Paul Diaz, owner and president of Tree Sound Studios in Norcross, Ga. -- where a range of musical artists from Elton John to Usher have recorded albums -- is aware his industry isn't known for using alternative energy, or for being environmentally friendly in general. "This has got to be the most unlikely business to be green in," he says. "It's just inherently not green. We're surrounded by all these machines that are sitting here, burning juice, all the time."
But that hasn't stopped him from trying. "I also don't know of any other business where we potentially can affect so many millions of young people," he points out. "From a production level, if we can affect the artist, we can reach the young people."
To make an impact that's less environmentally hazardous and more inspirational, Tree Sound Studios has gone green in a variety of ways. About three years ago it started reducing energy consumption by using compact fluorescent light bulbs and LED lighting, and later began purchasing carbon offsets from Green Mountain Energy. Then, two years ago, Diaz discovered a program in which energy is generated with methane from landfills, and he signed up. Now half of Tree Sound's energy comes from the landfill while the other half is still offset. Since carbon offsets are cheap, however, Diaz decided to keep purchasing the same amount after joining the landfill program -- simply diverting the other half toward things like employee travel.
In addition, Tree Sound Studios has implemented a solar hot-water heater, soy ink, a rainwater catchment, two organic gardens to feed both crew and clients, and a biodiesel fueling station in the parking lot -- also for crew and clients. The company has even applied for a wind-tower permit, which is a first for Gwinnett County, a suburban county located just northeast of Atlanta. So far, the permit has been caught up in legal issues. "They're trying to figure out how to categorize it, regulate it," Diaz says. "But that's cool -- we get to make a little Gwinnett County history at least!"
Though Diaz has always been a self-proclaimed tree-hugger, Tree Sound Studios didn't start out green. He founded the company in 1990, with the intention of somehow combining environmentalism, studio production and music. But, as he explains, "I got caught up trying to stay in business and making a living." The turning point came around 10 years later, during a live radio broadcast Tree Sound was hosting with Dave Matthews. Matthews was asked what sort of political things he supported. The musician responded with, "green things," and shared his thoughts on saving the Earth's resources for future generations. "As he gave that speech," Diaz recalls, "it helped align some of the puzzle pieces for me … Dave Matthews helped me remember my original mission."
Along with spreading awareness of environmentalism, part of Diaz's mission is business-based. He believes that going green doesn't have to be reserved for those with wealth reserves and spare time. "I'm a capitalist," he says. "I want to realize money. I have to make a living at it … I'm doing it because I think it's right, for sure, but I'm also doing it because I think it'll be good for business -- it'll be good for the bottom line." He sums it up: "Power's only going to get more expensive and harder to come by. And the more we can generate on our own, the more lucrative that's going to become."
Though business has neither spiked nor declined in response to Tree Sound's green activities, they are making an impact on clients. An example is hip-hop artist Juvenile, who went green after working at the studios. One day during an interview, Juvenile was asked if working at Tree Sound had any effect on him. Diaz grins at the memory: "He broke out some organic mouthwash and Dr. Bronner's soap." Juvenile said he began to be more environmentally aware after working at Tree Sound month after month, walking through its gardens every morning and seeing everything it was doing.
This is exactly what Tree Sound Studios hopes to continue accomplishing. "People who work here make records that are listened to by millions and millions," Diaz says. "So if we can affect their mind-set, then that seeps into their artwork, then we win -- because that's getting out to young people and becoming popular mainstream culture. Which is what we have to make happen."