Touring Green: How (and Why) to Keep Life on the Road Earth Friendly
As I’ve written before, I love touring. One thing that often weighs on my mind, though, is how incredibly unsustainable it is to make my living by driving a loaded-down minivan all over the country. In the wake of the recent UN report on the increasingly dire state of our planet’s climate, I’ve been thinking about what I can possibly do to help mitigate the effects of climate change and global warming (short of seizing and dismantling the fossil fuel industry — which, for the record, I would do if I could).
My bandmates and I are constantly trying to improve our sustainability on tour, though it’s an uphill battle. One of the most difficult aspects of touring is finding food — quick, healthy meals are often difficult to find, and it’s tempting to buy gas-station snacks at every stop, which obviously creates a high volume of trash. We have a friend who carries around a large Ziploc bag in which he keeps all the trash he creates, as a means of radically reducing his waste. I also know of a few bands who have toured in vehicles retrofitted to run on vegetable oil or biodiesel. We’re not quite that hardcore (although maybe we should be).
We do bring reusable water bottles and coffee cups everywhere we go, though, which has helped us hugely cut down on waste. We refuse bottled water at venues, and we always have our trusty water bottles with us onstage. Contigo makes travel mugs that are so well-insulated that your coffee will stay hot for basically the rest of your life. I also bought an insulated steel pint cup at a music festival last summer and have used it for almost every iced coffee I’ve had since then. Once you start drinking cold beverages from insulated containers, you really can’t go back.
Sometimes you hear the siren call of a bottle of Vitamin Water, though, or the bottle of Starbucks cold brew that will surely taste better than the gas-station coffee. I am trying to get better at resisting the lure of single-use plastics. When I do buy single-serve drinks, I try to buy ones that come in glass or aluminum, which are both better for the environment than plastic. I also don’t buy travel-sized toiletry items — I have a set of silicone travel-sized bottles that I refill before every tour. So much of sustainability is about making these small switches that add up over time.
As for food, we keep our trusty aluminum sporks at the ready to avoid using plastic cutlery, and we make time to stop for meals served in actual dishware rather than create trash from fast food. (Our go-tos are the Whole Foods hot bar and Panera Bread, which both serve quick, reliable healthy meals — bring your own Tupperware to Whole Foods.) Buying snack foods in larger quantities cuts down on waste, and also helps you choose healthier options — I cannot tell you the number of rice cakes smeared with avocado or peanut butter I’ve eaten in the tour van. I’ve been a lifelong vegetarian, and the rest of the band has recently been cutting down their consumption of animal products as well.
These considerations are perhaps especially important for touring musicians, whose career is inherently unsustainable, but they’re good things for everyone to think about. My band’s sustainability efforts on the road have led to more sustainability efforts in my everyday life. (I just bought Trader Joe’s new reusable waxed cotton food wraps, which are a delightful product that I highly recommend. Take that, Saran Wrap.)
Climate change is an issue I think about constantly — I have a lot of time in the van to panic about it. I’ve come to the conclusion that while it’s foolish at best to blame the climate crisis on individual consumption habits rather than the 100 companies responsible for 71% of carbon emissions, every bit of sustainability helps. Our culture has an addiction to convenience that manifests in hugely wasteful habits, and we have the power to change those habits — think of how effective the anti-smoking campaigns were a few decades ago, and how that limited the incredible power of tobacco corporations. I don’t mean to preach — actually, yeah, I do! This issue matters too much to me to worry about whether people will balk at my tone.
The effects of climate change and global warming cannot be stopped, only mitigated, which means every drop in the bucket adds up and we are all responsible for doing what we can. That doesn’t start and end with bringing reusable tote bags to Whole Foods, though. It continues with electing candidates who prioritize serious action on a sustainable future, and constantly pressuring the candidates we have elected, and the people around us, to do more. This is where we artists have an opportunity to make up for all the gasoline we use on the road: using our platform to increase awareness and galvanize action. And here I’ve arrived at my standard disclaimer: If you don’t like your artists to get political, you are welcome to listen to Taylor Swift instead. Although I guess I should update my standard disclaimer — even Taylor Swift is getting political these days. It’s a tough time to be complacent, and I like it that way.