British band Coldplay is trying to turn its fans into climate rock stars with an app that rewards them for taking low-carbon transportation to concerts during the group’s current world tour.
There were 80,000 downloads of the smartphone app during the first leg of the 2022 tour, according to Coldplay, and the band says estimated emissions from fan travel fell nearly 50% compared to its 2016-2017 shows. A review of those numbers, though, indicates the limits of using motivational apps to calculate and offset carbon emissions.
Coldplay says it aims to make its “Music of the Spheres” tour as sustainable as possible. To that end the band is doing everything from installing solar arrays at concert venues to traveling via biofueled jets and electric vehicles.
Much of a global tour’s carbon footprint, however, is made by the tens of thousands of fans traveling to see the band. The app developed by SAP SE shows fans their estimated carbon emissions for a round trip to a show if they travel by car, train, plane, bicycle and other forms of transportation. Concertgoers are encouraged to choose a climate-friendly mode of travel and those who do so receive a code for 10% off Coldplay merchandise.
The transportation data collected by the app is used to calculate the audience’s carbon footprint. “We pledge to drawdown all of these emissions via nature-based solutions like rewilding and conservation,” the band says on its concert website, stating that it will also plant and sustain at least one tree for each ticket sold.
“Generally these type of small incentives tend to have a small effect,” said Seth Wynes, a postdoctoral fellow at Concordia University in Montreal who researches consumer behavior and climate change. “Transportation tends to be habit-driven. I would expect a few people to change their minds about how they travel to a show — just not a ton of them.”
He also noted that nothing would prevent fans from pledging to travel by train, for instance, so they could collect a discount on Coldplay swag and then on the day of the concert drive an SUV to the venue, which would skew the band’s carbon calculations.
SAP senior vice president Ferose V R said “that is always a possibility” but noted that “our goal was to create awareness by providing very gentle nudges.”
“If you can change one person’s mindset, that’s a good starting point,” he added. “Sometimes we don’t realize that when a band like Coldplay does it and it multiplies over hundreds of thousands of fans, it can have a significant effect.”
The app’s calculation of fans’ carbon footprint is based on UK “conversion factors” that convert emissions from various types of transportation into estimates of pounds of CO₂ emitted per person. But such conversion factors differ for transportation in other parts of the world where Coldplay is touring, such as the United States and Latin America.
“We did an approximation, but I think it’s a reasonably good approximation,” V R said. “We have to project the data for the entire number of fans who come to a stadium. Hence, we don’t get to very accurate data for everybody.”
Emissions from 2022 are based on data collected by the app, which did not exist for the 2016-2017 tour. Emissions from those shows are estimates based on “post-event surveys, ticket information, venues and promoters in each area the previous tour visited,” according to a statement provided by the band’s management to Bloomberg Green. “Total distance travelled by fans in each common vehicle type was then assessed and internationally recognized carbon emission conversion factors … was used to estimate the resulting carbon footprint.”
At concerts, Coldplay has been playing its hit song “The Scientist,” with Chris Martin singing, “I was just guessing at numbers and figures.” The band’s estimate that fan emissions in the first leg of the current tour dropped almost by half from 2016-2017 is not a guess. But it is misleading, since different data and methodologies were used to calculate the carbon footprint of each tour.
Still, Wynes applauded Coldplay’s efforts to reduce the climate impact of its shows and raise concertgoers’ awareness of their transportation choices. “It might just help send a broader signal that the members of a band that potentially a lot of people idolize really care about this, and so it tells their fans that maybe it’s something that they should care about as well,” he said.
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