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Ninja Tune boss uses AIM AGM speech to call on music community to do more to tackle climate change

By | Published on Monday 14 October 2019

Peter Quicke

Ninja Tune boss Peter Quicke used his speech as Chair of the Association Of Independent Music at the trade body’s AGM last week to put the spotlight on the climate emergency, and the ways in which the music community can help make a difference.

With knowledge and trust the theme of the AGM, he urged music businesses to put their trust in experts on climate issues, such as the charity Julie’s Bicycle. And also to utilise the knowledge it, AIM and others have compiled explaining how music companies, including small independents operating on tight budgets, can ensure that their operations are as environmentally sustainable as possible.

He told the AGM: “I need to talk about the climate crisis because it is the most important issue facing all of us. I’ve promised my children that I will do what I can to redress the damage our generation has visited on the world – and I’m sure that you feel the same way – so please bear with me”.

Citing various studies from and predictions being made by climate experts, he added: “It’s easy to look at the science and think that the situation is hopeless. That may be true – but we have two choices – either we ignore it and do nothing – or feel some power and agency and start making a difference”.

“Probably the most important thing we can do is to encourage and support artists to use their public voice – their fanbase – to call for change”, he observed, before dealing with the backlash some musicians have faced after calling for action on climate change. A backlash that often focuses on the amount of air travel a touring artist clocks up.

“Artists must be able to trust that we will support them against the cries of hypocrisy from trolls and populist media for air travel”, Quick added. “We should support an artist’s use of air travel where it’s necessary for their careers – efficiently routed and offset, of course. Artist’s live performances can’t become a thing of the past, and we don’t want to encourage fans to fly around the world to see artists who won’t travel”.

Once prepared to deal with such criticisms, he said, “artists should use their international platform to urge their fans towards climate action”.

But music companies also need to take action themselves, he insisted, before providing an assortment of practical steps such companies could take in the months ahead. “An important step is simply to talk about the issue where we can – talk to our colleagues, to staff, to artists, to our suppliers. Ask your pressing plants, shipping agents, banks, pension providers what their sustainability policies are. We need to keep asking – and to move our business where necessary”.

Focusing in on something very specific to the music sector, Quicke went on: “We almost certainly don’t have to stop producing vinyl and CDs – they are not single use plastics after all. But we do need to know how to produce and distribute them with minimum footprint”.

“Knowing that the emissions created by CD jewel cases are 20 times that of card sleeves is what has pushed many of us to stop releasing CDs in jewel cases. That knowledge came from a piece of research by Julie’s Bicycle several years ago – clearly the switch away from jewel cases is an important part of what labels and artists can do to reduce their footprint”.

“We need to move away from air freight – press records in the EU and the USA where we can – spend money on two lots of origination rather than on transatlantic shipping. Press vinyl on 140g not 180g. And somehow we need to stop the perfectionist culture of returning records if there is a small fault or dink on its sleeve – vinyl nerds of the world unite around imperfect print! Don’t shrinkwrap twelve-inch singles – most distributors no longer require this. And switch to a green courier – one that uses electric vehicles”.

Meanwhile, no one should assume that streaming doesn’t impact on the environment too, given the power required to run all those servers. “A big challenge is to de-carbonise streaming”, Quicke continued.

“Spotify’s and Apple’s servers are already running on 100% renewable energy. We can each ensure that our own electricity supply is 100% renewable – perhaps by signing up to the AIM-endorsed Creative Energy Programme. But we need to lobby to ensure that the entire internet in between is powered by renewables – that’s an enormous battle – but one that we can win if climate moves to the top of everyone’s agenda”.

Of course, even achieving some or all of this won’t stop artists and their business partners from having a negative impact on their environment. Which is where ‘offsetting’ comes in. “We need to offset to balance the emissions we are less able to avoid, like air travel”. Working out what the best offsetting solutions are can be tricky, Quicke conceded, though he pointed AIM members to the Gold Standard initiative for advice.

This was also an area where the AIM community could help, he added, citing the artist-led FEAT initiative in Australia as inspiration. Concluding, Quicke stated: “AIM can help research possibilities for members to invest in wind power or the like over here to boost the green economy – and perhaps also make a return at some point! The key is knowing what the most effective actions are. AIM, together with Julie’s Bicycle, will provide better answers in the coming year. If we act together we can make a real difference. And good luck to us all – let’s hope we can turn the world around”.

Further ideas on what artists and music companies can do to mitigate their impact on the environment is available on the website of the AIM and Ninja Tune supported Music Declares Emergency campaign.