K-pop physical albums are a threat to the environment 

The K-pop industry is taking its first steps to go green by reducing single-use plastic and increasing the use of eco-friendly materials.

At the 11th Gaon Chart Awards held at Jamsil Stadium on January 27, in order to reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste, the event organizer – the Korea Music Content Association (KMCA) – distributed eco-friendly paper water bottles to all artists and fans who attended the awards ceremony.

The 3 hosts, Do Young (NCT), Si Eun (STAYC) and television personality Jaejae briefly introduced the KMCA’s environmental campaign, although not many details could be given at the event. 

According to Choi Kwang Ho, General Secretary of KMCA, the Gaon Chart awards ceremony is only the beginning of a bigger campaign to protect the environment. 

“Starting from this year, we will do our best to solve environmental problems by working with entertainment companies, fans and the government,” Choi Kwang Ho said in an interview with The Korea Times.

He added that the K-pop industry is seeking various ways to achieve its goals related to environment, society and corporate governance (ESG). In the future, KMCA is determined to spread a message about environmental protection at all the events they organize.

The detrimental effect K-pop albums have on the environment

Up until now, the K-pop industry is still in its infancy in achieving eco-friendliness.

Plenty of K-pop fans have voiced their demand for industry experts to put forth more efforts to protect the environment. In December 2021, about 10,000 K-pop fans from 83 countries asked top entertainment companies to join the fight against climate change at the Sustainable Development in Korean Entertainment conference. The conference was held in the National Assembly.

On behalf of the K-pop fan community, activist Lee Da Yeon of Kpop4Planet – a fan-run environmental action organization – stressed that the K-pop industry should take more responsibility in solving worldwide issues such as climate change, especially when these problems have severe effects on a global scale. 

“K-pop won’t be able to survive on a dead planet,” Lee made her point loud and clear.  Similar to the Gaon Chart Music Awards, there have been some clear changes in K-pop to keep the environment clean and safe. A good example is how entertainment companies produce albums.

In fact, K-pop physical albums are often seen as a major threat to the environment, as most albums are produced using plastic. In 2021, media outlets reported that the total sales of the 400 most popular K-pop albums had reached nearly 60 million copies, raising concerns about their damage towards the environment.

Acknowledging this problem, in December 2021, YG Entertainment decided to use eco-friendly paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FCS) and low-carbon paper to produce TO INFINITY, the 3rd album of WINNER’s Song Mino. In addition, in the printing process, YG replaces conventional ink with soy ink, thereby minimizing the use of chemicals such as benzyl and isopropyl alcohol (IPA). YG also stated that they followed the same process with TREASURE’s album THE SECOND STEP: CHAPTER ONE released on February 15. 

IST Entertainment, the management agency of Apink and The Boyz, has taken a new step in solving environmental problems. Specifically, IST decided to make a digital version of VICTON’s album Chronograph released in January. IST’s plan not only received positive responses from global fans, but also proposed new solutions for K-pop to minimize the harm physical albums are having on the environment.

BTS is also one of the artists leading the environmental protection movement. In 2021, during the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly held in NYC, the group wore suits designed by RE;CODE, the eco-friendly fashion brand run by Kolon Industries FnC.

BLACKPINK, Public Relations ambassador of the 26th United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26), called on people to take action to prevent the climate crisis on the program Dear Earth. In addition, female singer Chuu (Loona) also collaborated with DIA TV and established a channel to upload the series Save the Earth, Chuu Can Do It. Using her influence, the female singer often promotes and encourages environmentally friendly activities.

Kpop needs more time

Sharing with The Korea Times, Cedarbough Saeji, professor of Korean and East Asian studies at Pusan ​​National University, said that there are still many issues that need to be resolved. According to her, K-pop entertainment companies can promote environmental sustainability in almost every area of ​​their business, from organizing touring to selling K-pop merchandise.

“When a K-pop star holds a global tour, the company may make some requirements for the venue. Since their artists have the ability to attract a large audience, the organizer will adjust to those requirements. They can therefore provide hot and cold water stalls to prevent fans from buying single-use bottles, provide energy-efficient lighting, improve heating and cooling systems, or even use electricity from sustainable energy sources like the sun and wind,” she pointed out.

Some in the industry are concerned that these methods may degrade the quality of the concert, but Saeji disagrees with that opinion. In fact, many overseas artists have successfully held concerts that are both environmentally friendly and of high quality.

A prime example is the British rock band Coldplay, with their low-carbon tours. During the 2022 tour, the band plans to power the show by having spectators ride electric bikes and plant a tree for every ticket sold.

Saeji added that K-pop merchandise also needs improvement. She said: “T-shirts and canvas bags can be made from organic cotton. And I believe that NFTs must not become part of the K-pop industry, when the amount of energy wasted to exploit NFT has a huge impact on the environment”.

In addition, Saeji believes that it is also important for the entertainment company to build an environmentally friendly culture. She explained, “It is important for an entertainment company to announce its environmental protection methods, as this can make fans believe that the industry is trying to improve and help the environment.”

Some of the useful options suggested by Saeji include holding a press conference on an online platform to limit unnecessary travel, reducing the number of flights while touring, increasing the use of sustainable energy, or installing solar panels on the headquarters building.

According to Saeji, K-pop needs to prove that the industry is in the process of protecting the environment. KMCA Secretary General Choi said the industry is well aware of their influence on a global scale.

“Although the impact of the K-pop industry on the environment is not as great as that of other industries, such as the car manufacturing industry, we are well aware of the global influence of K-pop. In fact, most large companies like HYBE, SM Entertainment and JYP Entertainment are working hard to find a solution to help them operate in an eco-friendly way,” said Choi.

However, Choi believes that the K-pop industry needs more time to completely change. Choi revealed that KMCA is planning to create a new chart on Gaon, with the tentative title of “Clean Chart”. This chart is used to rank K-pop albums based on their eco-friendliness.

“This kind of rarely seen chart in the world will help us achieve our environmental goals. In particular, we are planning to hold a series of events, such as concerts with the participation of Kpop stars, in order to promote sustainability and use the power of K-pop to serve a good cause,” Choi shared.

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