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Pocket guide: environmental responsibility in arts organisations

“In a climate emergency, what is the role of an arts organisation? How can we create an environmental responsibility policy and action plan which is meaningful?”

Towards the end of 2021, we had a workshop-style board meeting*, looking at environmental responsibility and the climate crisis.

(*We’ve changed how we do board meetings to make it easier to get lots of different perspectives in our organisational leadership.)

We gathered (virtually, on Zoom) a group of artists, event organisers, climate specialists and activists alongside our staff and trustees to get our teeth into the topic.

Lots of people emphasised the importance of transparency in that discussion – so we’re sharing ideas and wisdom that came out of the session so that anyone can use any bits that are helpful.

NOTE: at this stage, these are things that people suggested or mentioned in the workshop. We can’t claim that these are all things that we are doing already, or even that we definitely will do. Like everyone, we’re ‘on a journey’ with these changes. We want to go as fast as we can but we’re also conscious of how far we’ve still got to go. We’ll at least try to be open and honest about our progress along the way!

In a hurry? Hate gifs? Download or share this as a 2-page ‘pocket guide’ (Google Docs)

5 ways arts work can directly help with the climate crisis

  1. We support creative work, stage ‘public spectacle’ events and have the marketing skills to reach audiences. Harness these elements of our work directly to the climate cause.
  2. We know and work with brilliant artists – experts in powerfully engaging people’s attention and emotions. Team these creatives up with scientists.
  3. We regularly put on events with hundreds of people in attendance. Use our skills to launch citizens’ assemblies to debate and pressure.
  4. We have ongoing communications with loyal audiences who love what we do and will listen to what we have to say. Work with our audiences to make our voice louder.
  5. We are part of a ‘place infrastructure’ – people travel to our venues and events and we contribute to the shape of our area. Play an active part in making travel environmentally-sustainable where we are based.

9 things we can start doing right now to bring climate policies to life in our day-to-day operations

  1. Put sustainable activities in our Business Plan. Build climate considerations into business planning and KPIs.
  2. Specifically allocate staff resource and time to environmental responsibility.
  3. Audit suppliers and artists we work with to make sure they share our values and commitment to combating the climate crisis.
  4. Pay people more! (Climate justice and economic justice are inextricably linked).
  5. Climate considerations should cut through everything we do: the way we procure, the way we market, the way we do our cleaning… So make sure climate considerations are on every meeting agenda.
  6. Train up our staff on Carbon Literacy. Create a Carbon Literacy Toolkit for the organisation for training purposes.
  7. Calculate our digital carbon impact as well as our physical one.
  8. Keep talking about climate justice. Be public and transparent about our policies and progress (or lack thereof!). Share what’s working and what’s not with other organisations. Share our climate values in communications other than dry, internal policies.
  9. Increase sustainability in physical spaces we control. Plant some bee-friendly plants! Find ways to harvest rainwater!

3 big picture perspectives to keep in mind across everything

  1. The system’s got to change, not just actions. This needs to go beyond small modifications to ‘business as usual’. We should articulate the view that the relentless drive for economic growth and exploitative, colonialist capitalist ‘norms’ are fundamental drivers of the climate problem, and that clear alternatives must be sought.
  2. Resist ‘growth-at-all-costs’. ‘Green growth’ may be a contradiction in terms. Slow everything; reduce quantity of output to allow more space for thinking about the quality of our sustainability.
  3. Vote with our wallet. Be choosy about who we work with: don’t spend our money with companies that deny the climate crisis, or work against it; do develop creative partnerships with companies striving for positive climate action. Support our staff to take dedicated time for sustainability efforts.

4 examples of handy resources/further reading

  1. Big picture: read Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics
  2. Practical changes: use Julie’s Bicycle‘s carbon footprint spreadsheet.
  3. Practical changes: use online services like Networked Condition that can help analyse websites and the digital impacts we have on the environment
  4. Harnessing our work to the climate cause: check out I Stand For What I Stand On at COP 26 – a co-created show about the climate crisis

Future board workshops

We’re planning to continue with this format of board workshops. If you’re interested in participating in future sessions, follow us on socials so that you know when the next workshop is coming up!

Credit: Ed Rees/Pigfoot Theatre