( Reuter )- Adam Gardner has come a long way since nicknaming his band's tour bus "the Earth Eater." Last October, the Guster guitarist/vocalist, who also co-founded environmental nonprofit organization Reverb, traveled from his home in Portland, Maine, to Capitol Hill to testify in front of Congress about the benefits of biofuel to the music industry.
"I've never been more nervous in my life," Gardner recalls. But after wiping the sweat from his brow, he successfully relayed his Earth-friendly message to curious politicians in Washington, D.C. "I basically said, 'We'd love for Reverb to be out of business, as far as coordinating biodiesel for tours,"' he says. "(Artists) should be able to pull up to any ol' truck stop and get it. It shouldn't be something we have to find for tours."
Since co-founding Reverb in 2004, Gardner, who runs the nonprofit with his wife, environmentalist Lauren Sullivan, has helped turn more than 50 concert tours green, reduce 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide, distribute approximately 250,000 gallons of biodiesel and spread the Earth-conscious message to 4.5 million music fans. And his efforts won't stop there.
"The environment is on the forefront of everybody's mind right now," Gardner says. "Our job is to keep it there until it's no longer a problem." Having already "greened" tours for such acts as the Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, Linkin Park, Maroon 5, Barenaked Ladies and John Mayer, among many others, Gardner says interest continues to rise among musicians and fans who are interested in helping Mother Earth. With a baby on the way and a new Guster album in the works, Gardner found time to speak with Billboard about the benefits of biodiesel, educating concertgoers and affordable ways to green a tour.
Q: How did your invitation come about to speak in front of Congress about the benefits of biofuel?
Adam Gardner: They wanted to hear my perspective as somebody who uses biodiesel and also travels around talking about the challenges in finding it. They were very interested in what Generation Y thinks about biodiesel. So I was able to show all of the stats in how many fans participate on these tours. Originally, I think they were like, "Oh, my God. Here comes some other pseudo-celebrity who wants to show their support." But they learned that my head is really in this and I'm not just here to raise a flag.
Q: One of Reverb's main focuses is outreach to fans via eco-villages at concerts. What progress has been made on that front?
Gardner: Fans have a huge impact on a tour. Eighty-five percent of a carbon footprint (at a concert) is from fans driving to and from it. We have volunteers going out there, and they let fans know to check out all of the stuff that's happening in the eco-village and to talk to the local nonprofit groups. We also encourage them to carpool and offset their drive to and from the show. We receive donations for carbon offsets from fans at the shows. On the Dave Matthews Band's tour last summer, over 1.2 million miles of driving were neutralized by the fans.
Q: You've been playing in Guster for 16 years. When was the turning point to consciously reduce the negative environmental impact of your touring?
Gardner: Before I started thinking about environmental stuff, I remember hearing about Neil Young traveling around the country on biodiesel. That was the first time I heard about biodiesel. Of course, I assumed that biodiesel was only for superstars, because it would be too expensive and too hard to figure out. But after Reverb formed, and we sent out bands like Guster, who are not superstars, we showed that if you have a bus, you can do this.
Q: Some say biodiesel isn't as great as everyone may think. What are your thoughts?
Gardner: There are some recent question marks about biodiesel, but the biodiesel we seek out isn't being imported from the rainforest of Latin America. It's made here in the States. It's domestically produced fuel that not only decreases our dependence on foreign oil, which obviously has political implications, but also is a more environmentally friendly fuel that has way less emissions than petroleum.
There are a number of feedstocks for biodiesel. A lot of it in this country is made from soybeans. But some places -- like a biodiesel plant that's about to go into business here in Portland, Maine -- collect wasted vegetable oil from restaurants that would otherwise be thrown away. So that's really eco-friendly. Even when you consider soybeans, a recent study from the Department of Energy shows that there's a 74 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from using biodiesel. That takes into account the growing of the soybeans. It's pretty significant.
Q: Using biodiesel can sometimes cost more than petroleum-based diesel. How are artists paying for it?
Gardner: We lay it all out for them. There are a lot of ways it can be paid for. Bonnie Raitt, for example, auctions off 10 seats in the fourth row (of concerts) to go toward green expenses. Sometimes it goes toward the charity of her choice. Serj Tankian (of System of a Down) is doing ticket auctions. He also added something called an eco-fund, where 50 cents of every ticket will be put toward the greening of his tour. The Fray also donated 50 cents of their ticket (sales). And if you sell enough tickets, you can end up doing more than just covering your green costs.
There's a band called Stars, which is a cool band from Montreal with members of Broken Social Scene. Somebody from Stars called, saying, "We'd love to have a tour, but we don't know how to pay for it." So we have a program called the Green Grants Mentoring Program, where if there's overage from another band's tour, we can then put that toward bands that want to tour green on a smaller level. It's musicians helping each other, which is really cool.
Q: Have you worked with bands that have taken a DIY approach to greening a tour?
Gardner: Hot Buttered Rum converted the diesel engine of their van to run on straight vegetable oil, so they go around getting a bunch of grease from restaurants that would normally be thrown away. They basically go dumpster-diving in various Chinese restaurants around the country and fill up their van. The gas mileage is the same as diesel. For smaller bands, that's a really good way. Another band, Oakhurst, bought an old Greyhound bus and converted it to run on grease. There's a bit of an upfront investment to do the conversion, but once it's done you have free fuel. But for bigger bands, they don't own their buses or trucks, so they can't make the modifications to them.
Q: Where is the music business lacking in greening efforts?
Gardner: The things lacking most are knowledge and help. And that's the void Reverb is trying to fill. A lot of people think it's too hard or too expensive. For example, we've done some work with Warner Music Group. We have them looking at energy efficiency in their headquarters in New York City. They're going to save money by taking a closer at their energy and water usage. It's just a matter of getting the information out there and having people facilitate it.
Q: Are greening efforts in the music business a trend, or do you expect environmental awareness to continue?
Gardner: It's not a trend. It's something that has been building momentum for a long time. And now that we're seeing the actual effects, more and more people are becoming aware and want to take action. So we're just trying to help people, whether they're in a band or a fan of the band. It starts with the artist and reverberates out to their fan base.