or playing a CD or cassette. So the amount of warehouses that are needed and, and computers and systems that are needed to house this, they use so much electricity. So thinking about the where this electricity comes from, to make sure we're focusing on renewable electricity that's coming from solar or wind or hydroelectric, as opposed to fossil fuel based electricity.

I've been going on and on about all the different pieces of the music industry. But we try and do as much as we possibly can, like we said with that carbon fee, biodiesel in your tour bus is a great thing.

I think the one of the most important things is that artists have this platform to educate their fans on the work that they can do. And that's one of the things that's really important to us, we've participated in a lot of different campaigns, because educating your fans, not just that this is an issue, but about specific actions that they can take that will affect them, their communities, and hopefully, you know, larger international politics around climate.

GEORGIE: I think because of how we listen to music now with it being so convenient, you know, every song is just a tap away on our phones. I think it's so easy to forget about the sort of impact that that can have, and everything that's going into streaming, even just one song, electricity and these resources.

KATHERINE: Hmm, yeah, definitely. I mean, I don't think it's realistic to tell people to stream less because it's like part of our culture, right. But I think Adams' point that he brought up about streaming really, really draws light to the root of the problem-- is that we need these renewable energy resources instead of fossil fuels.We need to redesign our energy infrastructure. Yeah,

GEORGIE: Absolutely.

KATHERINEL I've been doing a lot of reading on what artists have been doing to stay environmentally conscious. And one thing that stuck out to me was that in 2019, Coldplay announced that they would halt all touring because of environmental concerns. In that same year, Billie Eilish announced that she would have a Billie Eilish eco village at each of her concerts where fans could go and learn about their role in the climate movement. Both of these are very different ways to address the climate crisis, but both can be impactful. So what are your thoughts on environmentally conscious touring versus not touring at all? Can positive action outweigh the environmental harms?

ADAM: In my opinion, education is the number one thing that needs to be addressed right now. I mean, a few different campaigns I'm working on are focused on bringing climate education to elementary and middle schools. And I think Billie Eilish’s approach -- she's partnered with an organization called Reverb which I work with a lot, Adam Gardner from the band Guster started that organization with his wife, and it's a great organization, and they work with bands to help offset all of their carbon, but also at the same time educate their fans. And so I really like that approach that Billie Eilish has taken.

Coldplay, obviously they can make whatever choice they want. And I think it's a very strong choice. But Coldplay has so many fans that they have the potential to educate, and a one press hit, not going on tour until it can be carbon neutral, is going to be a really great and big press hit and that's an important statement to make. But I think the value that they will bring as a band, if they were to go on the road, and being as environmentally conscious as possible, while they're on the road is something that could bring a lot of value, because they have a tremendous number of fans who look up to them. And I mean, Chris Martin is an amazing guy. And he has done a lot for this movement. So he has the potential to help educate and inspire a lot of people. And that doesn't necessarily happen as strongly over social media. There's something about being in person with somebody and hearing them speak passionately about these things in person that I think he can bring a lot of value.

KATHERINE: Adam brought up a point that I think Operation Climate really resonates with. I mean, one of our mission statements is to make environmental education more equitable.

GEORGIE: He really made a strong distinction between doing your own part to do what you can to make an impact, which I think can be powerful, as he said, but you can do so much more when you are talking to other people and educating other people. And like you said, I think that's a big part of doing this podcast. And even just like having a platform in general, trying to educate other people about important issues like this.

KATHERINE: 100%. I'm trying to think of another AJR pun, but I don't know if I have any. Netflix trip!!!!!!! Okay.

GEORGIE: So we just mentioned the idea of carbon neutrality, and that Coldplay, for example, won't be touring until they can do it carbon neutrally. So do you think that carbon neutrality in the music industry, or in touring in general is feasible? And if so, what do you think it would take to get there?

ADAM: I think it is feasible. I think carbon neutrality in the music industry needs to happen at the same time as carbon neutrality in a bunch of other industries. Because if you think about it, the model of sports and the model of you know, any type of large scale gathering, carbon neutrality in those spaces can all be attacked at the same time. So if the music industry is thinking of itself as a silo, and how do we become carbon neutral in this silo, it's going to have far less impact than seeing, okay, if we can do it in the music industry, how at the same time, can we do it in sports.

And if you think about the streaming side of it that we talked about before, that's the same as you know, social media. And it's like places like YouTube and places like Twitch and Amazon Prime, and Netflix and Hulu. So it's less of a music industry conversation, and more of a how we interact with that technology conversation. So if we want to attack the streaming world in general, and focus on the carbon neutrality of that, music is just one piece of it. And I think even though it is more ambitious, it will have more of an impact if we look at carbon neutrality in terms of the technology side of streaming. And if we look at it in terms of the large groups coming together and participating in something, whether it is sports or music.

I do think it is feasible, but it's going to take those gatekeepers like the Live Nations of the world, like people at the level of the NFL, the NHL, you know, NBA, making those commitments now, and now is a perfect time to make those commitments because they don't have to build the plane while they're flying it. No one's going to concerts in person right now, you have the opportunity to redesign something without getting in the way of people who are actually going to concerts. So you can make these changes now and have them ready for when we're going to start going back in person to concerts.

KATHERINE: Shifting now to something that you mentioned a little earlier in our conversation, as someone with a large platform and following, do you feel a responsibility to use your platform for good? I've seen you use your platform for promoting things like climate action, COVID-19 relief, spreading voter information, and educating your followers on other social issues. But do you think that having this platform inherently comes with that responsibility? And if so, What does that mean for other artists or other people who have a large following?

ADAM: This is such an important question. And I think that anybody who has any number of followers on Instagram or Twitter goes through this a lot. And there's a song on our upcoming album about that, about how you figure out, okay, is it worth it to say something that you believe in, if you know that you're going to lose some fans, because they disagree with you. And that's, that's a struggle that I think everybody goes through.

And I know there are a lot of artists that stay completely silent about political issues. I mean, Taylor Swift was completely silent until a couple of years ago, when she started getting politically involved, and her political involvement, I think, had a big impact. So I think if you as an individual feel that you have a responsibility to these social issues, then you as an artist should have that responsibility.

But I mean, I'm sure there are some artists and celebrities out there that are completely apathetic. And if they as individuals don't care and don't want to get involved, that's too bad. But I think the biggest problem is the facade. There are a lot of people out there who haven't done their research, haven't educated themselves, figured out exactly what they should be standing behind, and why. And then they go to social media and talk about climate, because climate is a cool thing to be talking about now. And everyone wants to get involved in, you know, preventing the climate crisis from getting any worse. But I think the number one thing is, if you're going to talk about any sort of social issue, whether it's, you know, poverty, or education, or hunger, or climate or human rights, is to really understand it before you're going to say anything about it.

I gave a talk in Omaha, Nebraska when we were on tour a couple years ago, and it was a climate strike. And they brought out a tremendous number of people. It was great. They were protesting in front of the statehouse. But the number one issue that they were talking about was big climate problems in general. However, you're in Nebraska. And when you're in Nebraska, you need to be asking for very specific things from Nebraska, like regenerative agriculture, focus on carbon sequestration, and farming techniques. You shouldn't be talking about sea levels in Nebraska. If the people who are going to make the change, you need to know who your audience is, and who you're talking to, and really educate yourself. And I really think that that's the number one thing. And that the talk that I gave, you know, the thing that I said over and over again, was know your shit. Before you go out there and start preaching anything, you have to know what the hell you're talking about.

GEORGIE: So I think Adam’s main point here is that it's a choice between if you want to risk talking about what you believe in, because it can be a risk, and you can lose some of your followers. But that's a choice that you can make if it's something that you really believe in. But the responsibility that I think he thinks that comes with that is about, if you're going to talk about something, you need to be educated, especially because you have such a large platform, it makes education so much more important.

KATHERINE: I think it relates to some of the stuff that we were talking about in our Slacktivism episode in season three, right? If you're just gonna like post something on your Instagram story, but you're not going to actually like do the work and learn about why you're posting this, then it's just like putting on this fake persona, like, Oh, I want people to think that I'm woke because I put this infographic on my story. But if you don't actually do anything to learn about the message that you're putting onto your story, it's like, are you actually using your platform for good?

GEORGIE: Yeah, I think it can definitely be very hollow. And that, like you said, it's a huge responsibility to actually be imparting correct information and actually doing something that will have like a positive impact instead of just like you said, like a facade.

KATHERINE: So listeners, we encourage you to combat the spreading of false information online by doing the research yourself on the topic before you post it before you share it on your story, even if it's on a pretty infographic.

KATHERINE: This reminds me of another episode we did, we had a speaker named Renata Poulton Kamakura, she's an organizer with the Sunrise Movement. And she said, When gaining bipartisan support for the climate movement, it's not like we're going to Mitch McConnell, and we're begging him for a compromise. It's going into those rural communities, figuring out what exactly they need, and figuring out what climate policy can benefit them specifically.

ADAM: Definitely. That's 100%. Right. And if you look at the issue as the climate crisis, you are going to create more partisanship. If you look at the issue as “my farm is being destroyed, I don't know what to do. I don't know how to change it and make it better to bring the nutrients back into the soil”. That's an issue that you can create bridges. Sea level is another really important thing if you talk to coastal communities. And if you're talking about it in terms of sea level rise and creating levees and resilience architecture and things like that, that's something they can understand and get behind. But calling it the climate crisis makes it this really partisan issue, which is really unfortunate, but people connect to the issues that are affecting them. And I think that's a really, really great point.

GEORGIE: So looking at how you've engaged in this sort of environmental activism in the past, you've talked a lot about this idea of building a climate movement based on excitement rather than fear. So could you explain what this means to you and how you see the music industry fitting into this?

ADAM: Yeah, I have a TED talk exactly on this topic, how to engage people around climate excitement, rather than fear, and how we can rebrand the movement to focus on the positive side, because if you look at the industries that are the most exciting and engaging, it's music, it's sports, it's fashion. They've done an amazing job at figuring out how to market things in a way that feels exclusive, and that people want to be involved in. We can do that around climate, people will be banging down doors to get involved in this movement. And the couple of examples that I like to talk about -- one is very simple, it's incentives. In the music industry, we create so many different types of incentives for participating, you know, pre order this album, and you'll get access to tour tickets for our store, follow us on social media, and you'll be entered to win a signed album, or join our texts list and you'll get information before anyone else does-- that kind of thing, these incentives.

So for our podcast, Planet Reimagined, that's why we created this incentive, you know, for every subscriber, we plant a tree. And that's not to say that every subscriber is going to listen to every episode. That's just not how it works. But a lot of the people got so excited about the tree being planted, shouldn't cost them anything, it took less than one second for them to click subscribe. And a tree was being planted in their name. They took that idea and they shared it on social media. And that pride that they had, I did this, I planted a tree today through my action, that breeds excitement, and that virally kind of moment where people get excited about something enough that they're willing to share it. But we get the better end of the deal on that. Yes, they are excited. But now they've subscribed to our podcast. So we get to keep pushing them more information to educate them about climate. It's about creating this partnership where people can get excited. But we can also feed them the information about how they can make the world more sustainable.

GEORGIE: I think when you're in environmentalist spaces and discussing the climate crisis, it's really easy to fall into kind of a pessimistic outlook in a way. It's really easy to see no way out of this and just feel like we're kind of doomed. And I think like Adam says, it can be so important to create more positivity when we're talking about this issue, because that's the way that we're going to be able to make changes, by creating this excitement instead of being, I guess, down about it all the time, you know.

KATHERINE: And it's important to remember, like, why are we even engaged in this movement in the first place? Right, like, what about the environment brings you joy? So Georgie, what about the environment brings you joy? Why are you involved in the climate movement?

GEORGIE: Honestly, I mean, there's so much, I feel like, the environment is just so beautiful. I don't know, I recently took a personality test. And it told me that my top trait is appreciation of beauty. Like, you know, when you walk outside, and you're like, Oh, my gosh, these trees are so pretty. Like, that's me. You know, it's so sad that, you know, we're kind of destroying that. So I think just really preserving that and preserving basically, like, that's what's keeping us alive, you know, we can't have human society without the planet, without the environment. And I think that's important to remember.

KATHERINE: And another thing that we have to consider when we're thinking about why we're engaged in the climate movement in the first place, are these populations that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, right. So that's going to be black indigenous people of color, people living in the global south, these people who have had hardly any part in causing the climate crisis, but they're going to be the ones that feel the worst effects from it. Right. So that's something that we have to get really fired up about. Because it's a matter of justice. It's a matter of what's right.

KATHERINE: Our last question for you today is, how do you think students and young people should consider sustainability when they're consuming music and interacting with the artists that they follow? And are there any positive actions that they can take?

ADAM: The real, truthful answer is there aren't enough actions yet that people can take as individuals, specifically when listening to music. Because if you go on Spotify and you're listening to music, you can't decide where that electricity is coming from when you're going to Spotify.

But there are larger scale actions tha