When Coldplay decided not to tour their album Everyday Life, it may have resulted in the 2019 release to relatively sink without a trace but it laid the seeds for what could be a pioneering move for the live music industry.
In announcing their absence, the UK band cited a need to investigate ways to make concert tours environmentally sustainable and carbon neutral. For the past two years the band engaged the services of consultant Paul Schurink, the founder of Zap Concepts, to co-design a world tour in 2022 that cuts their direct emissions by 50 per cent, compared with the previous 2016-2017 tour.
Speaking at the XP Music Conference in Riyadh on Tuesday, the Dutchman outlined the various ways the group intend to keep their arena and stadium concerts sustainable without sacrificing the power of the performances.
With the first seven months of shows announced, Schurink confirms the Music of the Spheres tour – named after this year’s new album and beginning in Costa Rica on March 18 – will have the quartet on the road for their longest stretch to date.
“It will not be a one or two-year tour,” he said. “It will probably be three or five years.”
Schurink explained the itinerary will be painstakingly planned to limit transport emissions. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean a potential residency, rather than a tour of many multiple cities.
"It is always a trade-off and a compromise to find the best solutions,” he said. “But the fact the band are thinking about it always and working with experts when it comes to that shows that they are doing a pretty good job so far.”
All in the details
Coldplay’s sustainability tour plan examines everything from power usage and materials sourced to build the stage to the kind of food and beverages served.
Schurink said the measures, broadly outlined on Coldplay’s website, are the result of various workshops with the tour’s stakeholders, from the band to venue operators.
“These conversations are not always smooth, especially with the creative teams because there is always that friction between creativity and sustainability,” he recalled. “But I think that is good. I welcome that friction because it is from that energy that we get best results.”
Whether working on a large scale entertainment or corporate events, Schurink said he approaches each project from the same starting point, and the good news, Schurink said, is that nearly half of the reductions can be made quickly.
"I am what you call a power freak. Every event or festival I attend I look around and I always see so many ways lights and equipment are unnecessarily used or at full power. I am talking about having lights on during the day, for example," he said.
"I would say that almost every event you can save up to 40 per cent of your energy consumption that doesn't add anything to the show or performances. No one will notice and this is immediately a big win and you don't need to be too technical to do this."
Then again, a Coldplay production has more than its fair share of power sockets and the new tour will feature a detailed list of what is plugged and where.
"We do a full inventory of the show in that every single [piece of] equipment that has a plug on it is known by us so we can know how much energy is needed," Schurink said.
"Once we know we can then bring exactly enough energy to have maximum efficiency.
“And that's another thing that is underestimated, in that most events, the total generation capacity – whether diesel or grid connections or whatever – are three to eight times more than that is needed.”
A sustainable stage and menu
In addition to powering the show almost entirely with renewable energy, the stage will undergo some tweaking.
The performance platform will be built from a combination of lightweight, low-carbon and reusable materials (such as bamboo and recycled steel) and decrease freight emissions.
Certain sections of fans will also be in for a treat when the band unveil their “kinetic floor” as part of the new tour.
Installed in and around the venue, the movement of the audience will be registered and converted to energy contributing to power the show. As an inducement, the band's set-list should feature its fair share of up-tempo numbers to literally keep the energy high.
The group's last concert on December 8 in London, for instance, began with new hit single Higher Power before locking into the barreling Clocks and Viva La Vida within the first 20 minutes.
Changes will also be made to the food and beverage options for tour officials on-site, with an in-house menu featuring plant-based and meat free options, as well as organic produce sourced from local suppliers practicing sustainable techniques.
"We are also working on the tour merchandise to make it more thoughtful," Schurink said. "It doesn't make sense to sell people something which they will only use for a couple of minutes and throw it way. Either it is good or useful or we just won’t sell it.”
While Schurink can’t guarantee the Music of the Spheres tour will achieve its stated goal, he said time is on the band’s side when it comes to hitting the right ecological note.
"While we did have a preparation time for almost of two and a half years and thought about all the things that can go wrong, well, things will go wrong and that's for sure," he said. "We didn't solve all the sustainability issues, but the sustainability plan will be constantly improved and we will add more initiatives to it.”