“The earlier you think about it, the easier it is to be ecologically-responsible”: a discussion with Gwendolenn Sharp from The Green Room

On January 17 and 18, 2022, Gwendolenn Sharp, founder of the association The Green Room, spoke to the artists of the Slash program about ecological responsibility issues. The aim was to see how to build a “sustainable” tour as an emerging artist and on which levers it is possible to act concretely.

The Green Room devel­ops cre­at­ive strategies for envir­on­ment­al and soci­et­al change in the music industry. How did you get the idea to cre­ate this association?

I was work­ing as a fest­iv­al pro­gram­mer in Katowice, a Pol­ish city with a heavy indus­tri­al past and a still import­ant activ­ity of its coal mines. The image of the city was quite neg­at­ive, both from the out­side and the inside. The pop­u­la­tion con­sidered its city as “dark and depress­ing”. The fest­iv­al wanted to reas­sert the value of the city through cul­ture, a bit like what happened in Nantes thirty years ago. Then, I went to Japan for a fair, just after the Fukushi­ma dis­aster. There, I met people like Tori Kudo, who com­pletely rethought their way of being an artist in the face of the situ­ation and who ques­tioned their respons­ib­il­ity. This struck me a lot and I also star­ted to think about the jobs of pro­gram­mer or tour man­ager that I had been doing for years. I went back to school in Nantes and got a uni­ver­sity degree in sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. I did­n’t want to be only in the emo­tion, but to equip myself with a the­or­et­ic­al bag­gage on these ques­tions. In the wake of this, I cre­ated The Green Room in 2016, with the ini­tial idea of focus­ing mainly on the prob­lems of artists and tech­ni­cians. As much as fest­ivals and ven­ues were start­ing to think about eco-respons­ib­il­ity, artists were power­less when it came to these issues and they needed support.

What does The Green Room pro­pose to these artists?

The issues are dif­fer­ent for each per­son, but we are very much into a tail­or-made co-con­struc­tion. We start with a kind of tool­box, with proven solutions.

Inter­na­tion­al groups, such as Radi­o­head and Massive Attack, or French groups, such as Shaka Ponk, have taken con­crete steps to organ­ize eco-respons­ible tours. But isn’t it com­plic­ated for emer­ging artists with lim­ited means?

At Slash, we talked about exclus­iv­ity clauses that pre­vent musi­cians from play­ing with­in the peri­met­er of a ven­ue over a giv­en dis­tance and peri­od. While one might think that this only con­cerns the “stars” or the big bands, when talk­ing to emer­ging artists, one real­izes that it also con­cerns them. The Itali­an artist, Marta del Grandi, men­tioned an exclus­iv­ity clause that she had encountered in Sardin­ia. For a well-known group, it is pos­sible to refuse a one-shot con­cert, but when you are emer­ging, it is hard to say no. That’s the fra­gil­ity of the whole live sys­tem when you depend only on that.

I also know that it’s easi­er for those who already have a good net­work or who are already sup­por­ted by ven­ues. A lot of ven­ues today try to have the artists they invite play in their region or offer them oth­er cul­tur­al actions so that they stay longer and don’t do one-shots. Le Péri­scope in Lyon, in par­tic­u­lar, has thought about these issues. Its dir­ect­or, Pierre Dugelay, explains that as a recip­i­ent of pub­lic fund­ing, he has an envir­on­ment­al respons­ib­il­ity. But it changes the job of these ven­ues, as they become almost tour oper­at­ors by look­ing for oth­er dates around to reduce the car­bon footprint.

Dur­ing work­shops like Slash, do you talk about the car­bon footprint?

When I recall the object­ives of the Green Deal [Edit­or­’s note: The European Com­mis­sion has set the first stage of the Green Deal for 2030, with the object­ive of redu­cing its green­house gas emis­sions by at least 55% com­pared to 1990 levels and 80% in 2050], this means that indi­vidu­ally, on aver­age in France, we pro­duce ten to twelve tons of car­bon emis­sions per year and that we must be at two tons in 2050. To give you an idea, this rep­res­ents a round trip between Par­is and New York. From this point of view, we look at how this con­cerns each of us, includ­ing in the music industry. But it’s not neces­sar­ily what I talk about first with the artists. Espe­cially the emer­ging ones, I’m not going to add that to them. If they want to fig­ure it out, they can, but it can be expens­ive and time con­sum­ing. At Slash, the major­ity of the par­ti­cipants were pretty well informed. But some told me that, in prac­tic­al terms, their situ­ation was already complicated.

On what levers can emer­ging artists act concretely?

I talk to them about riders in par­tic­u­lar. It is a good tool. For example, we can ask that the meals be made of loc­al products, that sort­ing garbage cans be installed in the dress­ing rooms, that there be no plastic bottles, that the heat­ing not be turned on before the artist arrives. We also talked about the impact of digit­al tech­no­logy. How much can it cost to put your tracks on an eco-respons­ible drive? Is there an altern­at­ive to GAFAN without of course shoot­ing your­self in the foot?

So of course I’m talk­ing about what artists can do, but ven­ues and fest­ivals must also do their part in rais­ing aware­ness. It’s not just the artists who should be mak­ing the demands. The biggest envir­on­ment­al impact of fest­ivals is not the mobil­ity of artists, but the mobil­ity of audiences.

Are your words always well received?

Before Cov­id, I met a lot of reluct­ant people. I often found myself facing people who, while remain­ing polite, would tell me: “Envir­on­ment­al issues are not our pri­or­it­ies”. Some were more rude…

When I talk to emer­ging artists, I try to explain that the earli­er you think about it, the easi­er it is to be eco-respons­ible and to bring these issues to the table when you find a man­ager or a tour man­ager. That said, I am aware of the dif­fi­culty. Dur­ing Slash, I met Thomas Coch­ini from Labot­a­nique. He told me that with his band he was abso­lutely look­ing for an eco-respons­ible label, but that it was very com­plic­ated for them.

Does The Green Room count labels that identi­fy them­selves as “eco-respons­ible”?

No, this kind of tool does not exist yet. There is clearly a lack. I hope that the CNM (Nation­al Music Cen­ter) will do it. It requires research time that we, as asso­ci­ations, do not neces­sar­ily have. Espe­cially since it is neces­sary to veri­fy behind that the speech or the com­mu­nic­a­tion is in agree­ment with the real­ity. And this dir­ect­ory should be reg­u­larly updated.

How did the train­ing course with the artists of Slash go?

We exchanged ideas in groups or in indi­vidu­al inter­views on what they were already doing in terms of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. Some of them, like Isa­belle Nguy­en, make their own mer­chand­ising, embroid­er­ing their logo on T‑shirts from sec­ond­ary cir­cuits. It is often the eco­nom­ic argu­ment that leads to “Do It Your­self” and there­fore to vir­tu­ous prac­tices. But there are obstacles: it is cheap­er to buy Tshirts from Bangladesh…

With­in this Slash pro­mo­tion, there are artists com­ing from Por­tugal, Ger­many, Eng­land, Italy. In your dis­cus­sions with them, did you feel that there were dif­fer­ences between coun­tries on these issues?

Yes, really. In France, we have a lot of debate on envir­on­ment­al issues. I would even say that there is no longer a trade show where the sub­ject is not dis­cussed, as the uni­ons in par­tic­u­lar have taken up these issues. But in some coun­tries, this is still not the case. Nik­las Runge told us, for example, that in Den­mark, although the Roskilde fest­iv­al is a pion­eer in terms of eco-respons­ib­il­ity, it is not very present in the debates. The Itali­an Marta del Grandi told us about the Linecheck fair in Mil­an, a con­ven­tion where pan­els are set up on these issues. But in East­ern Europe, for example, they have oth­er pri­or­it­ies. As someone who has lived in Poland, I can tell you that, there, it is more a mat­ter of act­iv­ism… In Ger­many, the sub­ject is very import­ant. The music depart­ment of the Goethe Insti­tute has cre­ated a pilot pro­ject, “Tour­ing Green”, which fin­ances eco-respons­ible tours for artists liv­ing in the coun­try. I keep a watch­ful eye on all the good ini­ti­at­ives like this one, because fund­ing is still the key to suc­cess. Until last June, we pub­lished them on our Face­book account, but we were hacked. While wait­ing to get our page back, we now do it via Linked­in or via our news­let­ter, but it’s not the same community.

Links: Linked­In, The Green Room website

Slash Program

Slash is a Europe-wide train­ing pro­gram build-up by Trem­po with the great sup­port of SACEM. It aims to train emer­ging pro­fes­sion­al musi­cians in their career devel­op­ment. It is co-fin­anced by the European Uni­on through its Cre­at­ive Europe pro­gram (Music Moves Europe).

The European Commission’s sup­port for the pro­duc­tion of this pub­lic­a­tion does not con­sti­tute an endorse­ment of the con­tents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Com­mis­sion can­not be held respons­ible for any use which may be made of the inform­a­tion con­tained therein.