On Feb. 5, 300 workers from North America’s music industry gathered at the inaugural Music Sustainability Summit to discuss the impact of climate change on their business. “People were always asking where to start, what to do and how to do it,” says Amy Morrison, co-founder and president of the Music Sustainability Alliance, which organized the symposium. “We saw a need to bring people together in order to not duplicate work, to share best practices and to spotlight the good work everyone is doing.”

Morrison formed the 501(c)(3) nonprofit MSA with co-founder Mike Martin during the pandemic and near the end of her 23-year run as senior vp of marketing at Concerts West/AEG. While semiretired, she still consults for the company and continues running tour marketing for The Rolling Stones, including their North American Hackney Diamonds trek this summer. The touring shutdown enabled her to complete a certificate program in sustainability at Presidio Graduate School, and she now dedicates most of her working hours to the MSA. (The alliance is currently collaborating with a nonprofit fundraising consultant to raise money to pay staff.)

The MSA’s mandate is the creation of “climate-focused professional resources and community,” Morrison explains. “It’s a relatively simple concept, but nobody ever saw the need for it. The downtime we had to reflect during COVID was helpful, and the timing now couldn’t be better to accelerate and lift everyone up together to do this.”

The Music Sustainability Summit will be an annual gathering that takes place in Los Angeles — where the MSA, like Morrison, is based — on the day after the Grammy Awards, and MSA will organize a number of year-round initiatives and track environmental regulations that will affect the industry, with the two most pertinent being truck emissions and phasing out single-use plastics. It also offers a music-industry resource guide.

“It still blows my mind that I get to work with the Stones,” Morrison says. “Living in L.A., this poster beautifully marries the SoCal vibe and the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world.”

Maggie Shannon

By mid-April, the MSA plans to have three to five working groups dedicated to promoting sustainability practices in the industry. Each will share solutions and actionable recommendations. In collaboration with the Eller College of Management, MSA is also conducting an analysis of the economic impacts of extreme weather on the live industry and how environmental regulations will affect touring practices. Morrison is also a member of the advisory group for the Sustainable Production in Entertainment Certification, which is being developed by the U.S. Green Building Council-Los Angeles in partnership with experts to develop SPEC’s green certification program for workers across the entertainment industry.

Beginning in May, MSA will hold a series of webinars that will focus on merchandise, food choice impact, easy ways to green events, regulations and incentives, among other topics. Plans are also underway to launch quarterly member happy hours in L.A. and New York.

“I oversimplify things a lot, which I think is a gift and a curse,” Morrison says, “but it makes me not scared and it motivates me to try things because it’s like, ‘We can do this.’”

It’s often said that despite the music industry having a very small impact on climate change, it has an outsize influence on the culture that can be leveraged. What are your thoughts on that?

I agree as a general statement. I feel it’s really important, though, that we have our house in order and that the industry can walk the walk, speak with confidence and be legit and authentic in getting that message out. I think that supports artists who want to speak out as well because they have the confidence that the industry is behind them.

The MSA wants to create that confidence. The mission is to have a net-zero music industry by 2050 [with] lots of milestones along the way.

Amy Morrison, From the Desk of, Market

“This clock commemorates The Concert of a Lifetime, Simon & Garfunkel’s 1993 residency at [what is now] The Theater at Madison Square Garden. I grew up listening to them, and being a part of this historic reunion was a career highlight.”

Maggie Shannon

What initiatives is the MSA working on?

We’ve been working on a Get Out the Vote working group. There’s a lot of interest, and it involves everything from message targeting, deciding on markets and the intention of activating younger people to vote [with consideration for] the climate. We’re also talking about how to use the channels we have: What can a venue do to get the word out? What can a promoter do? Then the campaign needs to be created for them to actually have something to share. It could even be picking a city that needs the impact and finding a local artist there [to get involved] who could be just as meaningful as getting a superstar to do it. We’re working with folks that create campaigns, along with political experts.

You work in the touring ­industry. What initiatives do you have in that sector?

In the next couple of months, we’re launching a campaign for [tours] to have one less truck. It’s about flipping the narrative that [the goal] is no longer having the biggest tours with the most trucks — it’s about still putting on a beautiful show, but with fewer trucks. That’s something we can measure over time. It’s a ways down the road from launching. We’re also working on courses for worker education on how to be green, like a certification you get in how to do your job in a green way. We need operational change, and it only comes from education.

Amy Morrison, From the Desk of, Market

“Running the marketing for a festival of this magnitude with these artists was an incredible experience. I got to draw on my touring experience while learning new things.”

Maggie Shannon

What would a curriculum like that teach?

It could be how to set up composting backstage, or how to go down your supply chain and source items, or how to measure energy use. Really basic stuff, starting on the production side.

Because production has the biggest impact?

Yeah, and it’s easier to adopt. It’s important for systemic change that the people who are doing the work, who are really making operations hum, understand the work. And if their bosses or management see the value in funding this type of program, then it’s also coming from the top.

How do you see the music industry generally becoming greener?

I see it in the expansion of departments, with more people being hired and more resources getting put behind it. [Live Nation’s touring program] Green Nation is starting to really empower its production teams to lead in the green space, and they’re putting green coordinators out on the road. It’s not like, “The runner or the [production assistant] can do it.” There has been a shift in the acknowledgment that this is actually a job.

The MSA is working with big companies that compete with each other. What has that been like?

We’ve found that in the production vendor world, it’s a no-­brainer. They’re all game to be on the same calls and do things together. At the summit, the panel with the [sustainability leads from AEG, Live Nation, ASM Global and Oak View Group] was a good start. A secret mission of mine is to find a project for the four of them to work on. Maybe to find a city where they all have a property — I’m sure there’s more than one — and work on [climate-minded] infrastructure together. It can be a small thing to do as proof of concept. I think the working groups will bring some of that because a lot of our role is to facilitate, convene and set the table for people.

Amy Morrison, From the Desk of, Market

A friend gifted Morrison this Al Hirschfeld drawing of Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia. “As a longtime Deadhead and Hirschfeld fan, it makes me smile to see Jerry doing what he loves.”

Maggie Shannon

I think part of the road map for us is to come up with some science-based, peer-reviewed recommendation to take to the C suite and say, “Here are a couple of projects that maybe if all the venues work together on, this is the impact it could have, and all it will cost you is X, Y or Z.”

I can see how having such options would be useful for busy people who don’t know where to start.

Maybe I’m dreaming, but they really should all work together on this, and I think they will, with the right projects and the right impact.

Climate change can feel so overwhelming. How do you avoid existential dread and stay in a place of progress and optimism?

I’m a half-full gal. I am optimistic, and I’m fed by support, good work and successes. The summit was amazing. I couldn’t have dreamed of it to be any better. And everyone still showed up during a crazy rainstorm. There were a lot of years of banging the head against the wall around all this, but change is happening. So I’m not driven by fear — I’m driven by making a difference.

This story will appear in the March 30, 2024, issue of Billboard.

Marc Schneider
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