• Tom Huston

Music and the SDGs

Updated: Apr 21

Why We, As an Industry, Need to Partner with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Op-ed for IQ Magazine by:

Shain Shapiro, Founder and President, Sound Diplomacy

Tom Huston, Co-Founder and CEO, Gameplan Impact

19 July 2019

There are a number of initiatives across the global music industry exploring and in many cases, pioneering solutions to the global crisis we face. We have recognised the need to be good neighbours, stewards and land managers, because our businesses do not exist in a vacuum. We are impacted, and often subservient to, state and local regulation, an electrical grid, sanitation, paved roads and stable governments to succeed and profit. Without systems to build live music or festival infrastructure on, festivals don’t exist. Without careful land planning and environmental management, music venues do not get built. Our system grinds to a halt. Recognising this, a number of initiatives are addressing this and positioning our sector within the global sustainable movement. The Music Demands campaign led by Julie’s Bicycle is one. The Clean Scene initiative in the electronic music sector is another. Around the world, festivals are becoming increasingly gender equal and promoting fair play and fair play. Hundreds have joined the Keychange scheme. The multinationals, Live Nation and AEG, both have published sustainability targets across climate action, gender equality and overall sustainability.

But we are also lacking. In the music industry we rarely link our initiatives, our successes and our challenges with the outside world, or other sectors. There is no adherence to the global language of sustainability - the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals - and how we can utilise what we do to support collective sustainable, while learning from our neighbours. While we are reliant on urban and rural ecosystems to produce, promote, market and succeed, there is a lack of collaboration across global intergovernmental organisations to utilise music as a tool for sustainability. Music is markedly absent from dialogue and debate in global circles, such as the World Bank, IMF or OECD. Our relationship is based on providing entertainment, not engaging in creating global solutions. For example, there is little research exploring the role of music in disaster preparedness and hazard reduction. Only one study was commissioned to example the role of music in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The focus within the global sustainable development movement is entertainment. We put on gigs, rather than incorporate our skills - such as those required to build a town in days to accommodate a festival - to solve global problems. We believe we should do both.

We believe our business has the potential to be a global leader in sustainable development, an important distinction to the simple concept of sustainability, because it refers to the urgent need to literally rebuild the world’s systems, infrastructure and common practices of day to day existence for long-term sustainable future on planet earth. It’s all about “where do we go from here?” Which means that we need to engage more with the processes and practices that itemise, strategize and audit sustainability around the world. While it is necessary (even essentially mandatory today) to deliver no-impact events operationally, it is equally important to play an influencing role in changing attendee behaviour and demanding more from our suppliers and corporate partners. What are the lasting, long-term positive impacts that festivals can claim in between event cycles? When we understand this, we start to unlock the vital role that music can play in long-term development as a strategic partner to the municipalities and regions where we operate – significantly more important than simply being just another big event on the annual calendar. This is why we are advocating for the music sector - and in particular the live music sector - to come together and align itself with the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals by creating an SDG Music Compact - or an agreement that binds our business - and what we’re already doing - with this global movement, linking our targets and initiatives with the rest of the world.

The SDGs are a language unto themselves. 193 countries signed up to them, with targets to meet before 2030. There’s 169 sub-sections to the 17 SDGs, a granularity and resource unmatched anywhere. In fact, the SDGs represent the first truly global language for sustainability that transcends culture, language and geography, which opens up vast opportunities for data collection, categorization, tracking and reporting. It also provides clear pathways to new values/issues-based partnerships, supply chain and decision making that perhaps were previously hidden or difficult to navigate.

Most countries (and cities) around the world have SDG offices - with dedicated budgets - that focus on the most urgent social and environmental issues their specific region is facing (poverty reduction, climate action, sustainable cities, education, equality for all and other targets). Both the media and fashion sectors have signed Compacts (the UN SDG word for agreements) and it can be argued that music - as a sector - is doing more to address sustainable development, certainly in terms of our collective ability to communicate the issues and generate mass awareness and ultimately mobilization of human and financial resources. But what we lack is a formal, structured relationship to engage with the UN in a way that increases awareness, establishes credibility for our industry and our important role as part of the global solution, and importantly, providing us with a credible pathway to increase revenues and profitability for our sector.

Make no mistake, sustainability can be highly profitable. Everyone under the age of 30 knows that they are inheriting a broken planet and that the scale of our problems is reaching a tipping point. The economic opportunity is a simple supply and demand equation. There is massive demand for sustainable solutions and relatively little supply compared to the size of the problem. The Business and Sustainable Development Commission estimates the incremental (new) market for sustainable solutions will be $15 Trillion dollars globally by 2030. When approached strategically and implemented thoroughly as a core brand, communication, marketing and operations driver we position ourselves as being a legitimate part of the global solution, which is very good for long-term business stability and growth.

Being more sustainable improves bottom lines. Gameplan Impact’s model, trilled in the sports sector with events such as the 34th America’s Cup for Yachting (with Live Nation as a partner), demonstrated that sustainable thinking and action through each element of an event creates deeper more meaningful community relationships, can reduce costs over the medium term, increases sponsorship and media opportunities, makes your platform more interesting for artists and celebrities and helps your brand resonate with a larger audience. The sports industry is rapidly adopting this approach, driven by organizations such as The Green Sports Alliance and Sports for Climate Action (part of the UN’s Climate Neutral Now program).

But we lack this collective mindset, this voice. We are reducing carbon, increasing gender parity and promoting fair pay in our sector; but each action is independent of each other. If we tied them together - and created an SDG structure for music as we are doing - the awareness and impact of our practices, such as Music Demands, will have a far greater reach than our sector alone. We have the opportunity to magnify our voice and impact effectiveness via aggregation and getting ourselves organized globally around the SDGs.

To begin with, we are organising an SDG Summit at Reeperbahn Festival, on September 20th from 10am - 1pm as part of their Creative Solutions Summit. This is the first step, one of many, which will see SDGs embedded more in music to provide guidance, support and greater global awareness of what we do and why it matters. Because music is more than our industry. Music is our universal language. It is time to merge music with the universal language of sustainability.


Tom Huston

Founder & CEO

Riedweg 8

6045 Meggen - Switzerland

Phone: +41 79 481 25 66