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U2 puts plan in place to offset its carbon footprint

Greg Kot
Bono of U2 performs at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, on Saturday, September 12, 2009. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

CHICAGO — U2's "360 Tour," which made its North American debut Saturday at Chicago's Soldier Field, is a good old-fashioned stadium-rock extravaganza.

The numbers are staggering: Three 90-foot-tall custom-built stages containing a 54-ton cylindrical video screen and 500 personnel are being hauled around the country by a fleet of 189 trucks and buses. In addition, the band is expected to pile up 70,000 miles jetting around the world by the time the 2-year tour concludes in 2010.

In part because U2 and its singer Bono have been outspoken on numerous social and political causes, the band drew criticism during its European tour for the environmental impact of such a massive undertaking.

Carbonfootprint.com, a company which assesses environmental damage, estimates the tour will generate 65,000 tons in carbon emissions.

David Byrne blogged, "Those stadium shows may possibly be the most extravagant and expensive (production-wise) ever: $40 million to build the stage and, having done the math, we estimate 200 semitrucks crisscrossing Europe for the duration. It could be professional envy speaking here, but it sure looks like, well, overkill, and just a wee bit out of balance given all the starving people in Africa and all."

The band says it's not ignoring those concerns. In an interview with the BBC, guitarist The Edge said, "It's probably unfair to single out rock 'n' roll. There's many other things that are in the same category but, as it happens, we have a program to offset whatever carbon footprint we have."

The Edge was vague on details, perhaps because the program is in its early stages. But U2 does have an environmental plan in place for the tour, which includes having tour promoter Live Nation pay for programs to offset the carbon impact, according to an environmentalist working with the tour.

Earlier this year, U2 and Live Nation hired greening company MusicMatters and EFFECT Partners to accompany the tour and work on cutting emissions and other damaging side effects of staging big rock concerts. Already, said MusicMatters Chief Executive Michael Martin, the tour has cut the number of vehicles by 10 percent. Other changes include having tour staff use canteens instead of disposable water bottles. Venues such as Soldier Field are being encouraged to use everything from environmentally friendly soap and toilet paper to offering discount parking for hybrid vehicles.

At the end of the tour, Martin and his team will offer a handful of proposals to the band and promoter about how they can offset the environmental damage.

"There are myriad options at myriad price points, from $8 a ton to $25 a ton, in projects they can fund around the world to offset the carbon footprint," Martin said.

"Proceeds from the tour will be used to pay for these projects, which shows commendable responsibility on their part."

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