Music Industry Goes Green Despite Limited Impact On Sales

The biggest brands across all aspects of the music business are changing their environmental habits. But unlike other consumer-oriented industries, music's embrace of its inner environmentalist has not necessarily translated to an increase in the bottom line.

"I'm hard-pressed to think of a situation where being green translates into sales, but it translates into a more satisfied consumer," Bill Werde, deputy editor of Billboard, tells Marketing Daily. "If you buy the record or go to a concert that is environmentally friendly and it creates a guilt-free experience--I'm having a good time and doesn't it make me feel better?--that builds better relationships with the customer.

"At the end of the day, I don't know that releasing an album with an environmentally friendly package sells more music. People will spend money on the artist and events that they want to see or hear, and it has less to do with the environmental message," he says.

Still, the green message's resonance with consumers can't be underestimated, and marketers and brands in the music industry want to be associated with that, Werde says, highlighting a slew of changes in environmental practices within the industry.



While it was once incumbent on the artists to put a voice to the green movement, now music labels, branded tour packages like the Vans Warped tour, and brands like CLIF Bar, whose GreenNotes program sponsors green artists and tours, are going green.

"Every major label is on board in one way or another in corporate-wide greening efforts, ranging from the less sexy but viable copying on both sides of the paper to the use of energy-efficient light bulbs," Werde says.

In a more direct effort, Warner Music Group and EMI, two of the top four major labels, are working with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on a series of greening initiatives in North America. The NRDC also serves as a consultant to an unnamed environmental agency advising Sony-owned companies on environmental policies. Universal Music Group, however, works independently on its green initiatives, following directives from parent company Vivendi.

Some changes have included EMI greening its Grammy party and revising its transportation policy to include more hybrid vehicles, spurred by Grammy-nominated artist KT Tunstall's refusal to make public appearances in SUVs for her label.

One of the most significant changes the labels can have on their environmental practices would be the elimination of the jewel case--the plastic square that most CDs are packaged in.

"The labels are working with key distribution partners and retailers--the Wal-Marts and Best Buys, which represent two-thirds of all record sales--to kill the jewel box, which everyone hates," Werde says.

"The stores that sell CDs are set up to sell CDs in those cases, so if you switch to more environmentally friendly paper sleeve packages, they fall through the wiring and you have to change the displays overall. There are major logistical challenges that need to be addressed, but phasing out the jewel case is huge."

With the preponderance of MP3 players and the ensuing proliferation of downloadable music, the question arises: How much longer will physical CD sales factor into the equation of environmental impact?

With the move to digital music, the industry may be exchanging one type of environmentally destructive practice for another. With 200 million MP3 players sold globally in 2006, there are a lot of heavy metal, plastic and chemical-based devices out there for which there are limited recycling plans.

"A lot of people assume that the digital future is a panacea for environmental issues but it's not the case," Werde says, pointing to Greenpeace's recent excoriation of the environmentally irresponsible practices of Apple, seller of 100 million iPods.

"When Greenpeace says that Apple puts crap into the environment, it reflects back to the positioning of your brand," he explains. "If, like Apple, your brand is known as hip, savvy and aware, your environmental practices need to be consistent with that."

Werde points out that Sony recently unveiled a few different eco-friendly product prototypes, including headphones and a solar-powered battery charger. "That Sony is finding solutions to these problems shows that companies are waking up to the consumer market's desire to be more environmentally responsible citizens."

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