Lauren Sullivan, Reverb Director and Co-Founder

Lauren Sullivan, Reverb Director and Co-Founder
Lauren Sullivan, who has a B.A. in Social Psychology and Spanish from Tufts University and an M.S. in Environmental Education from the Audubon Expedition Institute at Lesley University, worked as a campaigner with the Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco and later in Brooklyn, New York with Partnerships for Parks helping communities to advocate for and reclaim their parks, gardens and green spaces. She founded the Portland, Maine-based non-profit Reverb with her husband (and Guster guitarist) Adam Gardner in 2004. They’ve since worked on events with an array of artists including Fall Out Boy, Jack Johnson, Linkin Park and Canadians Avril Lavigne, Barenaked Ladies, and Stars.

Reverb brings music and environmental communities together to promote environmental sustainability. What makes these two a good marriage?
I come from the environmental non-profit world and Adam comes from the music world. We were talking about the frustration that non-profits have, getting to lots of folks in their community. And so this was a no-brainer. "Okay, we can bring all these local and national non-profits and they all of a sudden have access to 25,000 people in their communities that they wouldn’t otherwise be in touch with.” It just seemed like a great mechanism to share an important message. It’s also a great way for the artist to share part of their personality and their interest. I think it was Steven Page from BNL who said, "It’s not just beers and smokes when you walk into the venue, it’s all these organizations that the band cares about.” So it was a great synergy of worlds.

Bands can generate a lot of waste, especially on tour. What’s the Reverb strategy for minimizing this?
Rock shows aren’t ever going to stop happening — that’s just a fact of the matter. When you think about music and community and the fact that music brings people together around this really beautiful thing, well, we don’t want to get rid of that, culturally speaking. But with that in mind, 85 percent of the carbon footprint of any event is created by the fans driving to and from the shows. So that’s something that we’re focusing on, this year especially. We are working with artists, many of whom are activists, looking for ways to cut down their carbon footprint, and to fuel their trucks and buses on biodiesel. We look at the energy use of the venues, using compostable items, greening up their contract riders so that they are clear about communicating their desires about being environmentally sustainable to the venue, in terms of what they request from them, like having recycling programs backstage. We’re working on car-pooling programs, where fans can connect with each other to figure out how to all get in a car together. Some venues are talking about making priority parking for folks that carpool or drive hybrids, so that there’s a bonus if you’re doing that stuff. I think programs like that are going to be really effective. And it’s also a community builder — it’s a fun thing to connect with other fans of your favourite artist and it’s a way to decrease costs of fans’ travel. It’s really win-win.

[Another] thing — and this is an incremental step in the right direction — is we encourage fans to offset their drive to and from the show. We create a program with the artist to have a cool little sticker that’s branded with the artist’s name. Folks can donate a few bucks, and they’ll be entered into a contest to win an autographed poster from the tour. We take the sticker money and donate it to our renewable energy partner, Native Energy, and on [the fans’] behalf offset their drive to and from the show and beyond. Usually it’s about 300 miles of driving that’s offset per each sticker donation. This past year we worked with the Dave Matthews Band and we had an incredible sticker participation rate; Dave Matthews’ fans actually offset 1.2 million miles of driving through the program. So it really can have an impact.

What’s the future for the environmental movement?
Right now the biofuels industry is a great stepping-stone to decreasing our environmental footprint. But [we should be asking], is the soy and corn industry turning into the equivalent of big oil? Are we just replicating a model that does not work? I think the answer is yes. We need to put an eye on that pretty quickly and shift the direction that we’re going in so that we’re not just replicating the same models that are not effective and that got us to where we are now. I also think that we need to show the next generations that we’re willing to vote with our dollars and support the corporations that are leading the way in terms of being viable economic entities and also sustainable. There’s a great organization called Climate Counts that evaluates companies and gives them different ratings for transparency, their environmental work, and outlines what they’re doing. You could look at supporting companies that are doing well on that list — it’s a way to vote with your dollars, which as consumers is one of the most powerful things we can do.