WHY BILLIE EILISH INSISTS ON SUSTAINABILITY IN HER CAREER: ‘IT’S A NEVER-ENDING F–KING FIGHT’

The superstar and her mother, Maggie Baird, were stunned by the music industry’s lack of environmental action — so they’ve integrated their own into every element of the artist’s business.

Long before Billie Eilish became a global superstar, she says she was “notorious” among her friends for something else entirely. “When I would get a present, I would carefully undo the tape and carefully unwrap it and not let it rip and I would fold it up so that it could be reused — I didn’t want to destroy it,” she says with a sincere chuckle.

Why Billie Eilish insists on sustainability in her career: 'It's a never-ending  f–king fight' : r/popheads

In the eco-conscious house where Eilish grew up, everything — wrapping paper included — was treated as reusable. In 2012, with the help of a government rebate program, the family transitioned its Los Angeles home to run on solar power. And, in 2014, Eilish’s parents, Patrick O’Connell and Maggie Baird, removed the grass from their front yard to save water. “Those were big moments for us,” Baird recalls. “We were excited.”

When Eilish, then in her early teens, started taking label meetings in 2016, her mother came along for the ride — for myriad business reasons, including keeping sustainability at the forefront of her daughter’s career. Baird recalls “begging” labels to provide more information about their environmental initiatives and policies, and often wondered why she and her teenage daughter were the ones who had to raise the issue in the first place. (Eilish signed with The Darkroom in 2016, an imprint of Universal Music Group subsidiary Interscope Records.)

Today, Eilish and Baird are still talking about the environment — to much larger audiences than they were nearly a decade ago — while also leading the charge for the future of sustainability in music. In 2020, Baird founded Support + Feed, which aims to mitigate climate change and increase food security by encouraging the acceptance and accessibility of plant-based food, including at large-scale events like concerts. Eilish partnered with the organization on her 2022 Happier Than Ever tour, which, according to REVERB, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing environmental concerns in the music business, saved 8.8 million gallons of water by serving plant-based meals for the artists and crew.

And last year, Eilish helped launch and fund ­REVERB’s Music Decarbonization Project, which aims to ultimately eliminate carbon emissions created by the music industry. As part of the initiative, she partially powered her headlining set at Chicago’s Lollapalooza last summer with zero-emissions battery systems that were charged on a temporary “solar farm” set up on site. (In 2024, Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion festival partnered with REVERB for a second consecutive year to power its main stage with 100% solar energy all day.)

Billie Eilish presented with sustainable award from The O2 to mark six sold  out shows | The O2

Eilish’s sustainability efforts go far beyond her touring. In 2022, she worked with Nike to redesign the brand’s iconic Air Force 1 shoes to be vegan using vegan nubuck leather made with 80% recycled materials and 100% recycled polyester. More recently, in October she starred in a Gucci campaign that featured its classic 1955 Horsebit bag in Demetra, a vegan alternative to leather made from 75% plant-derived raw materials — a first for the brand.

“Yeah, we’re all going to die soon,” Eilish says matter-of-factly. “But we can try our best.”

Growing up, why was sustainability such a priority for the family?

Billie Eilish: It wasn’t even something I really thought about; it was such a normal thing. My mom started making these bags in these different types of beautiful fabrics and ribbons, and that’s how all of our presents were wrapped for Christmas and my birthday. When I would have parties, friends would come over and bring me presents in wrapping paper and I would be like, “Ew, this is so ugly.” We always used dish towels instead of paper napkins — everything was reusable, truly. And I didn’t even know it was weird. When I started dating, the people I was dating would be like, “Do you have any paper towels?”

Maggie Baird: You’re four-and-a-half years [younger than your brother], Finneas… [he] remembers [the] transition more. We always joke that my kids grew up in the house where you got the stink eye if you came in with a plastic bag or if you wasted anything.

Eilish: I even think to a fault sometimes, I’m so unable to just throw things away in the trash. If I get food out with a friend I literally have to separate everything. Like, it’s genuinely annoying. I wish I just didn’t care and could throw it all in the garbage and that could be the end of it.

When Billie was starting out, were there any blueprints for making a music career sustainable or were you making your own?

Eilish: There’s always somebody that paved the way for you, but I got to be real: It was bleak out here. We would be in meetings for things and my mom would [ask], “What are you guys doing to be more resourceful and conscious?” And they’d be like, “Oh, uh, well, you know…” They’d be tripping and stumbling over their words because they’re not doing anything. And it was kind of alarming to find that no one’s really doing anything to better the world. And the problem is, us people living in the world with no power — “us” in terms of anybody — we’re all like, “Oh, don’t use plastic straws. We’re going to use horrible, soggy paper straws to save all the turtles. And we’re going to get electric cars. And we’re going to not use blow dryers,” or whatever it is to save the planet. And then these giant companies are not even doing anything when they have so much more power. We’ve had a lot of conversations and people are trying, but even when they’re trying, they’re like, “Oh, yeah. We’re going to have that in 2026.” And you’re like, “Well, that’s not fast enough.”

 

Baird: It did feel bleak and very lonely in the beginning. When you’re a smaller artist and you don’t have any power and you don’t have any money, you just find yourself going, “Wait, why do we have all this plastic backstage?” Or, “Why are we driving this way?” Or, “Why are we doing this?” And the answer was, “Well, that’s just the way it’s done.” What really helped me was somebody said, “You need to talk to [Coldplay’s] Chris Martin.” They connected me on a call with Chris, which was amazing. Then Chris connected me to REVERB, and REVERB was a real game-changer for us. They had the ability to help us know what to change and how to communicate.

Do you recommend REVERB to new artists looking for sustainability solutions?

Baird: They do have resources for newer artists because in the beginning, you can’t really afford things and you may not be playing in venues that have a lot of flexibility. There’s a lot of organizations working in this space: Music Sustainability Alliance, Music Declares Emergency. If artists are interested, it does really start with them telling their teams that they care and that it’s foremost in their thoughts. From the beginning, it was about constantly asking questions until people [got] you the answers.

We, as a plant-based family, had all these catering conversations and it was not until Lesley [Olenik, vp of touring at] Live Nation was like, “Well, it sounds like you’d like all plant-based food.” We were like, “Can we do that?” And she was like, “Erykah Badu did.” It’s kind of just knowing what other people are doing. We do have green riders [for] dressing rooms, video shoots and photoshoots. I think those are really, really helpful and highly shareable.

Which of your strides in sustainability are you most proud of?

Eilish: The one that was seen by the most people was getting Oscar de la Renta to stop using fur when they made me a dress for the Met [Gala]. That was really important to me. It’s tough as a person who loves fashion. I’ve tried to be a big advocate of no animal products in clothing and it’s hard. People really like classic things. I get it, I’m one of them. But what’s more important: things being original or our kids being able to live on the planet and them having kids?

Billie Eilish on the 'Never-Ending Fight' for Sustainability

Baird: Also, the solar set at Lollapalooza was a huge moment. And Billie also made it possible for us to create two climate summits in London for her fans, Overheated, [which was held in 2022 and 2023]. Getting [London’s] O2 Arena to go fully plant-based for six shows [in 2022] was a monumental feat, and getting plant-based food in every arena on her [Happier Than Ever] tour was amazing. There’s so many amazing wins that Billie herself probably doesn’t even know. I think that the artist’s role is to champion [something] and say that’s what they want, what they believe in and [that they] want to make it happen. It’s the power that they have to say, “This is important to me, and it has to be a priority.”

Have you seen labels make sustainability a priority?

Baird: I will say happily that Universal has really come a long way. We had three Universal Music Group Sustainability Summits last year, one in London, one in L.A., one in New York with just UMG employees talking about all the various issues. I used to be like, “Why are we the ones doing this?” Like, why is a 15-year-old girl and her mom talking about this? Why aren’t you telling us, why don’t you have all the advice on this? But gradually they have started to, which I think is really encouraging.

When it comes to pushing for impact over profit, have you experienced any friction?

Baird: Merch becomes a real issue. We look at sustainability in every single aspect: vinyl, packaging, transportation, food. But with merch, Billie is very particular about what her merch looks like.

Eilish: It’s about how it feels and how it looks and how it’s made. And so the problem is to make sure that my clothing is being made well and ethically and with good materials and it’s very sustainable and that it feels good and is durable. It’s going to be more expensive and that’s the thing: People can be upset by that. But I’m trying to pick one of two evils.

Baird: And Billie reduced the number of drops she does. Like, she just literally doesn’t sell as much merch.

 

Eilish: Sometimes people have the idea of when things are more ethical, they’re more expensive, and so it’s harder to be plant-based or environmentally conscious if you don’t have as much money. That’s the whole system we live in, of like, if you have less money then you have less resources [for] healthier food… And so what we’re trying to do is make it more universally accessible.

You’re working to make vinyl more sustainable. Happier Than Ever came in eight vinyl variants, but you use 100% recycled black vinyl — plus recycled scraps for colored variants — and shrink-wrap made from sugar cane.

Eilish: We live in this day and age where, for some reason, it’s very important to some artists to make all sorts of different vinyl and packaging … which ups the sales and ups the numbers and gets them more money and gets them more…

Baird: Well, it counts toward No. 1 albums.

Eilish: I can’t even express to you how wasteful it is. It is right in front of our faces and people are just getting away with it left and right, and I find it really frustrating as somebody who really goes out of my way to be sustainable and do the best that I can and try to involve everybody in my team in being sustainable — and then it’s some of the biggest artists in the world making f–king 40 different vinyl packages that have a different unique thing just to get you to keep buying more. It’s so wasteful, and it’s irritating to me that we’re still at a point where you care that much about your numbers and you care that much about making money — and it’s all your favorite artists doing that sh-t.

Baird: But to be fair, the problem is systemic, right? Because if Billboard, to be honest, is going to not have limits… I would love to see limits, like no more than four colors. Or some kind of rules, because you can’t fault an artist for playing the No. 1 game.

Billie Eilish interview: 'I want to be able to mourn for XXXTentacion, I  don't want to be shamed for it' | The Independent | The Independent

Eilish: I was watching The Hunger Games and it made me think about it, because it’s like, we’re all going to do it because [it’s] the only way to play the game. It’s just accentuating this already kind of messed up way of this industry working.

How have the industry and fan responses to your efforts shifted over the years?

Baird: You have this amazing power when you’ve got 10,000 to 20,000 people in a venue to see you, who get to hear from you, what you believe in and how you’re trying to change. That fan interaction is incredibly important. If you can educate them to know you can bring your reusable water bottle in and there will be water-filling stations, and there will be plant-based food and it will not be more expensive, and [to think about] how you get to the show and back — which, as we know, the biggest carbon cost is fan transportation. Then we’ve got to get the arena to understand people want these things.

We know from research that fans are more likely to take action if they believe the artist is authentic. Which I think unfortunately scares off a lot of artists because they’re like, “Well, I don’t want to say I’m trying to do X because I’m not perfect on Y.” That’s a barrier that is really challenging to break, especially with social media and the culture of cancel and hate. The truth is, you just have to do it anyway. Artists can cast a giant shadow of influence. If you’re not perfect, but you are influencing many, many, many people to do better, it’s multiplied hundreds of times.

Is there any other part of your career, Billie, that isn’t yet where you would like it to be in terms of sustainability?

Baird: You experienced major touring weather events in 2022 and 2023. We were in an extreme weather event in Mexico City that canceled the show and was quite dangerous. We’ve been in horrific heat. We’ve been in horrific smoke from fires. It’s just a reality of the business, and people have to start to take seriously that this is the biggest threat to touring.

Eilish: It’s a never-ending f–king fight. As we all know, it’s pretty impossible to force someone to care. All you can do is express and explain your beliefs, but a lot of people don’t really understand the severity of the climate [crisis]. And if they do, they’re like, “Well, what’s the point? We’re all going to die anyway.” Believe me, I feel that way too. But “what’s the point” goes both ways: “What’s the point? I can do whatever I want. We’re all going to die anyway.” Or, “What’s the point? I might as well do the right thing while I’m here.” That’s my view.

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