Artivist at Large: A Chat With Jack Johnson
By Hannah Apricot Eckberg
This article was originally published in Issue 06 of PMNA.
Jack Johnson says he is an environmentalist first, and then a musician. To us, he is an “Artivist.” Recently, before he embarked on his 2017 tour, I caught up with Jack on Oahu to, as they say in Hawaii, talk-story.
Raised on the North Shore of Oahu, a deep appreciation for nature was instilled in Jack at a young age. When a near fatal surfing accident turned him from the path of a professional surfer, he adapted his passion for surfing to filming. While studying at University of California, Santa Barbara, he met his wife and muse, Kim.
Jack’s love for the environment shines through, be it surfing, music, movies, or the art of bringing people together. He recently helped with Ian Cheney’s new film, The Smog of the Sea, as he teamed with scientists, film makers, and citizen scientists to sail to the Bermuda Triangle to gather data and bear witness to the overwhelming problem of plastic in the oceans. Reaching far beyond the confines of any specific location, plastic in the oceans is so pervasive it is now recognized that, like smog, plastic pollution knows no geopolitical borders. This film is a shocking wake-up call for everyone to become better stewards of the planet, before it is too late.
It is Jack’s melodic musical talents that brought him global fame and recognition, and provided an impactful way to share his passion for the environment. During his world tours, the All At Once Village Green invites local nonprofit organizations to table and share information at the concerts. These groups are largely focused on plastic-free initiatives and sustainable, local food production. Jack and Kim’s Johnson Ohana Foundation provides direct and matching donations in support of the groups. Since 2008, the Foundation has donated over $4 million to more than 400 organizations. Through the concerts and online at AllatOnce.org, the participants of the Village Green are provided an opportunity to broaden their support base, raise funds, and reach a younger crowd with their messages and steps of action to take.
Between tours, Jack and his record label, Brushfire Records, can be found in a state-of-the- art green building powered by solar and using recycled insulation materials, such as old jeans. Brushfire Records constantly acts as a catalyst, pushing at the edges to green the record industry with giants such as Universal Records.
Working closely with concert greening experts at REVERB, Jack’s concerts are among the most eco-friendly in the industry. “REVERB is proud to be a part of the greening and fan engagement efforts on Jack’s tour. The tour has eliminated plastic straws 100% from all our shows and diverted thousands of single-use water bottles and beer cups from landfills with our free water stations and steel pint cup program. In just the first leg of the tour, we have encouraged thousands of individual fan actions and helped to support over 70 local non-profit organizations. Jack is really changing the way fans and venues consider their impact on the planet, and I am excited to be a part of it!” says Tanner Watt of REVERB.
The Santa Barbara Bowl is a prime example of a classic venue that has been deeply influenced by these greening efforts. Working with All At Once and REVERB, The Bowl established an ongoing reusable pint cup program that encourages concertgoers to bring a reusable metal cup. In an effort to eliminate single-use plastic, concertgoers will receive a free reusable Jack Johnson pint cup for beverage purchases and water refills, and will receive a discount on all refills at the Bowl for the life of the cup. Reusing beverage containers represents one of the All At Once environmental pledges people can take while attending the Village Green or online.
For Jack to perform a concert, venues must sign a detailed rider, nicknamed the “Eco Bill of Rights.” Besides encouraging the reusable pint cup program, and a straw by-request-only policy, energy-efficient light bulbs are to be installed throughout the facility and the venue must purchase sufficient carbon offsets to cover the energy used during the show. To reduce plastic water bottle use, free water filling stations are established for the fans and backstage personnel. Catering makes special effort to source locally grown, organic food and compost and recycling bins must be provided throughout the venue.
Jack’s tour trucks use biodiesel and other tricks to reduce the tour’s carbon footprint, such as using ground and sea freight to avoid airplane emissions. Concert goers are encouraged to ride bikes, carpool, and purchase a personal carbon offset ticket. Tee shirts are 100% organic cotton, and the remaining merchandise is focused on reusable, useful containers. Klean Kanteen, ToGo Ware, and Rareform Upcycled Bags are among the exclusive Jack Johnson merchandise sold at shows.
When I chatted with Jack, I learned just how important locally grown sustainable food is to him:
Hannah Apricot Eckberg (HAE): When did your passion for people growing their own food develop?
Jack Johnson (JJ): About 90% of the food is shipped into Hawaii. It’s a really important conversation here. The history of Hawaii’s agricultural industry is mainly one of exporting pineapple and sugarcane – there’s so much farmland here, but we are not growing much of our own food. Lately, it seems to be an exciting time where more people are growing their own food and more restaurants are also embracing locally grown produce. There are conversations about the benefits of providing more locally grown food for the schools’ lunch programs.
As a kid, I wasn’t paying attention to the politics. It wasn’t until I was older that some of these bigger issues took hold. It was when I was introduced to some of the politics occurring in our neighborhood that I became involved. I think the fact that it is such an important issue here in Hawaii has been a big part of it.
Then I realized that everywhere we go, there exists a local food culture. So, when we travel, we try to embrace this, and set a certain radius with every show, and have the catering service provide our food so that we are supporting local farmers in the area. And, we try to have as many organizations as possible supporting local agriculture at the All At Once Village Green.
HAE: You have really worked to bring local food production to more schools, including our common alma mater, UC Santa Barbara. Tell us about some of those efforts.
JJ: It started here in Hawaii, when Kim and I began the Kokua Hawaii Foundation. We have a program for local schools called ‘AINA In Schools. In Hawaiian, ‘AINA means “land or that which sustains us.” But it’s also an acronym for Actively Integrating Nutrition and Agriculture. It is really fun to see kids connect with their food at a young age, then they can naturally start asking those bigger questions as they grow up. Such as, “If we can grow so much of our food here in Hawaii, then why are we shipping so much in?”
We try to keep it really fun. So many of my experiences as a kid were based around positive experiences in nature. Back then, there wasn’t so much of the doom and gloom, all the scary facts about climate change, etc. It was about experiences and having fun. Fun is very important for our foundation and the school gardens. It’s not so much about giving the kids bigger facts to wrestle with, it’s about seeing the smiles on their faces when they pick their own green beans.
It’s nice to work with UCSB. Both Kim and I have many positive memories of being on campus there. It’s great to get involved with the fruit trees through the Edible Campus Program and now with the learning garden and food forest… located next to an elementary and preschool; it’ll be a great experience for them. But it’s also a nice experience for the college students, to use it as a place to teach and to learn.
HAE: What do you think is the most effective thing somebody can do on behalf of the environment?
JJ: I would say, and it’s not just because this is this magazine’s focus, but what do we all do every single day? We eat multiple times per day – food and its production has a profound impact on the world. I really think that people should take an interest in what foods they bring into their homes. What kind of agricultural system they support is really about the biggest thing someone can affect regarding their personal ecological footprint. Not just the practices that the farmers use on the earth, but also how far the food comes and how it is transported. The impacts from all these practices and food-miles add up quickly.
I think it’s also really important to talk about food and its production at the dinner table. That’s where culture comes from; it’s from these conversations ‘around the fire’ – around the dinner table. When we gather at the dinner table, let the conversation create a positive influence on the younger generation. We try to talk to our kids about where their food actually came from and who grew it. We give thanks every night, always thanking the people who grew the food. I believe that’s a really important thing, not just for our impact as adults, but also the conversations we have with the kids.
HAE: You are also really pushing the edges on waste and plastic pollution education.
JJ: As a surfer, and somebody who loves the ocean, it’s difficult to see how much plastic gathers in the high tide line. Then having this connection to an industry that leans greatly on disposables, with plastic water bottles and disposable pint cups, at the concerts. That’s something we take pretty seriously, and we are trying to do whatever we can to move that conversation forward.
We try to push the conversation forward every time and, frankly, we intentionally push people to the edge of their comfort zone on just what they can do. They see that it works, so the next time around we push a little bit further. It’s not just about plastic pollution, but we push for everything we can do to mitigate the impacts of the shows.
The tagline for All At Once is “An individual action multiplied by millions creates global change.” By empowering fans with direct actions they can take, AllatOnce.org provides a fertile field for educationand action items. Jack, the music, and the in-person connections made at the concerts provide a path for creating the lasting individual changes that will lead to global changes. We can all be Artivists in our own way!
Here is the version of the article that was featured in Issue 06: