Sustainable Music Hall

By Juliet Sexton
Photos courtesy of Asa Harrel

It takes an act of pure dedication to move in a new direction in business for the sake of environmental and social sustainability. That’s exactly what the owners and staff of a music venue, New Earth Athens (formerly New Earth Music Hall), in Athens, Georgia recently undertook. New Earth is a music hall in the college town of Athens known for its progressive music and art scenes. Although New Earth Athens is one of many music venues in Athens it has its own distinct flavor and drive to combine music of all genres with ethical business practices which reflect the life goals of those involved. I had a chance to talk with Adrian Zelski and Drew Meyer, two of the business partners of New Earth Athens, about the changes they have made not only in the venue but also within their business practices.

New Earth Athens was opened in August 2009 by a group of partners, which included Drew and Adrian. Drew had been the former manager of a club on the same site when Adrian came in and expressed an interest in purchasing the struggling club. Within a few months the ball was rolling and New Earth became a reality. Shortly after that another local venue, the Georgia Theatre, burned down and New Earth offered to host their shows while the Theatre got back on its feet. It did and both venues have continued to be able to successfully host various music events in their spaces.
New Earth continued to reach out and support their local community, including opening the space for community meetings and events, donating time and money to local charities and supporting local art; the art murals on the walls are by Athens artist David Hale. In early 2012 the business partners of New Earth, which now included Matthew Woolley, DubConcious bandmate of Adrian, and Dr. Steve Mares, chose to follow their collective conscious, take it to the next level and bring some positive changes to New Earth. Wanting to become a B Corporation, corporations with high ethical environmental and social accountability, they set into action purchasing and design standards which reflect this direction including local non-profit beneficiaries.

“Community is going to be a core element of this. We believe in Athens and want to support all the different people that make it so amazing,” Adrian expressed.

The desire to make this more than just another college bar is apparent. Their goals are to incorporate health and wellness into the space including daily yoga practice, a non-alcoholic healthy drink bar, along side their organic alcohol bar and organic menu. They have made strides in reducing their environmental impact by using recyclable/recycled materials such as cups, straws, paper towels, toilet tissue, napkins, paper and more. They have set forth ethical purchasing policies and work with companies with the same standards.

When it came to bringing sustainability into the redesign of New Earth Athens Adrian sought out the help of childhood friend, and sustainable contractor, Andy Hickman.

“Adrian approached me specifically because I am building an Earthship outside of Athens. We have the same beliefs and values professionally. Most contractors won’t even work with reclaimed wood,” Andy explains. They were even able to attain permission from the county to use the same types of systems used in Earthships for a commercial space.

Andy came in and replaced the walls, bar, tables and stage with over 100 year old reclaimed heart pine wood. It was no easy task, but the results were stunning. The space went from being a large warehouse type room with a couple bars, to a warm inviting taproom separated from the music space by large barn doors. It created a more intimate and inviting atmosphere.

In addition to New Earth Athens, the business partners are developing a sister venue in the downtown Mission district of San Francisco, due to open late 2012. The goals for both venues will be the same and will focus on positive and progressive music, art and culture. Their goal is also to have a connection between the two venues. Adrian has a clear vision on making this happen.

“The differences are that San Francisco is one of the biggest cultural hubs in the world, and there are millions of people around to cultivate ceremonies and culture with. Athens is a beacon of light and an amazing community, but albeit limited to its demographics and population. I see a lot of crossover as well though. We plan on having an East meets West and West meets East culture in both places simultaneously.”

In business there is much more than making money and selling a product. Ultimately it’s about creating a community that is sustainable, uses ethical practices, respects the environment and can grow with the world around them. I remember when I first talked with Adrian about what their plans were for New Earth Athens. His excitement could hardly be contained. He could see no reason why a business could not be successful by putting the world around them first.

“I think that the human world we live in could use a big shift. The way we eat, think, talk, drink, dance, etc. could all be done in ways that benefit not just the self, but the whole community at large. By doing things more sustainably, and with less ego and domination as the driving forces behind our decisions, we could develop a very inspirational and healthy culture for ourselves and the next seven generations to enjoy.”

Even though New Earth has only been around for a few years they have shown how people and a business can work together to create a space that is beneficial to all. They have shown its not complicated or impossible to combine ethics, sustainability and business. In fact I believe they have proven just the other. They understand that by helping their community and the Earth they are in fact helping themselves. They recognize that they reap the benefits of what they sow. Drew put it very simply when asked what their ultimate goal was.

“Making the world, through music and venues, a better, local, organic and sustainable place.”