Guest Blog: Changing Climate, Changing Culture – Exploring the Role of the Arts and Cultural Sector in Supporting the Low Carbon Transition in Edinburgh

23rd May 2018

In March 2018, 29 postgraduate students from the University of Edinburgh enrolled on the Participation in Policy and Planning course presented the findings of a semester-long research project to a group of stakeholders at the Scottish Parliament. Sophie McCallum and Laura Berry summarise the findings of the project.

Supported by our four clients, Creative Scotland, Carbon Creative Scotland, Transition Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, our project aimed to identify the opportunities and challenges for the arts and cultural sector to support and accelerate the low carbon transition in Edinburgh.

Climate change is a cultural issue. In order to reduce the impact we are having on the climate a change needs to be facilitated in wider society. As the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh is a city with both rich cultural heritage, and a commitment to the low carbon transition. Edinburgh is internationally recognised for its UNESCO World Heritage sites, museums, galleries, theatres and – of course – festivals. Alongside this, the City of Edinburgh has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 42% by 2020.

Given that arts and cultural sector have a large potential for shaping perceptions of society and can play a central role in developing culture for future generations, our challenge was to investigate whether and how arts and culture in Edinburgh could play a positive role in helping the city meet its climate targets and transition to a low-carbon future.

Our research

The first step in identifying such opportunities and challenges was to identify and categorise key stakeholders related to the city’s arts and cultural sector as well as current work towards a low-carbon transition. We identified three key groups:

  • Individuals and organisations in the arts and cultural sector
  • Organisations supporting sustainability and advocacy and education
  • Government and decision making organisations

We contacted representatives from each of these areas and conducted 60 stakeholder interviews which included semi-structured questions, and also questions for a Social Network Analysis that allowed us to establish connectivity between stakeholders across Edinburgh.


Four main themes regarding opportunities and challenges emerged from stakeholder interviews:

  • Perceptions of role of the arts in the low carbon transition
  • Public outreach
  • Networking and collaboration
  • Funding and resources


Most interviewees felt that there was value in engaging the arts and cultural sector in addressing the low carbon transition. Arts and cultural interviewees nearly unanimously believed they had a responsibility to help address climate change and they believed in their power to facilitate societal change. Within this, however, there was some disagreement on what the role of arts organisations should be – for example, if their responsibility was to reduce their own carbon footprint, or if such efforts should be focused on raising awareness and educating the public on climate change issues through art. From the perspective of interviewees from environmental organisations, while belief in the importance of arts and cultural sector was high (77%) it was not as strong as within the arts and cultural sector itself, suggesting it is perhaps undervalued. Nearly a quarter of the environmental interviewees viewed the role of arts and culture mainly as a communication tool, in contrast to the varied responses for potential contributions by arts and cultural representatives. This suggests that while there exists interest and potential for collaboration, there is also some room to expand understandings of the potential for arts and cultural sector to shift culture around climate issues.

Public outreach

In this project we have defined public outreach as activities undertaken by organisations that support the communication of their work. This was raised by many interviewees as a forum for the arts and cultural and environmental sectors to collaborate as it is something that nearly all organisations participated in. Both the frequency and variety of events suggest a potential to support the distribution of knowledge of the low carbon transition. One of the key problems, particularly highlighted by those working in sustainability, is that most public outreach happens with groups who are already interested, therefore it does not necessarily increase wider engagement with the issue.

Networks and collaboration

If the arts and cultural sector is to play a role in the low carbon transition there needs to be sufficient engagement with environmental groups and stakeholders. The interviews showed such engagement is limited for several general reasons, including:

  • Lack of awareness of sector-based issues and priorities across sectors
  • Lack of connection and communication within sectors and organisations
  • Varying levels of interest for collaboration across key stakeholders
  • Existing cross-sector connections between stakeholders are informally formed

This is exemplified through the social network analysis (SNA) below. Comprised of roughly 470 connections between 260 stakeholders the map you see here highlights broad trends in existing collaborations between arts and cultural and environmental organisations located in Edinburgh. Creative Carbon Scotland (CCS) appears to be the most influential of our clients in terms of facilitating collaboration. It is located in the centre of the graph and has the biggest node with the most lines flowing from and to it.

Guest Blog: Changing Climate, Changing Culture: Exploring the Role of the Arts and Cultural Sector in Supporting the Low Carbon Transition in Edinburgh

Funding and resources

Across all organisations a limitation on funding and resources was highlighted as a major barrier to cross-sector collaboration. In terms of financial resources, a lack of long term funding was negatively impacting an organisation’s ability to plan long term, and funding application processes were described as sometimes complicated and difficult. Furthermore a lack of perceived profitability in cross-sector collaborations was identified as it is more challenging to tangibly measure.

Limited time is another major reason for not taking part in or initiating collaborative projects. Organisations have no time to take on projects and shortages in paid staff aggravate this. Especially, environmental organisations who often rely on volunteers for this kind of work.

Finally, interviewees noted a lack of appropriate skills within organisations to reach out beyond their existing networks. There is a lack of marketing skills and there are few to no pre-existing relationships between many arts and environmental organisations, which make it challenging to contact or initiate projects with different sectors despite a desire to do so!


Networking and collaboration

  • Provide additional platforms and opportunities for environmental organisations and arts and cultural organisations to work together
  • Formalise current cross-sector organisational partnerships beyond personal relationships
  • Work with educational organisations such as schools and universities

Education and outreach

  • Expand current climate education programmes for the arts and cultural sector beyond reducing operating carbon emissions to provide more broad information on sustainability and climate change.
  • Increase education and awareness of the possibilities of the arts to help facilitate a low carbon transition, and disseminate evidence on the role of the arts through case studies, showing that arts can help accelerate the low carbon transition.
  • Develop comprehensive educational materials for arts and cultural organisations to incorporate sustainability

Funding and resources

  • Expand project funding requirements beyond “greening” the arts and cultural sector to include those which focus on the role of art in changing public perceptions of climate change
  • Explore opportunities of creative arts funding sources and partnerships for projects such as the creation of a specific fund for arts and climate change, public and private commissions for art and sustainability projects, etc.
  • Streamline, simplify, and expand existing centralised arts funding sources


Given its international recognition and UNESCO World Heritage Site status, our research found that the city of Edinburgh is uniquely placed to facilitate collaborations that could allow the arts and cultural sector to support and accelerate the city’s low carbon transition not only through the reduction of carbon emissions, but through a greater cultural shift, making the global, personal. With this in mind, it’s important that we recognise such potential synergies as an opportunity to empower artists to work on environmental issues, rather than to utilise arts simply as a communications tool for desired outcomes and interests.

To quote one of our interviewees, “momentum in communities will usually sustain ideas,” so, let’s take these ideas and build momentum from here!

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We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

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A project initiated by Edinburgh’s Festivals with key partners the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network

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