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No Mean Feat: How Aussie Artists are Saving the Environment

The carbon footprint of any touring band is huge; magnify that to a festival tour, and the long-term effects these emissions have on the environment is horrific to think about. 

To see a lineup featuring the likes of Peking Duk, Lime Cordiale, Courtney Barnett and Vance Joy, you may at first think, “Damn — someone’s put together a pretty strong bill”. 

And you’d be right. But it’s a bill that was formed for a different type of gig.

Back in 2019, a new sustainability collective called FEAT. — Future Energy Artists — was launched by Heidi Lenffer. The musician, notably of beloved Australian indie group Cloud Control, became incensed after discovering the weight and significance of her band’s carbon footprint. 

For Lenffer, this was a turning point in her life. Her platform would become more than just a way to spread joy through music. It would evolve into an avenue for her to create awareness and enable real change in the midst of the climate crisis.

FEAT. began currying the support of many in the music industry during its infancy (including the aforementioned lineup) with an investment model that sought anywhere from AUD$5 to AUD$500,000. The dedicated fund, managed by Future Super, was invested into solar farms, or channelled into projects that would focus on building infrastructure to support renewable energy.

The early momentum was positive and the benefits sustainable. It offered participating artists a new superannuation scheme, of sorts. Investors in FEAT. would own a stake in the solar farms; and when the renewable energy was sold to market, they would receive a percentage of returns.

That was in 2019. 

And then, 2020 happened. We all know how the story goes from there.

Against the backdrop of mass uncertainty, with no forecast on when the world was due to return to normal, the progress FEAT. had made in establishing the fund was stunted, as was the generation of momentum the solar farm model had built.

Lenffer and her team had to go back to the drawing board and figure out a new way forward. It wasn’t just their own money on the line, they were now responsible for a growing body of artist investors. 

Something had to give.

“It is something I lament, even ‘til this day; that was a real bummer,” Lenffer says, reflecting on the crushing blow from her home in the Blue Mountains. 

“We had so much steam behind us in March 2020; we were about to launch an app which had capacity to bring on audiences, not just artists, but the audiences alongside their favourite artists, in the same solar farms the artists were investing in.” 

“I’m a very big feeler, so I had to grieve for an amount of time,” she says. 

“In that process, it was about whittling it down and going, ‘Okay — so what do we have left?’ If this model wasn’t going to move forward, what was still at the core, that we could move forward with?”

The answer came in late 2021, when FEAT. shifted gears, devising and employing the ‘Solar Slice’ strategy. Designed to reduce the emissions of live entertainment by unlocking sustainability funding through ticket sales, FEAT.’s new model moved progress from solar farms to the ticketing and promotions side of the music industry.

Heidi Lenffer Enviroment

Heidi Lenffer

A new way of selling tickets

At its core, the Solar Slice is an inbuilt ticketing surcharge that is implemented by a participating artist or partnering event. 1.5% is the negotiable surcharge price point of the Solar Slice, and was tested through campaigns with Lime Cordiale, who worked with FEAT. on their 2022 Facts Of Life Tour; as well as with major Australian festivals including the Falls and Laneway Festivals of summer 2023.

“It took a lot of conversations to get people on board. I was surprised at how hard it was to find the right place to put the Solar Slice in the actual ticket bill,” Lenffer admits. 

“The question became: ‘Who should pay for that?’ Should it be out of the promoter’s pocket, or should it be a small amount on top of the ticket bill that the audience covers? There was a lot of ethical umm-ing and ahh-ing around that. In the end, we landed on it being in the actual ticket booking fee itself, which meant that it wasn’t an option that a ticket buyer could tick a box around.”

As Lenffer explains, the idea of the Solar Slice is not to fleece punters out of unnecessary money — it’s about normalising and affecting change when it comes to the entertainment industry’s relationship with the environment. The carbon footprint of any touring band is huge; magnify that to a festival tour, and the long-term effects these emissions have on the environment is horrific to think about. 

And so, while FEAT. has been driving hard to get this new model off the ground and integrated into the ticketing industry, the main focus has remained on achieving widespread shifts in attitudes and calls to action.

“We didn’t want to make it something that looked like it was a luxury that people could deliberate over. The time for umm-ing and ahh-ing over sustainable action is like, thirty years ago.” Lenffer says.

“We wanted to take the impression that it was an option, off the page. Having it pre-built into a ticket price seemed not only a smart way to ensure it would definitely raise the funds, but also it was a philosophical choice around this being the critical decade for action. There shouldn’t be any other option to put on a festival that doesn’t have sustainability built into its DNA, in a way like we’re suggesting.”

Success on ground

The development of FEAT.’s collaboration with Falls Festival was an early crowning achievement, and proof of concept, for these new models at work.

A solar array and two batteries installed to power back of house operations on-site stemmed directly from the Solar Slice fund.

“It’s the project I’m most proud of to date, with FEAT.,” Lenffer says with a smile.

“When you think about sustainability, you think about soft, green things, usually. You don’t think about giant batteries that are put on a site, that get powered up by a solar array, that then just shifts the whole electricity output.” 

“For a festival that I grew up with, that I’ve performed at several times… they’re a cultural institution. We were able to get in there and really make a tangible difference, cutting the emissions of one of Australia’s most loved festivals, all within a month’s work of going, “Alright, one dollar from every ticket is going towards this. Let’s call up a battery company, let’s talk to the diesel generator suppliers on site, let’s get them to work together.”

The results of this collaboration meant that instead of relying on up to sixty generators across a month, the renewable energy batteries took over, preventing around thirty-thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide from being created. As Lenffer remarks, it would be the equivalent of taking seventeen cars off the road for a whole year.

Lenffer has nothing but pride permeating through her voice as she reflects on this period of time, and the support she and FEAT. have continued to attract from the industry; an industry that is still tender, and re-emerging from another significant cultural period.

“I wasn’t surprised that there always has been a steady stream of engaged artists who want to be spearheading this alongside us. I suspected that was the case, because I was one of them.” she says. 

“That’s what led me, being steeped in a community of like-minded artists, to start and provide a platform for artists to actually lean into that desire to be activated on their fears around the climate crisis, and to turn it into something positive and fruitful.”

“It’s been a nearly five-year journey; in that space of time, we have changed our model substantially, but any model would be defunct if there wasn’t a core of support in an industry that was willing to fly the flag, and willing to upskill and speak out on matters close to the heart. I’m thrilled that that’s never been a dry riverbed for us.”

The forecast for the horizon ahead

To date, there are no other initiatives like FEAT. in the Australian entertainment industry.

In the UK, Brian Eno’s EarthPercent project has been gaining groundswell since debuting last year: a charity that aims to raise $100 million by 2030 to be spent on environmental initiatives. Though Lenffer and FEAT. have their fingers on the pulse when it comes to what avenues for sustainability are being explored internationally, the focus of FEAT. is very much on growing a new culture of environmentalism and empowered artists (and their audiences) through their own projects.

No one is putting a sustainability surcharge on ticket prices, that I’m aware of, yet.” Lenffer says.

“I’ve been chatting with Music Declares Emergency in the UK, because they are really supportive and have been very much behind the EarthPercent project. They’re basically raising funds like we are, but not through ticket sales — they’re basically going from record company to record label, industry organisations, getting people to pledge 1% to the planet. They want to use that pot of money to implement wide-scale reform across the UK in music practices. It’s similar, but different.”

“There’s a lot of flexibility in the model,” she continues. “You can really service it within the broader remit of sustainable choices. FEAT. acts as the sustainability intel.”

Back on the road, FEAT. will again work with Lime Cordiale, providing the use of electric vehicles (and more) for their East Coast tour. Their initial collaboration supported reforestation and tree regeneration efforts.

“We tailored their option to include the old growth rainforests in the Booyong Nature Reserve up near Clunes. It’s a few hours away from where they live, so they were able to go there on their tour; visit the tree plantation, chat to the founder of Reforest Now, which was the group we ended up spending the money with. They now have 857 trees planted as a result of that Facts Of Life Tour.”

After experiencing a harsh and forced stop to their initial model and growth, Lenffer’s approach to this new and thriving iteration of FEAT. is marked by instinct, great intelligence and drive. She is well aware of the public-facing advantages that involving a popular band like Lime Cordiale can bring. Likewise, and especially in the wake of the pandemic, she is conscious of the caution that many will approach the initiative with.

People need to know exactly what they are investing in, and that is a crucial part of the FEAT. roll out.

“From the get-go, we partnered with Bolstr [a digital agency], for the exact purpose of making sure the outcomes are front of mind.” Lenffer says. 

“The core deliverable is as much the carbon reduction, as it is the story; so audiences are getting trained to expect the outcomes, as much as the fact that they’ll know their favourite festivals are signing up to this initiative. It’s important to keep us accountable as well, as well as re-flavouring the space with more integrity.”

Later this  year, FEAT. will continue to work with other Australian artists and festivals, including Splendour in the Grass. That project is still in development, though Lenffer muses that a potential approach would be to replicate, and build on, the Falls Festival campaign.

“In some ways, it keeps fuelling me — the necessity of the project fuels me to keep going with it, which is handy!” she says. 

“It has to work, because the [environmental] stakes are only going to get higher.”

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