Environmental report

Arts Council and Julie’s Bicycle publish environmental report on cultural sector

Main Image: ‘Arctic – Ice Lens’ by Ackroyd and Harvey as part of The Poetry Society's Young Poet's Network's I Am The Universe, which was one of four initiatives to raise awareness of climate change

The arts and cultural sector is embracing the global challenge of climate change says the Sustaining Great Art and Culture Environmental Report 2017/18 published today by Arts Council England and Julie’s Bicycle

Julie’s Bicycle has been working in partnership with Arts Council England since 2012 to inspire environmental action across the arts and culture sector, with a focus on long-term funding partners, the National Portfolio Organisations. The environmental charity says that over the past six years, museums, galleries, theatres music venues, festivals and other cultural organisations across the country have taken great strides to improve their environmental practice.

The report suggests that cultural organisations are emerging as leaders and key collaborators in sustainability and are also presenting artistic and creative work that raises environmental awareness among their audiences in innovative ways.

Stories from the Sector – Turner Contemporary

The report also offers ‘Stories from the Sector’, which in include, for example, Turner Contemporary in Margate, which in 2017 automatically shut down computers to reduce electricity at night, contributing to a 50 per cent reduction in administration-specific energy use. Lighting specific energy use at the seaside gallery has been reduced by 12 per cent, keeping energy consumption under control despite an increase in opening hours during the summer. The gallery is also re-using exhibition furniture several times before it is recycled. And plinths and Perspex, which account for much exhibition ‘waste’, are re-used by local artists, schools and businesses. Turner’s bespoke gallery modular wall system enables plasterboard to be added, removed and recycled, reducing consumption of materials

Key findings of the report include:

  • Organisations are consistently reducing carbon emissions: CO2 emissions have decreased by 35 per cent across the National Portfolio since the programme began.
  • Organisations are more energy efficient: Direct energy consumption has been reduced by 23 per cent since 2012/13.
  • Organisations are increasingly financially resilient: The ongoing drive to reduce energy consumption has led to financial savings of £16.5m since the programme began.
  • Organisations are experiencing benefits beyond reductions: Environmental practice and carbon literacy are being linked to improvements in other organisational priorities, including team morale and strategic decision-making.
  • Organisations are contributing to a new creative ecology: The above trends drive demand for – and generate new skills and knowledge that support – clean technologies, sustainable goods and services, greener waste solutions and the emergent circular economy. A quarter of the Portfolio are now on a green energy tariff.

The two bodies have said that in response to the report and the growing commitment demonstrated by the sector they will now shift focus towards accelerating impact and stretching ambition. This will include two new strands of work: The Accelerator Programme, which offers organisations resources and expertise to develop innovative ideas into deliverable projects for greater impact, and a targeted carbon reduction scheme for organisations with large infrastructures, The Spotlight Programme.

Alison Tickell, CEO, Julie’s Bicycle, who wrote a report for M+H Advisor in March on its Creative Climate Census, says the report shows how a deceptively simple policy – Arts Council England’s Environmental reporting requirements – can prompt big shifts and how hundreds of creative organisations are demonstrating that sustainable cultural ecology can work. She also says that environmental literacy is inspiring deeper connections between climate and social justice, investment and innovation, clean energy and new materials, empathy and biodiversity, the past, present and why we must shape the future.

“In uncertain times, arts and culture become even more important,” she said. “As we experience climate change unfolding around us, arts and culture can intervene, disrupt, generate new knowledge and foster cultural practice that illuminates pathways through the complexities of climate and the environment.”

According to Nasa, the planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 0.9 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere. Most of this warming occurred in the past 35 years, with the five warmest years on record taking place since 2010. And in October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its special report ‘unprecidented changes in all aspects of society’ were needed to address climate change.

Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England, said: “In a time when society is tasked with taking unprecedented action on climate change, the Arts Council England commissioned 2017/18 Environmental Sustainability report makes for extremely encouraging reading. The report evidences that with leadership, commitment and creativity arts and cultural organisations are delivering truly inspiring results.”

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