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Julie’s Bicycle takes the heat out of music

Julie’s Bicycle has been striving to make music greener since its inception in 2007; and JB’s operations director Catherine Langabeer reveals to Paul Watson that SustainabilityAV could be the perfect platform to get its message to the masses…

Since its inception in 2007, Julie’s Bicycle has grown enormously, having now worked directly with more than 500 companies across the live and recorded music sector in a bid to make music greener and reduce carbon footprint. With SustainabilityAV around the corner, JB’s operations director Catherine Langabeer believes that now is the ideal time to get its environmental message across to the musical masses. Paul Watson reports… So, tell me about Julie’s Bicycle… We are ultimately a non-biased, not-for-profit independent organisation that could be a very neutral source of advice in reducing carbon emissions in the music industry. We spent the first couple of years doing a lot of really intense research which enabled us to get to know a huge number of companies; and that’s how Julie’s Bicycle emerged. And how have you been getting that message across? We’ve worked directly with at least 500 companies across the live and recorded music sector; and we have audited quite a broad range of creative companies across the music industry in the UK, and increasingly abroad. We’re very much about translating what everyone’s hearing about climate change and presenting it to the music industry; trying to bridge that massive gap: the perception that there is an environmental issue, and then actually doing something about it. So what can you do exactly – and can you summarise what you’ve achieved so far? OK. First of all we looked at the main hot-spots of impact, which are broken down to a range of areas: venue energy; festival energy; audience travel; and CD manufacturing. Over the last couple of years we did a lot in venue energy use and created two free online tools. Both do slightly different things and help venues target their energy use and see if the changes they make are having an impact: it could be changing all the lighting and being able to then check what impact that has on their overall energy programme, for example. And audience travel is a really tricky one; travelling in a car can be an OK way of getting to an event if it’s full, but car occupancy levels are still quite low on average: about 2.3 per-vehicle – obviously not as good as a full coach or a train carriage. One of the main points we’re trying to address now is how to get everyone into a car, or even better, shift them to public transport. And you’re pushing for greener CD manufacturing… Yes. We found massive differences between polystyrene dual-cases and cardboard packaging; even if you still had a plastic tray in there it’s at least two-thirds less carbon emissions in sourcing and manufacturing the materials into the case, so we’ve done a lot of work with the majors and some big indie labels to see where they can change the way they’re doing things. It’s tricky, as we’re working in declining markets, but we have made some very good progress. There are tweaks that are being made and that’s continuing. So let’s talk about Industry Green… Industry Green [or the IG mark] is about supporting continual improvement; and one of the main ways of doing that is to cut your emissions, so for a venue or a festival we’re looking at all the areas that produce carbon emissions. The main things are energy use, water waste and audience travel. What a festival has to do to get the IG mark is to show that they’re measuring and understanding what their impacts are; that they’ve got some sort of system in place and can show how they will improve it. It’s one thing to track something and another to put in place new initiatives and process to improve. So what kind of changes have people been making in 2010? We had a really interesting time with the festivals this year because they had to really look hard at what was going to make a change. Some of them have gone for more environmentally-friendly toilets and some have worked really hard on the car occupancy levels; some have sourced more bio-diesel than they have in previous years, and some did a lot more with on-site renewables from some of these emerging suppliers that provide solar powered batteries and so on. There’s a real mix of initiatives, but the main thing is they have to sit down and predict an estimate of what they’re going to save, and how they’re going to save it; and we can track them year on year, and get a little tougher on it in terms of accountability, so it’s not just a big PR splash. You’re presenting at PSNE’s SustainabilityAV virtual conference on 3rd December – what kind of presentation should we expect? The piece of the puzzle that was always missing was the impact of touring. We did a piece of research earlier in the year, and what emerged clearly is that touring is a really tricky area to reduce your impact, because by definition, you’re travelling. You need to work across the supply chain of the whole touring infrastructure to make a difference; and SustainabilityAV has come at a really good time for us to share our findings, because there’s a lot of interest in producing lower impact tours, but not a lot of requests going out yet – no planning or seeking out. There are some innovations that inevitably come with technological improvements and saving costs – you know, a lot of kit is smaller now, so you don’t need as many trucks to transport it. But on the other hand, are enough people really asking enough for those innovations and planning for it sufficiently? We need to see more demand for green products and services and better promotion of existing products and services from their manufacturers and suppliers. To make more people sit up and listen – it’s a case of generating more pro-activity in general? That’s right – and I think on both sides, in fact: a more pro-active offering from the manufacturers and suppliers, and more anticipation of what the market might want. We need more active marketing, more requests coming through from the production managers, and more pro-active discussions between the production managers and the managers actually. So that’s your focal point at SusAV? That’s certainly going to be one of our big messages. We think SusAV provides an opportunity to get the conversation started at a really early stage. People won’t yet be looking at environmental costs. What we’ll be doing in the conference is presenting some of the findings from that touring report and also presenting our online tool for measuring the impacts of touring. That’s something free that tour managers can use and that we want to see more and more people using. What does it do exactly?
It enables you to track the carbon impact of the tour – you could do it as a planning exercise, so it doesn’t have to be the actual data – and find out what your impacts would be. It encourages you to look at what the impact of your transport would be: what’s the cost of taking four trucks instead of six?; and also allows you to make sure you have a fixed figure for your show power demand. Often, unless you’re doing a really big show that you’re certain will exceed the hosting venue’s demands, you don’t know what energy impact your show actually has. You just know ‘it’ll work in this venue’ or ‘we did it last year and it worked fine’. Looks like you’ll be raising a few eyebrows on December 3rd then… We hope so. Julies Bicycle is saying to the industry ‘this is important to get to grips with’. We want to help and offer impartial advice to all people within the industry – and get them to talk to each other! All these lines of communication between manufacturers and artists and so on need to be addressed, which means there’s a huge amount of work that needs to be done to start to raise awareness. A lot of what we’re saying is ‘talk to each other – get measuring, and see what’s out there’. SustainabilityAV is an online conference which will be co-hosted by PSNE and Installation Europe on Friday 3rd December. To view the online demonstration, please contact a member of the sales team:, Tel: (0)20 7921 8316, Tel: (0)20 7921, Tel: (0)20 7921 8672