Is Coldplay’s first sustainability report an award winner?

Dear Chris Martin,

I know you’re an avid reader of CorpComms, so this is a gentle plea to consider entering Coldplay’s first sustainability report into the Corporate Reporting Awards. I’ll even do a deal with you: I’ll forgo the entry fee if the band plays a short set at the presentation ceremony. Can’t say fairer than that!

To be honest, not that the judges would be starstruck – these are trained professionals, after all, and I’m afraid some may actually prefer Keane – but I think you’d stand a real chance at winning. For a start, visually the report is stunning – and the judges always consider design and imagery – but with your artistic background, I shouldn’t be surprised.

Also, your objective is very clear: to make the Music of Our Spheres Tour as sustainable and low-carbon as possible, guided by three key principles: reduce, reinvent, restore. Not for you the complicated jargon or convoluted language that sustainability reports often use – this is written for sustainability virgins, as it were, using a clear and compelling narrative.

If I was bopping along to Yellow at your concert, I’d be thrilled to discover that my LED wristband comprises 100 per cent compostable, plant-based materials and that by collecting, sterilising, and recharging them after each show, you’ve reduced production by 80 per cent. (It would be higher, but there’s always a handful of fans who keep wristbands as mementos, rather than buying your merch, which has been ethically sourced and supplied by jolly good people, who pay their staff well and follow ethical working practices – as your report highlights.)

As for the world’s first mobile, rechargeable show battery, developed in partnership with BMW, the use of biofuels in your trucks, kinetic floors that convert fans’ dancing into energy, new generation sustainable pyrotechnics and solar photovoltaic panels – what can I say? The judges would love the creativity and commitment, like your determination to maximise water efficiency, with a sustainability rider that includes low flushing toilets and reducing water pressure.

It’s also great that you’ve put those past bad experiences behind you. Remember when Coldplay tried to partly offset environmental damage caused by the production of the A Rush of Blood album by planting 10,000 mango trees in southern India?

These mango trees would, it was claimed, soak up carbon dioxide emissions and help to improve the livelihoods of local farmers. And for the princely sum of £17.50, fans could even invest in the Coldplay Forest. They received a lovely certificate (in a tube, no less) to remind them of how they were doing good.

The only problem was that they didn’t. I don’t blame you, Chris. But you didn’t really think that initiative through; at least 40 per cent of the trees died. Quite simply they needed water, and the Coldplay Forest was planted on dry and rocky land in a region suffering one of the longest droughts on record. Also, the farmers who received the saplings didn’t get further support or even basics, like fertiliser. They couldn’t afford to keep them alive.

But I’m sure you’ve learned from this error. As your spokesperson said at the time, you were a band on tour – how could you be expected to monitor a forest? And from your report, which is far more wide-ranging than simply tree planting, you’ve realised the futility of such actions by themselves.

Indeed, your action plan moves from measure to reduce to mitigate and, only then, CO2 drawdown, where initiatives include rewilding, conservation and soil regeneration, and one tree planted per ticket sold but – and here’s the kicker – with ‘lifelong protection’. And they’re being planted in areas that have been deforested or degraded, and thus in need of healthy new trees.

The simple truth is that tours, while popular with fans, are not great for the environment. Remember O2’s 360° tour, which ran over two years, 110 concerts and five continents? It’s said to have generated 65,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide – equivalent to a passenger plane flying 34 million miles, or around 3,100 flights between London and Sydney.

It’s been estimated that the average Brit flying from London to Sydney (in an economy seat) would need to plant around 278 trees to offset their emissions. With around 250 seats per flight, then we’re looking at well over 210 million trees… I don’t see mangos working here, do you?

The reality is, as this report makes clear, tackling carbon emissions is a multi-layered task. It requires innovations, such as your use of palm-oil free HVO-type biofuel, a renewable diesel made out of wastes such as cooking oil. If all goes well, you will reduce emissions from both power generation and transportation – as much as 95 per cent for the latter.

You’re even considering audience travel, your Scope 3 emissions as it were, creating an app to encourage fans to use low carbon transport, which also serves to  help calculate the total carbon footprint of your audience’s journeys to and from a show.

None of this is easy. But by being so transparent, others will be able to learn from your approach. You’re working with Green Nation, who have committed to share sustainable practices developed on the tour with the music industry in the hope they will be adopted elsewhere.

As I say, I think your first sustainability report stands a real chance of doing well in the Corporate Reporting Awards.

The deadline is 28 July. I’ve checked your schedule and your last show on this leg of the tour is 19 July, before resuming in November, so it seems like you’ve got time to enter.

We’ve kept things simple: we only want four bullet points on what makes this report stand out – I think I’ve already done most of the work for you, so no excuses.

Best of luck,