“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.