In 2019, British rock band Coldplay pressed pause on its touring activities due to concerns over their environmental impact. “We’re taking time over the next year or two, to work out how our tour can not only be sustainable [but] how can it be actively beneficial,” the band’s frontman Chris Martin told BBC News at the time.
Fast-forward to 2022 and the band is in the midst of its Music of the Spheres world tour, comprising more than 100 shows across some 20 countries in three continents. So what actions has the band taken to mitigate the tour’s impact on the environment?
When the tour was announced in October 2021 the band set out a series of detailed principles that included extensive recycling, the reduction of consumption, and investment in new green technologies. Moreover, it aims to cut the tour’s carbon emissions by 50 per cent compared to its previous world tour – an even more extensive affair in 2017 that employed 109 crew, used 32 trucks and comprised 122 shows across five continents.
“Despite our best efforts, the tour will still have a significant carbon footprint,” said the band. “We pledge to drawdown more CO2 than the tour produces, supporting projects based on reforestation, rewilding, conservation, soil regeneration, carbon capture and storage, and renewable energy. As part of this pledge, the tour will fund the planting – and lifelong protection of – millions of new trees including one tree for every ticket sold.”
A team of sustainability experts was convened to assess how emissions could be reduced, which included a wide range of measures around the way stages are built, shows powered and food sourced. Transportation was naturally a key focus area. The tour schedule was planned to minimise air travel, said the band, who are mostly flying between cities on commercial flights, while equipment is transported by electric or biofuel-powered vehicles in partnership with logistics specialist DHL.
For all flights, commercial and charter, the band is paying a surcharge to use or supply sustainable aviation fuel via a partnership with SAF producer Neste. “Their low-emission renewable fuels will play a major part in our efforts to minimise the tour’s climate impact,” said the band.
Minna Aila, Neste’s senior vice president for sustainability and corporate affairs, said: “Coldplay is one of the world’s most popular touring bands, and their ambition to make their Music Of The Spheres world tour as sustainable as possible is inspiring. The world needs these kinds of changemakers to lead the way towards a more sustainable future.”
Coldplay’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact courted both praise, in the main, but also criticism, with the latter primarily targeted at its partnership with Neste, whose palm oil suppliers have been linked to alleged deforestation by Friends of the Earth.
Unwittingly caught in a long-standing disagreement between Neste and Friends of the Earth, Coldplay responded: “When we announced this tour, we said that we would try our best to make it as sustainable and low carbon-impact as possible, but that it would be a work in progress. That remains true. We don’t claim to have got it all right yet.”
However, even publicly stating its goals and highlighting environmental concerns is positive progress, says Dr Jem Woods of Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change and Environment, with which the band is working closely. “Influencers and other high-profile people such as the band members from Coldplay can play an important role in showing the way forward and getting this message out to parts of society that climate scientists find it difficult to reach,” said Woods.