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When It Comes to Being Green, Browne Is No Pretender

Jan 18, 2011 – 7:32 AM

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Chris Epting

Chris Epting Contributor

"It's my favorite guitar, and I'm not just saying that." Legendary singer/songwriter Jackson Browne is cradling the beautiful new Jackson Browne Signature acoustic guitar, hand-crafted for him by Gibson, backstage after unveiling it at the recent NAMM music trade show in Anaheim, Calif.

"And in the same way Gibson makes this guitar out of responsibly harvested wood, we have to be more mindful of what we are doing with the natural world."

Browne, one of his generation's most poetic, incisive artists, is just as passionate about the environment as he is his music. Seamlessly blending song and his concern for the earth, Browne has long been at the forefront of environmental activism, going "green" long before the term even existed (in 1979, he created, along with Bonnie Raitt, Musicians United for Safe Energy, or MUSE).

And Browne (whose multiplatinum albums include "The Pretender," "Running on Empty" and "Hold Out") doesn't just talk the talk. He walks it at home, where he essentially lives "off the grid" by generating his own power. His concert tours have become extensions of his philosophy, and he's purposeful in how he meshes in practical, environmental solutions to today's growing list of environmental problems.

However, rather than use the concerts themselves as full-blown platforms for personal speeches, instead Browne has re-engineered how entire tours function.

For instance, on his upcoming solo acoustic tour, which starts Feb. 23 in Santa Cruz, Calif., his tour bus and equipment truck will be run on bio-diesel fuel. The stage lighting is powered by a state-of-the-art 100 percent LED Bandit Lites rig, which greatly reduces energy consumption. Using GRNLite technology, the rig is also artist-friendly, as it eliminates onstage heat and offers a vast range of vivid color variations.

Other Browne-inspired green innovations include a several-years-old "no plastic backstage" rule. It's estimated that since 2008, over the course of approximately 150 band shows and 50 solo dates, Browne's tours have saved more than 50,738 plastic bottles from being used backstage.

Additionally, Jackson has also collaborated with Brita on its FilterForGood movement, making Brita Hydration Stations available to dispense filtered water, free of charge, to concert attendees.

The plastic bottle issue in particular is a hot button with Browne, as he explained to AOL News.

"I'm completely opposed to single-use plastic, so I'm very active in trying to get people to see that you don't have to drink water out of plastic bottles. And it doesn't stop there."

To illustrate the point, Browne pulled out a tube of lip balm -- in a paper tube. "See," he explained, "once the Chapstick is gone, the plastic lasts forever."

"So many birds all around the world are dying of starvation with their gullets full of plastic. Adult birds scoop up little bits of colored plastic as they gather food, and it ends up killing the chicks they feed. So much of this stuff ends up not getting recycled and then winds up in the wild. The plastic is used just once, then it stays around in the environment for years. But companies will only stop producing things like plastic water bottles when people stop consuming bottled water."

Browne -- who is also an active member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition and was recently recognized with the environmental 2010 Duke LEAF Award for Lifetime Environmental Achievement in the Fine Arts from Duke University -- says that at this point he's just interested in making people aware of alternatives.

"Look," he said bluntly, "how many times a day does someone take a sip from a plastic water bottle, put it down, forget about it, then open a new one? All of that waste happens at the expense of the environment. I was one of those parents 20 or 30 years ago that thought bottled water seemed like a good idea. But we know a lot more today about the effects of that plastic. So why not use a thermos or other kind of carrier? It's really not that hard."
Recording artist Jackson Browne attends the 2011 NAMM Show - Day 2 at the Anaheim Convention Center on January 13, 2011 in Anaheim, California.  (David Livingston, Getty Images for NAMM)
David Livingston, Getty Images for NAMM
Jackson Browne plays his new signature acoustic guitar last week at the Gibson suite at the 2011 NAMM music trade show in Anaheim, Calif.

At 62, the ever-youthful Browne remains an energetic, tireless leader in terms of his environmental activism. But he's also still a vital artist, adding to his classic catalog last year by releasing, to stellar reviews, the two-CD live collection, "Love Is Strange," with his longtime musical collaborator David Lindley.

And while Browne firmly believes that people need to start paying closer attention to issues like waste and how it applies to the natural world, he won't take too much time on stage to talk about it, preferring instead to let the music communicate the message and create awareness.

Besides, like his rich canon of honest musical odes, Browne's commitment and passion to the environment are nothing new to his fans.

"I just do like a little two-minute rant in the show," he said good naturedly with a little laugh. "I mean, I think most people know what I'm about already."

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