Reverb, a non profit founded by the musician Adam Garner and his wife Lauren Sullivan, has the mission to make festivals and touring as environmentally friendly as possible. They provide the money, commitment and manpower that the bands or organisers couldn’t.
They recycle, compost, buy local food, advise on how to avoid waste, make sure sustainable products are used down to the soap, carbon offset, use biofuel, provide solar power charge stations for phones, educate fans, encourage people to car pool or recycle, collect contacts and money from fans for different charities – and all of it in collaboration with bands. Some of the bigger ones they work with are the Dave Matthews Band, Maroon 5 and Jack Johnson.
Here some numbers they provide:
Lara – the Director of Projects from Reverb – was so sweet to take some time out of her busy schedule to talk to me. She was so enthusiastic, I almost didn’t have to ask any questions, she anticipated most of them. It all just spilled out of her. I don’t think I ever had to pause and replay a recording so many times to correctly cite somebody – she spoke so quickly. You could hear her commitment and how much she stands behind what they do. I couldn’t be more thankful for what they do either and if there is any way this helps at least one more band or venue to approach them, I’d be as happy as can be.
Could you give us a short introduction of how Reverb started exactly?
Lara: We are a small non profit based in Portland, Maine and we are founded by Adam Gardner from the Band Guster and his wife Lauren Sullivan who is an environmentalist. She has worked for other environmental organizations called “actions at work” and a parks organisation in Brooklyn. They are living very sustainably at home and Adam was touring around the country as a musician realising how detrimental touring concerts specifically were on the environment. It was wasteful, it was messy and there wasn’t necessarily a lot of community engagement being done. By brainstorming together they came up with Reverb. He was working with a heads-fund and they convinced some of their fans to be their guinea pigs on the tour in 2004. Lauren followed the band on the Bare Naked Ladies Tour and tried to figure out what could happen.
Lara: Backstage we work with bands to develop a program so that their tour itself is as green as possible. We do everything to make sure that there is always recycling wherever it is needed, we collect compost in the kitchen and connect with a local farm that can take it that night, sometimes the local farmer will get tickets to the concert for coming to pick up the compost. We do carbon offsets and arrange bio refill deliveries and deal with all of the stuff that makes being greener on tour more of a pain for the people on tour. A lot of tour managers and such are already very busy and have a lot of stress and other things going on, so what we do is take all of those responsibilities off their plate and put them into one person that is on the tour.
In addition, and I think this is really where the impact is the greatest, we work with a fan facing program. We work with each band and we develop a program that they are very passionate about – the Dave Mathews Band is very passionate about supporting local farmers and non-GMO farmers, and Maroon 5 is interested in the connection between people and planet and sort of the social and environmental causes that overlap. On each concert we set up a tent or an eco-village so we can connect with their community, maybe make a donation, maybe sign a petition, maybe play a game, maybe make a social media post. It’s sort of prizes and incentives related, but it’s really powerful when you can walk up to a fan and actually speak on Dave’s behalf, as in Dave Matthews, and tell them what he cares about and see if they want to check it out. So it’s lending their voice.
We do this on every single concert on the tour and collect that kind of impact in the communities. Getting volunteers to sign up, get them to plant trees in their own neighborhoods or whatever it is, it kind of leaves this kind of trail of good work being done throughout the country.
Do you rather work with bands or also with record companies or concert locations?
Lara: We work with everyone – the mission is very much focused on the entire music industry. We work with radio stations and do carbon offsets for them – but most often our work has been with bands and their passions, because they are the ones that can really come and invite us on the tour. We work with some festivals now as well and that is a little bit less artist focused, but the real impact you have with a band. They get to walk the walk and live the sustainable life they live, backstage with the band and crew, sourcing local food and all these things that they want to be doing and then in addition we can engage their fans to have an impact, when there are a million of fans going to concerts across the course of a summer. Everyone can do a little thing where we keep it really positive and that adds up to a large impact.
How do you finance your efforts? Is it mostly donations?
Lara: It’s a whole variety. Sometimes we have partners that are likeminded and have a message that they wanna share, whether they are nonprofits or for profits. Maybe a company that offers reusable water bottles just trying to spread the message “non-reusable water bottles end up to 80% in landfill”. Reuse has a huge impact, if everyone does that. There are some brands that we work with in that way. Sometimes it’s the bands, sometimes it’s a few added tickets to a concert. So if every fan pays 25, 50 cents or a dollar on each ticket, than that can cover what we are doing as well. Lots of different kind of pieces come together.
You mostly seem to work with bigger Bands. Would you also work with venues, clubs record labels, or smaller bands if they’d approach you?
Lara: For sure! We talk to anybody about anything. We talked to Cirque du Soleil recently, but that doesn’t really translate to the concert tour, but there are definitely things that we can help them with and because we are nonprofit we’re mission based so we’re not about making money on it, it’s just enough to support what we do and making it work.
Everybody is very busy who works in the music industry and they need somebody to come in and actually do the work. We have had a variety of different information pieces out “ If you are a small band here’s things that you can do”. And we are happy to advice on best practices, we also do work directly with the venues. Sometimes in the summer we have a permanent eco-village with three or four different venues where every night we set up on a different concert that comes. It sometime is such a good thing to have an impact that there’s no lack of different ways to attack the subject matter.
Most friends I know that are in the music industry, band members, vinyl stores, concert venues and clubs, they all struggle and barely make profit. How do you convince businesses to jump on board? What would you recommend them? What makes a change possible?
Lara: The venues that we work with that are the greenest end up being the ones that someone on staff is passionate about it, so they take it on them as a mission, because it does take an extra step sometimes to look at your purchases and consider them on another level, just like being green in any other industry does. So we encourage them to do that, we provide resources. Every venue we go to we try to leave a little bit of education. We work with bands and their riders (Editor’s note: requests or demands formulated by artists), which is basically an addition to their contract where they list sometimes what they want in their dressing rooms or what they want to eat, any special furniture or lighting, whatever the bands want, it goes on this rider. And we actually attack on greening elements about it, integrating it into their catering pieces and also those specific things like try to implement a no idling policy at your venue, using more sustainable soaps and cleaning products. We ask the venues to do so each time, so that as these tours go, and we do hundreds and hundreds of shows each year, we’re able to see these venues over and over again and help them to integrate these practices a bit at a time. Because, as you probably very well know, to use earth friendly options is a lot of times much more expensive. So it’s about finding what benefit it has, for example that the artist is happier or whatever benefit it might be. Sometimes it takes some convincing and it’s a slow project, but we’ve definitely seen a huge turning in the tides.
Reverb: Thank you so much for your time and what you do! Really, really appreciate it!
What you can do?
Go to their homepage to find out more! Like them on Facebook! Follow them on Instagram! Ask your local venue or a band you know or when you are at a concert what they do! Ask yourself what you can do! The more people are aware of their power and how much of an impact these small choices can have the more will act on it!
A recent campaign Reverb did together with two band members from Maroon 5 was around raising awareness to where the wood in your instruments comes from. They flew to where the wood comes from and found out that 30% of the wood is lodged illegally. “We don’t think where the furniture comes from. We don’t think where the wood for our instruments come from”. When you buy something, you support a business. So ask your store where the wood comes from. If you buy anything, ask where the materials come from.
Here the Short Documentary – Instruments of Change: Lessons from the Rainforest
So when you buy something, no matter what it is, try to think how it got to you and try to see the bigger picture, is all I can advice! Ask the vendor. It’s hard. I forget about it all the time. But the more often you think of the small things, the more it becomes a part of you. And the more small changes you make, the more you help to make the world a better place!
I hope you like it and I would love to hear your thoughts and stories!