September 01, 2007

Road Warriors

Reverb combats Global Warming one tour at a time

By Lavinia Jones Wright


Adam Gardner (left) and wife Lauren Sullivan (right) spend time at a Reverb event with one of the environment's most outspoken musical supporters, Jack Johnson.

Want to make your tour or everyday life Ecofriendly without the hassle of bringing in a consultant? Here are some companies recommended by Reverb and the editors at Playback to help you Green-It-Yourself.

road_warriorsNative Energy
Carbon Neutralizing concerts not only saves the environent, but when done through Native Energy, it also saves cultures and families. Native Energy uses carbon- neutralizing dollars to build windfarms for Native American tribes to run as well as to support family farms that convert methane gas into an energy source. Calculate your carbon footprint right on their website, and get neutralizing!

Custom design a limited edition tour bottle and create a cool alternative to wasteful plastic water bottles. SIGG makes a full line of non-leeching aluminum water bottles that are so functional they keep water ice cold, and so fashionable that they can be sold as merchandise to fans.

road_warriorsSeventh Generation
A one-stop shop for stocking up the tour bus with green supplies, Seventh Generation provides green cleaning supplies with natural scents and recycled, post-consumer toilet paper, paper plates, paper towels and trash bags.

It sounds like a touring musician's dream, but running the tour van on french fry grease is quickly becoming a real option. Pull right up to your favorite Chinese restaurant for dinner and a fill-up.

road_warriorsThe Tweeter Center in Mansfield, MA Formerly known as Great Woods, this forward-thinking venue keeps a compost pile made from concert waste, that they use to fertilize the grass in their lawn-seating section.

road_warriorsThe Immaculate
Baking Company

Hungry for eco-friendly treats? Immaculate offers guilty pleasures without, at least a portion of, the guilt. All of their products are organic and healthy, so while they taste sinful, they're actually heavenly!

The effects of Global Warming have become undeniable. Each year that passes brings images of melting polar ice caps, deteriorating ecosystems, uncontrollable forest fires, and devastating hurricanes which are all the result of the abuse of fossil fuels and the amount of permanent waste human beings create. All of the information being thrown from the media is overwhelming, and many people are confused about what they can do to change the direction in which the planet is heading.

But a rock musician and his wife have stepped up to the plate, determined to show that there is a simple solution, small changes that each person can make to contribute to a larger change for the better. Adam Gardner, ASCAP member and singer/guitarist for the uber-popular touring band Guster, and Lauren Sullivan, his environmentalist wife, started Reverb nearly four years ago as a means to helping greenminded musicians spread their environmental energy to the fans.

In what Gardner calls the "Post- Inconvenient Truth Era," people are looking outside of the government and talking-head experts for their information, which is why Reverb's mission is so valuable. Gardner and Sullivan have found the perfect blend of information and fun that really connects people to the cause.

The success of Reverb has grown much faster than the pair could have expected, and the roster of bands that they've helped to tour green has grown from Alanis Morisette and the Barenaked Ladies in 2004 to include, among others, the Dave Matthews Band, the Fray, Beastie Boys, Jack Johnson, Andrew Bird, Brandi Carlisle, and Stars. As of the fall of 2007, Reverb could boast having brought 42 major tours, over 600 major concert events, and over 1,000 local and national non-profit groups face-to-face with more than 4.5 million fans. The effectiveness of a music-led movement is exponential.

A majority of the artists on Reverb's roster are ASCAP members, as are artists who have been working independently on environmental projects like Neil Young with his biodiesel tour buses and Eddie Vedder's environmental philanthropy. The front line of the battle against global warming is populated with ASCAP songwriters, and ASCAP is enthusiastically joining the movement that our members began. The carbon footprints of events like the annual ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO are being offset, and now the ASCAP Green Room will become a resource for artists interested in taking action as well.

We spoke to Adam Gardner from a stop on Guster's fall tour and to Lauren Sullivan from her post at the Reverb offices about steps that artists of any size can take toward becoming green, and how music really is the best medicine for our planet's ills.


SIGN OF CHANGE: Among the leaders in music's new green movement is Guster, pictured here rocking the stage while raising awareness for the environment.

It Wasn't Easy Being Green
"I met her [Lauren] the same year that I met the other members of Guster at Tufts University, so it all started there," recalls Gardner, who credits Sullivan with creating the idea for Reverb after years of hard environmental campaigning. "She worked for the Rainforest Action Network when we graduated and had worked on a lot of campaigns. She noticed that when artists like Dave Matthews Band and Bonnie Raitt were getting involved with the RAN on certain campaigns, that boosted, obviously, the visibility and the power of that campaign."

Sullivan confirms that after years of struggling in "David and Goliath campaigns," such as aiding indigenous Colombians in their fight against oil companies, she felt that the most successful campaigns got their strength from being endorsed by musicians. "Lauren came to me with this idea: 'I've seen this happen with the various non-profit organizations that I've worked with and I've seen how artists can add so much to a campaign,'" says Gardner. "'Let's move forward and focus on artists and how we can really use that relationship between the artists and their fans to spread environmental awareness and action.'"

Bonnie Raitt

Music's environmental pioneer Bonnie Raitt.

Mother Earth
Gardner actually credits two women primarily for the formation and success of Reverb. Besides his wife Lauren for shaping the idea, he credits Bonnie Raitt for her guidance in Reverb's inception. "She [Raitt] is the godmother of all of this as far as I'm concerned," says Gardner. "She's amazing. She has been a musician/activist since the seventies. And really, this whole thing was born out of what she did in 2002, her Green Highway Tour."

Until they made contact with Raitt, Reverb was just a good idea. Sullivan and Gardner knew they were on to something, but they weren't sure where to start. "So Lauren came up with the idea outside Green Highway," Gardner remembers, "and then my sister happened to go to a Bonnie concert and said, 'Is this what you guys have been talking about?'"

As it turned out, not only was Bonnie Raitt's Green Highway tour exactly what Gardner and Sullivan were hoping to do with other artists through Reverb, but it was Bonnie and her manager Kathy Kane who helped the couple get their fledgling non-profit up on it's feet. Reverb became a part of Kane's ARIA Foundation (Artistic Resources in Action) until it could support its own individual status. Says Gardner of Kane, "She literally sent us a road case with all the infrastructure for the Eco-Village. She completely mentored us in our first few years."

Although Reverb has become an independent company, they haven't broken their ties with ARIA; Reverb and ARIA will be combining forces on the next Beastie Boys tour.


Reverb's Eco-village provides a fun, interactive experience for concert-goers that also educates them on the issues that bands are trying to address.

Reduce, Reuse, and Rock On
"There are two prongs that Reverb does, and this is based on Bonnie's Green Highway. To reduce the impact of the tour �to increase the sustainability of the tour as much as possible, and to, at the same time, have an outreach component to the fans in the front of the house where there's a fun festival-like atmosphere," Gardner explains.

The backbone of increasing tour sustainability lies in something called Carbon Neutrality. It boils down to donating an amount of support to renewable energy sources that is equal to the amount of nonrenewable energy each portion of the tour consumed. When Reverb started, Carbon Neutrality was a fledgling industry. "There were some energy companies out there," recalls Gardner. "It was all new; people had no idea what even the idea of renewable energy meant. It was a very novel concept." Today, Reverb projects benefit Native Energy, a company that builds Native American-run windfarms and family farm methane projects.

Another concept in its early stages a few years ago that has become a foundation of Reverb's plan is Biodiesel. "Until Reverb formed, I just assumed like the other artists at my level that [Biodiesel] was just for superstars like Bonnie Raitt and Neil Young," Gardner remembers. "And nobody else could possibly afford to have Biodiesel in their tour busses, and you had to own your bus to have Biodiesel. And of course, none of that ended up being the case, or it was the case until Reverb existed." Today, Reverb provides guidance in Biodiesel, and in some cases, actually provides the Biodiesel itself for the entire tour, bringing tankers right to the venues to fuel up the fleet. Sullivan warns, "Biodiesel is not the silver bullet," and says that Reverb has been careful to build relationships with fuel providers who have good business practices.

Going beyond the stage is an important part of creating environmental awareness within the music community. It isn't enough for the bands to be carbon neutralizing and making environmentally conscious choices; the fans have to be engaged in the process as well. The Reverb Eco-village provides a fun, interactive experience for concert-goers which also educates them on the issues that the bands are trying to combat. An average Eco-village will have free samples of organic foods from Reverb partners like Stoneybrook Farms and Ben & Jerry's, demonstrations of earth-friendly technologies such as a solar powered cell phone charging station, and tons of available information on what fans can do on their own to get involved. They are even offered the opportunity to carbon offset their drive to and from the venue and, in turn, receive a carbon neutral sticker to put in their car window.

Reverb caters to all levels of touring, offering simple alternatives for indie bands who can't use an entire Eco-village, but still want to tour green. "Everybody has a contract rider when they go to play a show, basic things that they want backstage, and one of the easiest things to add to it is instead of asking for plastic water bottles, ask for a big cooler and bring your own reusable water bottle. By the end of the tour, you've just reduced serious waste," because, Gardner informs us, a lot of venues still don't recycle. All jokes about replacing water bottles with tequila bottles aside, taking plastic bottles out of the equation reverts an enormous amount of waste from landfills. Gardner also recommends switching to biodegradable Spudwear, forks, knives and spoons made out of potato starch, and corn plastic cups.

The same goes for batteries, extremely toxic products that are essential to any band using portable electronics on stage. "A lot of bands go through batteries like crazy on stage, and a lot of those are only half-used if that, because the last thing anybody wants is a battery to go dead in the middle of a performance," says Gardner. He and his bandmates first tried recycling their used batteries, and when that proved too difficult, they made the switch to rechargeable batteries. Guster has been using rechargeable batteries for nearly two years without a hitch.

Artists who have already been involved with green touring tend to be eager to share the experience. One group in particular, the Fray, not only helped to add Brandi Carlile to Reverb's roster, but they also inspired a new program called Green Grants. The Fray had been putting 50 cents from every ticket sold into an Eco-fund, which they used to carbon neutralize their tours. When all the offsets had been made, though, there was a surplus in their fund. They decided to donate the money to a small Montreal band called Stars who were eager to green their tour, but were short on funding. The band-to-band mentoring program that is developing within Reverb shows that Reverb is becoming the community of change Sullivan and Gardner hoped to create.


Barenaked Ladies' Steven Page with Reverb staff

Reverb's Secret to Success
"We're all about the gray. We're not purists," says Sullivan of Reverb's overall mission. She and Gardner both see the benefits of keeping environmental action simple and fun by not making it all-or-nothing. Each small contribution that an artist or a fan makes to the environmental movement is just a stepping stone to do more.

"Especially using Barenaked Ladies as an example, the level of conversations that have happened on their recent tours versus that [first Reverb] tour in 2004 have been elevated," says Gardner. "Because we do that outreach in the education at the shows, they've been able to up the ante every time they go out on tour and to talk about different issues. And more and more fans become more and more savvy about what's happening."

And because the rewards are immediate, they are that much more gratifying. Fans feel bonded with the artist, and according to Sullivan, that door swings both ways. "What a great opportunity for the artists to share their interests with the fans!" she says, knowing it to be true from her firsthand experience of being married into a band that takes so much pride in the enthusiasm of their fans.

Both Sullivan and Gardner want environmental change to be fun and exciting. They agree that embracing that exuberant attitude is what has driven Reverb's success, and they plan to continue engaging the fans more and more in the future. "My wish for the future of Reverb is to continue developing fan connections," says Sullivan, "connecting with them through artist websites, and creating fun competitions." She even has a plan in the wings to pit city against city in a tour-wide carbon-offsetting contest: a community can earn a concert by their favorite artist by neutralizing the biggest carbon footprint.

They see future projects going beyond touring as well. Says Gardner, "We're actually talking to Live Nation, and to Warner Music Group, and radio stations, so all of a sudden all angles and all parties within the music community are starting to really look at us and say, 'Well, I know you do all this stuff with tours, what can we do with our booking agency? What can we do with our record label? What is this carbon neutrality stuff?' All these questions are coming at us now, and it's really exciting."

Eager for More Green?
Interested in greening your own tour? Want to find out more information on the relationship between the environment and the music industry? To watch Green Minutes videos featuring ASCAP songwriters sharing their thoughts and tips, and to find out more about what you can do to join the effort, visit The Green Room.