The Dos and Don'ts of Sustainable Touring

Photo by Gary Chan/Unsplash
Photo by Gary Chan/Unsplash

Adam Gardner, cofounder of REVERB, shares some tips on giving your show an eco-conscience.


Adam Gardner may be best known for singing sticky melancholic hooks in his band Guster, but it's his other gig that has the potential to impact, well, all of humanity. In 2004, he and his wife, Lauren Sullivan, founded REVERB, an organization dedicated to helping artists give their tours an eco-conscience and inspire audiences to take action on climate change. This year, REVERB became the United Nations Environment Programme's Music and Public Engagement Partner, an honor inspired partly by the nonprofit's Bama Green collaboration with Dave Matthews Band (the Bama Green Project encompasses all the band’s environmental efforts). Over 15 years and 20 tours, REVERB has helped DMB eliminate 121 million pounds of carbon dioxide from their touring footprint and raise $2 million from fans for environmental causes. That's only a fraction of what Gardner's organization has accomplished—his 2019 clients include Fleetwood Mac, Shawn Mendes, P!nk, Dead & Company, and Lord Huron, to name a few—so we thought we'd tap his knowledge for some quick tips on how artists can make their tours more eco-friendly.

Don’t use disposable water bottles.

“For a band at any level, the easiest thing is getting rid of all the single-use plastic water bottles that are likely on your hospitality rider. Venues get cases and cases of those. Bring reusables and, if you can change your rider, ask for 5-gallon bubblers or even 2.5-gallon jugs. Otherwise, go back to the tap! Just fill up in the sink. And if you're using a reusable bottle onstage, show it. You don't have to talk about it—the fact that you're taking a swig out of it is making a statement.”

Do eat smarter.

“You want to make sure you're eating organic where you can, and that it doesn't come in a bunch of packaging. If venues are supplying food, request reusable catering items where applicable; recyclable and compostable when that isn't an option; and no styrofoam. Also, avoid wasting food. For Guster, if we end up leaving with six bags of potato chips at the end of the night, we take chips off the rider next time. Going meatless even once a week has a major impact.”

Don’t overlook your merch.

“What are you selling? What's it made of? Is it toxic crap made in China or is it organic cotton? How eco-friendly is it? Is it being flown from Bangladesh? I think a lot of people know to avoid sweatshop stuff, but there's plenty of things being made that aren't good for the environment. Look at your merch and understand where it comes from. Offering eco-friendly merch and especially a reusable bottle is a great way to get fans participating in making a difference.”

Do use alternative fuels.

“There is a company called Greenvans where you can rent vans that can run on biodiesel and maybe even veggie oil. Biodiesel is now available at a lot of pumps—it's not 100 percent, but even 15 percent biodiesel is better than nothing and you want to support those businesses that provide that. If you're on a bus, you gotta make sure it can take biodiesel, but a lot of companies are now allowing it thanks to artists we've worked with—like Dave Matthews Band—pushing for it.”

Do offset your mileage.

“If biodiesel isn't an option, you can look at your flights and miles driven and calculate your carbon footprint [and purchase carbon offsets]. We use a partner called NativeEnergy. It's not incredibly expensive, but even if you can't completely neutralize your tour emissions, you're supporting renewable, clean energy. Obviously you don't want to just buy your way out of it. You want to keep that footprint as small as possible. So if you can, also plan your route so you're not zigzagging across the country.”

Don’t put batteries in the trash.

“Batteries are toxic and should be disposed of properly instead of going into a landfill. Better yet, get rechargeables if you're using wireless in-ear packs, guitar pedals, or whatever else. I know everyone's scared of rechargeables going out midshow, but they are way better because if you throw them in a charger, you can see how full they are. And they'll actually save you money.”

Do take the toiletries.

“If you're staying in hotels, collect the toiletries from your room and donate them to homeless shelters. Those get replaced whether you use them or not, which is ridiculous.”

Do use your platform.

“Use social media or the stage to spread awareness. Whether you're a rock star that plays arenas or just starting out, all musicians have a connection to their fans unlike any other public figure. There's intimacy because you write music from your heart and your message resonates with people. Using that emotional connection to share other things that you care about is hugely effective. We took the name REVERB because change reverberates out from musicians to their fans, and from fans into communities—into their schools and workplaces. It's a ripple effect.”

Don’t preach.

“You don't need to be the expert—just be the enthusiast. Also, don't be a buzzkill. It doesn't have to be all, ‘The sky is falling, we're all gonna die!’ It can be, ‘Look what's happening with clean energy! There are five times more solar jobs available today than coal jobs. That's new. That's exciting. That's progress and we can keep going. Here's what you can do.’ A big catchphrase of ours is ‘band together.’ This is about bringing people together around issues that are important.”

—Chris Martins