Musician with a Cause
Jack Johnson Plans Shows with the Planet in Mind
photos courtesy of Emmett Malloy
Singer-songwriter Jack Johnson’s touring concerts have almost always doubled as fundraisers for local environmental nonprofits. “Early on, we recognized that we could not only fill a room, but also raise funds and awareness for nonprofit groups we believe in,” says Johnson. Then, as he started playing larger venues, “I realized the power of touring to connect our fans with local nonprofits in every town we played.”
Johnson and his wife, Kim, also founded two environmentally focused charitable foundations, and during the past five years, all of his tour proceeds have been donated to them, in turn going to hundreds of environmental education nonprofits worldwide. The enabling commercial success began in 2001 when his debut album successfully established this Oahu, Hawaiian’s trademark mellow surf-rocker style. Since then, he’s released five more studio albums, including the most recent, From Here to Now to You.
“While I have so much gratitude for the support our music receives, for me, music has always been a hobby, a side thing. It grew into a way to work in the nonprofit world. Being engaged in environmental education almost feels like my real job, and the music’s something we’re lucky enough to provide to fund related causes,” says Johnson.
As the size of his audiences grows, so does the size of his potential environmental footprint. On the road, Johnson’s team works with the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance to fuel all tour trucks, buses and generators. Comprehensive conservation efforts including refillable water bottle stations, plus organic cotton T-shirts and reusable or biodegradable food service ware are standard at his shows. “We try to be environmentally conscious every step of the way,” says Johnson. “Our record cases and posters use recycled paper and eco-friendly inks. We record albums in my solar-powered studio. It’s an ongoing learning process and conversation as we find even better ways to do things.”
Johnson’s team often requests increased recycling efforts and use of energy-efficient light bulbs at venues, advancing long-term eco-changes everywhere they perform. He explains, “Our thinking is that once they change the light bulbs for us, they’re not going to go back to the old light bulbs after we leave. Many venue managers tell us they have stuck with the improvements because they realize that they’re easy to do.”
Marine pollution and single-use plastics are issues high on the musician’s environmental list, but the topic he’s most passionate about is food. In his home state of Hawaii, 90 percent of food is imported. “The idea of supporting your local food system is a big deal in our family and we take that point of view on the road because it’s a vital issue anywhere you go,” he says.
At each tour stop, all of the band’s food is sourced within a specific radius. Johnson also works with radio stations to promote regional farming, helping to build community and fan awareness of the benefits of supporting local farms. At home, Johnson has solar panels on the roof and drives an electric car. The entire family, including three children, participates in recycling, worm composting and gardening. “It’s fun to take what we learn at home on the road and bring good things we learn on the road home,” he says.
The Swiss Family Robinson is one of the family’s favorite books. “We love figuring out ways to apply ideas,” he remarks. “For our first water catchment system, we got 50-gallon drums previously used for oil and vinegar from a bread bakery and attached spigots. The kids were so excited to watch them fill the first time it rained.”
Johnson finds that all of the facets of his life work together. For example, “Music is a social thing for me. I get to share it with people. Surfing is where I find a lot of balance; it’s a more private time. But I also come up with lyrics and musical ideas while I’m surfing.”
Johnson’s approach to inspiring all generations to be conscious of the environment is to focus on the fun, because it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the big picture. Understanding that his own kids are among the future stewards of planet Earth, he works diligently to instill values of creativity and free thinking.
Johnson reflects, “When I look at things that are in the world now that we would have never dreamed possible when we were growing up, I recognize how much can change in one generation. Looking for answers that aren’t there yet—things nobody’s thought of—that’s what’s going to solve problems.”
Meredith Montgomery publishes Natural Awakenings of Mobile/Baldwin, AL (HealthyLivingHealthyPlanet.com).