Ana Palade, King’s College London law student and Legal Cheek campus ambassador, explores how celebrities can be held more accountable for their carbon-intensive activities
In a world where private jets often become an extension of celebrity status, Taylor Swift soared to new heights in 2022. Sustainability marketing firm, Yard, carried out a study to highlight the damaging impact of private jet usage, and awarded her the title of “highest-use celebrity for private jet rides”, with a staggering 170 flights, totalling 8,293 tonnes of carbon emission. Whilst there is no way to determine if she was on all the recorded flights, these airborne trips (averaging at 80-minutes) might have lent her an air of exclusivity, but her musical triumphs are now accompanied by a carbon footprint which rivals her accomplishments.
In response to the study’s findings, Swift’s representative stated “Taylor’s jet is loaned out regularly to other individuals. To attribute most or all of these trips to her is blatantly incorrect.” Irrespective of this, use of private jets arguably encourages, even inadvertently, a culture of elevated carbon emissions.
The allure of such travel options sends a broader message to fans and the public, potentially overshadowing any positive steps taken towards sustainability. As the success of her Eras Tour echoes louder than that of the Beatles, the question emerges: do celebrities’ commitment to sustainability withstand the pressure of fame, or does it waver when faced with the weight of their carbon-laden activities?
Amidst the applause for Swift’s 131-show spectacle dedicated to the Eras Tour, the poignant hum of diesel engines in the background cannot be ignored. With reports of nearly 90 semi trucks in tow for each tour stop, her carbon footprint is no longer a whisper, but, if the reports are correct, an astronomical outcry. One jet tracker reveals a staggering 103 flights taken in 2023 so far. None of these figures have been confirmed by Swift, but the spotlight on her activities raises not just the curtain on environmental sustainability, but on the broader issues of celebrity branding, public relations, and the authentic pursuit of ecological responsibility.
Taylor Swift’s record of contributing to social and environmental causes is significant – donating a million dollars to tornado relief efforts in Nashville and channelling the proceeds of her “Wildest Dreams” music video towards animal conservation. However, the juxtaposition of her grand tours and her quest to regain music masters surely raises questions about the alignment between advocacy and actions, echoing the larger discourse around celebrity eco-activism. While it’s notable that Swift bought double the carbon credits for her extensive Eras Tour travels, this practice often underscores a broader concern that purchasing carbon credits can inadvertently perpetuate a notion that the rich and privileged can “heal the world with money”, leaving room for environmental harm without a sense of guilt or accountability.
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Though soggy paper straws have become a personal sacrifice for the greater good of saving the turtles, can genuine change happen until the world’s elite – those who weigh their choices in private jets – embrace the shift of eco-friendly lifestyle changes? Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, who transformed KKW Beauty into the more “sustainable new look” of SKKN, embody the aspiration towards sustainable transformation. Yet, the luxury price tag of $575 (should you wish to buy the whole range) attached to this “sustainability” raises the issue of whether eco-consciousness is a privilege reserved for the wealthy.
While legislative bodies in the US and UK establish aggressive environmental targets – such as the UK’s 2019 Climate Change Act aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050 – celebrities hold a dual role as both champions and potential roadblocks to these goals. The challenge lies in translating legal mandates into individual action and accountability. As legislative frameworks struggle to enforce compliance, many celebrities stand at the crossroad of opportunity and responsibility. While the UK’s Climate Change Act strives to compel corporate giants towards greener practices, it falls short of reaching individuals. Penalising non-compliance with carbon budgets remains a faint notion.
In the US, the Biden administration’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 sends a clear call for collective action. Yet, the incongruence between certain celebrity influencers’ actions and their advocacy could hinder progress. For instance, Leonardo DiCaprio, a vocal advocate for climate change action, has been accused of living a carbon-intensive lifestyle. Despite starting the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 1998, focusing on environmental improvement, DiCaprio has been spotted on a private yacht in Italy this summer. Any such contradiction may threaten not only his credibility, but potentially his ability to lobby for impactful policy changes.
To shift a narrative from superficial gestures to genuine commitment, a possible solution is this: inserting sustainability clauses into celebrity agreements, particularly in domains like sponsorships and partnerships where they often accrue the majority of their earnings through advertisements. Such clauses would establish a legal tether that not only harmonises a celebrity’s conduct with their public persona, but also engenders a systemic framework of individual accountability.
Consequently, these clauses extend beyond mere talk of environmental preservation – they outline precise actions which celebrities are obligated to undertake. The influence of these clauses transcends commercial dealings. Particularly in jurisdictions such as the UK and the US, where governmental initiatives are geared towards environmental objectives, these contractual undertakings assume a role in translating well-meaning aspirations into tangible outcomes and connect a personal action towards a broader global effort, resulting a collaborative push and the public’s trust towards a greener future.
The spectrum of commitments in these sustainability clauses is comprehensive. Contracts should include foremost the pledge to mitigate the carbon footprints associated with travel. Recognizing the substantial environmental toll of frequent air travel, celebrities would agree to employ eco-friendly transportation alternatives whenever feasible, thereby demonstrating a commitment to reducing their personal contribution to carbon emissions.
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In addition, these sustainability clauses would underscore the necessity for celebrities to advocate for, and exclusively endorse, products that are ethically sourced and produced. This demand for ethicality and sustainability in products promotes responsible consumption patterns, influencing both producers and consumers alike to prioritise products with minimal environmental impact, thereby contributing to a greener supply chain. This sustained advocacy contributes to a broader societal shift towards mindful living. These sustainability clauses, seamlessly embedded within endorsement contracts, engender a transformative shift in the role celebrities play within the sphere of change.
In essence, the integration of sustainability clauses within celebrity agreements offers a legally grounded avenue to bridge the divide between public image and personal environmental responsibility. As celebrities straddle the line between influence and impact, this legal mechanism ensures tangible alignment between advocacy and action. By obligating genuine commitments, these clauses not only bolster individual accountability but also fortify the collective momentum towards a more ecologically conscious future. In this symbiotic relationship between law and celebrity influence, a resonant narrative of responsible stewardship takes centre stage, promising a more sustainable trajectory for both the entertainment industry and the global community.
Ana Palade is a second-year law student at King’s College London. She is an avid legal writer in her spare time and one of Legal Cheek’s 2023-24 campus ambassadors.