The popularity of K-pop, short for Korean popular music, has gained rapid momentum in the past few years. This industry is a huge source of revenue and is contributing to more positive perceptions of South Korea’s overall national brand value.

Labels can profit greatly from both the purchase of physical records and merchandise, which is aided by the K-pop industry’s strong emphasis on specialized fan collectibles. After all, music lovers have for decades collected merchandise. Fans frequently purchase many copies of the same physical record and display them rather than listening to them, relying instead on digital streaming to hear the music.

Until recently, the K-pop industry relied on selling mostly plastic-made albums and merchandise. However, the K-pop industry is becoming more eco-friendly, with numerous K-pop fans demanding that industry insiders put more effort into saving Earth.

The K-pop industry is attempting to join the environmental movement

There have been many instances where entertainment agencies have demonstrated their shift towards environmental sustainability. In September 2021, the world-famous K-pop group BTS represented the green movement in New York during the United Nations General Assembly’s 76th session by wearing recycled suits created by RE;CODE, an eco-friendly clothing line produced by Kolon Industries.

In July 2022, BTS member J-Hope’s latest album, Jack in the Box, released under HYBE Labels, did not come with a physical CD. Instead, the package came with a QR code that gave access to the digital version of the music.

In August 2022, K-pop agency JYP Entertainment—which works with groups like Twice and Stray Kids—stopped manufacturing physical albums for its artists. It also hopes to make its merchandise as eco-friendly as possible going forward. JYP Entertainment’s CEO, Park Jin-young, stated that the company is currently planning to introduce several digital-based album formats, which will totally replace CDs.

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Blackpink’s new album Born Pink, released in September 2022 under YG Entertainment, was also released in more eco-friendly packaging, using materials like soybean-oil ink and biodegradable plastic.

What can be done to continue ESG practices?

The K-pop industry is developing different ways to reach environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) goals and promote sustainability for future generations. However, many more issues still must be tackled, starting from the promotion of sustainability in almost all areas, from tour planning to merchandise.

The K-pop industry draws huge audiences, and a few changes to tours would make an immense difference. For example, biodegradable water bottles should replace plastic bottles; venues should be fitted with eco-friendly lighting; and improved heating and cooling efficiency at venues would reduce their environmental impact. Tour plans that minimize flights and use sustainable energy must also be considered.

In terms of merchandise, items like t-shirts or canvas bags can be made from organic cotton. The manufacturing of other plastic-based merchandise can be avoided or can be made greener through the use of recycled materials.

What does the future hold?

The K-pop industry should make a vocal commitment to become greener, and then do everything it can to achieve this. Although the industry’s impact on the environment is not as huge as that of other sectors—such as the automobile or mobile industry—the enormous global influence of K-pop is clear. The most notable record labels—HYBE, SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment—are actively aiming to become more eco-friendly and this sets a clear worldwide precedent. Now the rest of the industry must follow suit.