All human activities are grappling with an ecological transition that consists in producing goods and services while respecting the environment. Sustainability is declined in every way and more and more often we also talk about sustainable music in the transition between analogue and digital. What are the issues facing the music industry to reduce the impact on the environment of online song distribution and concerts?
There sustainable music it concerns attention to the environment in the production and distribution phases of songs and in the realization of events, but it becomes central to communication. As with any other product for songs, there is the problem of reducing the waste of materials and energy, but then, on the positive side, the ability of music to convey ideas and awareness remains.
Is music sustainable?
The relationship between music and sustainability it touches on topics that have social, cultural and economic implications. Attention to the environment must also be an opportunity for economic growth and development and concern all consumer goods, be it cars, fashion and even music. Digital and streaming are advancing in every audio and video sector and have taken the place of physical media such as compact discs and vinyl.
The major music streaming services offer millions of songs at a fraction of the cost. The effects on the record market of the digital age were devastating at the beginning, but for the relationship between music and the environment, are there any advantages or disadvantages compared to the past? It doesn’t take much to discover that even online songs are not zero-impact and are only apparently intangible.
Many studies believe that online streaming and music are even more harmful to the environment than vinyl and CDs made of polluting plastic. In fact, to listen to music and watch films, smartphones, tablets, PCs, mp3 players or headphones are used, and a thousand other devices built with decidedly polluting materials and plastics that sooner or later end up in landfills. Pollution and global warming are there for all to see, but the electronic products market is worth billions of dollars.
Years ago, Greenpeace indicted Apple iPods as the components used a variety of harmful chemicals and plastics. But in the age of streaming, the biggest problems come from the millions of computers that contain the files online. Data on the environmental impact of the online digital revolution say that data centers depend on coal pollutant for 54.5% (Apple), Facebook (53.2%), IBM (51.6%), HP (49, 4%) and those of Twitter for 45.2%.
Impact of streaming
L’impact of streaming it goes beyond the use of songs and concerns all online content. At first glance, the digitization of content should have eliminated the plastic of CDs and packaging and the waste of resources. Without physical music supports, there is no need for transport to shops, just as without moving from home you can listen to all kinds of songs, watch films, rather than read newspapers and magazines or play online consoles.
Yet according to a study conducted by the University of Glasgow entitled The cost of music, the environmental impact of music has greatly increased in recent years. While streaming plastic usage has shrunk from 61 million kilograms to around 8 million today, the music industry has more than doubled greenhouse gas emissions. One of the main reasons is that there has been an exponential growth in the consumption of online songs offered almost for free in every area of the world by online platforms.
The functioning of the streaming of music, cinema, video games and any other content, is based on data centers which are nothing more than millions of computers connected to the network on which files of songs, films, photos, videos, sites, software and app. As technology advances, data centers require more power and more and more energy to manage the huge flow of data for on-the-cloud operations using 5G connections and artificial intelligence.
One data center it requires the same energy as a medium-sized city. Netflix consumes as much as 40,000 American homes in a year to offer streaming movies. The entire video traffic of the world consumes in a year as a nation. Ten minutes of use of high-definition streaming videos have an impact on consumption such as three minutes of using an oven at maximum power, 1500 times the recharging of a smartphone or 5 hours spent sending emails.
Does digital music pollute?
The digital economy is worth over a billion dollars in America alone but the digital technologies as a whole they pollute more than space ones with a carbon footprint of 4% against 2.5% of aviation. Suffice it to say that around the world 10 billion emails are sent every hour with a consumption of about 50 gigawatt hours (GWh): the energy needed to travel 4000 times the Paris to New York route by plane.
According to Greenpeace, the internet technology sector consumes 7% of global energy. In total, this is 30 billion watts which represents 27% of carbon emissions due to technology. According to a study on the digital transition, the C02 emission due to the technology sector in 2008 was 2%, in 2020 it became 3.7%. In 2025 it will be 8.5% while another research predicts it will reach 14% by 2040.
Apple, Facebook, Google and all the big online companies try to power data centers with renewable energy but still produce a lot of heat and cooling them is the biggest problem. This is why they are built in cold places like Google’s in Hamina, Finland, cooled with seawater. Microsoft also plans to move its servers in huge cylinders under the sea.
To date the ITC sector it represents the fifth consumer state of resources in the world and according to research published by Cisco, things will only increase in the future. Internet of things and applications that exploit artificial intelligence thanks to 5G technology will further levitate consumption and machine to machine connections from the current 1.2 billion to 3.2 billion in 2023. These calculations do not include the production of devices and their disposal.
L’impact of music Has the environment improved or worsened in the streaming era? Kyle Devine, a musicologist at the University of Oslo, explains this in the book Decomposed. He says that since 1950, when the first 78 rpm vinyls appeared on the market, listening to music has always been based on the exploitation of petroleum derivatives. Now that physical records have been replaced by data, things for the environment are no better.
More than 50% of the world’s population surfs the internet and many people listen to songs online, so much so that the estimated greenhouse gases produced by music are 350 million kilos per year. It is not easy to imagine the impact of four billion listeners, but the mere thought would suggest that cds and above all old vinyls were even more ecological than streaming.
In fact, the recent boom in vinyl records has increased the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a petroleum-derived plastic that contains carcinogens. The largest PVC-producing factory is based in Thailand and has already been indicted by Greenpeace and the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for waste water and toxic gases.
In addition to how, there is also the way in which the songs are listened to. Contrary to the disposable logic of streaming music, for entire generations vinyl and CDs contained dreams, passions and personal identity to be preserved, and no one would ever throw them in the trash. Even the high price of 33 rpm or CDs suggested keeping them with loving care while today the only truly sustainable music seems to be silence.
Since the theme of sustainable music has become central to communication, many artists are adopting a different approach also in their studio and live music productions. Songs will not be able to save the planet but surely the words of the artists are a powerful means of cultural promotion and many of them are spent in defense of the environment.
The project developed by Music innovation hub in collaboration with the Politecnico di Milano contains, for example, guidelines for live events. Rather than limiting the damage to the territory from an environmental point of view, the attempt is to consider the value of the concerts on the community also on the social level by bringing together artistic and professional planning based on sustainable, anti-waste and inclusive choices concerning the event as a whole. complex.
From the choice of the concert area in areas to be recovered, to merchandising up to the creation of Green Village where you can discuss environmental issues but also consume zero kilometer food, everything is aimed at involving the public in fundamental choices for the future of the earth. After the era of great political ideals, music remain central as a creator of identity
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