This August, our first ever Re/action Festival celebrates Creativity for the Climate, with a focus on people and communities coming together to make small changes that add up to a big difference. Working in partnership with Leicester City Council, Curve Theatre, De Montfort University and other local partners allows us to drive home the importance of taking action against climate change.
As one of the new Arts Council England Investment principles is embedded in environmental responsibility, Jo Dacombe, our Head of Consultancy has also been exploring what this means for our organisation and many of the organisations she’s currently supporting.
In this blog, Jo explores some useful ways to start to assess your organisation’s environmental impact:
When Arts Council England published its new strategy Let’s Create, it included an outline of four Investment Principles, the principles that the Arts Council believe demonstrate a well-run organisation: Inclusivity and Relevance, Quality and Ambition, Dynamism and Environmental Responsibility.
The first three of these are areas that the arts are familiar with and have been developing for a long time: Inclusivity is at the heart of many charitable arts organisations who have developed expertise in these areas; Quality and Ambition is a key driver for the creative industries; and Dynamism is something that many cultural organisations do well, adapting their ways of working in response to changing circumstances. For the fourth principle, however, many arts organisations I have spoken to felt they didn’t know where to start.
Environmental Responsibility is now a key Investment Principle for anybody seeking the support of Arts Council England, and with the evolving climate crisis this is definitely an area that we should all be concerned with. But for many organisations in the cultural industries, they are starting from a low base on tackling their impacts or even understanding what their carbon footprint might be.
Where should an organisation start with developing its Environmental Principles? Here are 5 ideas to get you started:
- Know your baseline.
It sounds obvious, but you can’t evidence your improvement in environmental practices if you don’t know where you’re starting from! Your first action, then, is to collate the information you do have about your environmental impact, and find out the information you don’t have. What are you doing well and what has room for improvement? Can you use an online tool such as Creative Carbon Scotland’s Quick Carbon Management Calculator to work out what your current carbon footprint is? See where your biggest environmental impact is at the moment, and start there on how to reduce your footprint.
- Collect available data.
What data can you access before you start putting in place new measurement tools? For example, if you rent a space, does your landlord collect any information about their electricity usage? Can you use some of this to see what proportion your own use might be? Can you track your modes of travel and mileage to see what impact this has? Do you already have data on goods, materials or stationery that you are purchasing and can you see where you can lessen this?
- Think about suppliers and procurement.
You can reduce your own environmental impact by thinking about the suppliers you use. If you only use suppliers who have environmental practices themselves, this will reduce your own impact, but also will signal to other suppliers that they need to reduce their footprint too in order to attract customers. Use your purchasing power to encourage suppliers to ensure their products and services are more sustainable.
- Look at your waste.
What do you throw away and how can you reduce this? Are you buying goods from suppliers that have reduced their packaging or who use recyclable packaging? What do you buy that you can reuse? For example, here at Art Reach we are trying to use reusable cable ties in our festivals!
- Who can you influence?
You can influence your suppliers as we’ve seen, but what about your audiences and the artists you work with? What about your partners and networks? Do you explore environmental issues in your programming or the creative work that you produce? Can you suggest ways in which audiences can come to your events using public transport, and encourage them to do so? Can you work with your partners to share resources, or cut down waste and energy use?
There are a number of organisations out there who are trying to help too, by providing resources and information. Here are a few you could have a look at:
Crucially, it’s important to understand that the Arts Council doesn’t expect their funded organisations to already have all the answers. What they do expect is that, from wherever you are starting from, you are taking steps to reduce your footprint. I hope some of these ideas will help.