From Toxic Fumes to Eco-Friendly Tunes: Music’s Green Makeover in the Last 20 Years

From Toxic Fumes to Eco-Friendly Tunes: Music’s Green Makeover in the Last 20 Years

Discover how the power of music and the influence of bands are turning dedicated fans into conscious environmentalists
Thursday, February 11, 2010 - 10:28am


Discover how the power of music and the influence of bands are turning dedicated fans into conscious environmentalists.

I was a child of the 80’s and 90’s, and during those iconic years the only green thing about music was all the money that went towards elaborate videos and midriff shirts. Def Leppard proved it was cool to have a mullet. De La Soul took hip hop to another level by combining humorous lyrics with social commentary. A-ha had a one-hit wonder that will always be one of my favorite ringtones. Nirvana introduced a whole new genre of music and made it okay for kids to dress like thrift-store junkies. But one thing I don’t remember about music during those years was it ever promoting a message of environmentalism.

If they weren’t spraying toxic fumes into their hair to make their bangs stand 3 feet high, or touring around the country on massive carbon dioxide emitting tour buses, then they were probably in elaborate studios creating songs that would end up on expensive LPs and cassette tapes…which would eventually end up in a landfill. It may have been a party for musicians, but it definitely wasn’t a blast for the planet.

I don’t blame the musicians back then for not being concerned about the environment. They were just doing their job, pumping out Top 40 hits and entertaining screaming fans with songs about broken hearts, how much love bites and why it’s their prerogative. But today there are musicians who actually do care about making good music, as well as promoting a message of sustainability, and these are the ones that are planting the green seeds of hope in our musical souls.

Take for example Pearl Jam, an alternative icon of the 90’s that still tours the world, but nowadays on a biodiesel-fueled bus. Then there’s Jack Johnson. When he’s not entertaining Curious George fans or making sweet summer jams, he works with the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes environmental education in Hawaiian schools.

Moby, the electronic king, opened his own café called the Teany Café and Teas to promote vegetarianism. To round out this rock star crew I have to mention the Dave Matthews Band, a college crowd favorite and a fan of purchasing carbon offsetting credits to eliminate the CO2 emissions they create while traveling.

There’s Sheryl Crow, who has toured on biodiesel-fueled buses and even made a joke about “using one square of toilet paper per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required" as an initiative to help save the trees. The Roots, one of my favorite hip hop bands, worked with PETA’s Stop the Violence: Go Veg campaign to promote eating healthier, meat-free foods.

Then we have Cake, who remade Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” into a folksy indie rock hit and who also recorded their entire last album on 100% solar energy!

These are just a few of the famous musicians that are promoting environmentalism through their passion for music. But I don’t want to just give the famous music makers all the credit because there are so many other ways that music is spreading the message of going green. Some of the most creative ideas that have been featured on Greenopolis are:

  • Recycler, a Rapping Robot from the UK that goes to local elementary schools to lay down the law on the importance of recycling.

  • A Texan group called Vocal Trash (think of Stomp with vocals) that uses trash cans, car rims, buckets and more to bring to life some of our favorite pop culture hits.

  • Artist Mikal Hameed, who takes music to the next level by making art from recycled stereo pieces.

  • 10-year-old eco rapper Lil Peppi, who raps about saving Mother Nature when he’s not playing Nintendo Wii.

I’m not trying to say that music from the 80’s and 90’s was completely void of an environmental message. Both Madonna and Chris Isaak showed an appreciation for the ocean in their “Cherish” and “Wicked Games” videos, Duran Duran brought attention to an endangered species in “Hungry Like the Wolf,” and Vanilla Ice showed respect for the polar ice caps before they started melting in his musical film “Cool As Ice,” sort of, but I can’t think of many other musical acts that said it was cool to be green…except for Kermit the Frog.

As environmental issues get bigger and hairstyles get smaller, I think that more musicians are using their talent and celebrity status to help promote the protection of the planet, and that’s very okay with me. These musicians are not only inspiring their fans to go green, but they’re also inspiring other artists and musicians to do something green with their music. It makes me wonder how much greener fans would have been if MC Hammer told them that “U Can’t Touch This” referred to the planet instead of his pants. is dedicated to our users. We focus our attention on changing the world through recycling, waste-to-energy and conservation. We reward our users for their sustainable behaviors on our website, through our Greenopolis Tracking Stations and with curbside recycling programs.