10 steps towards a just and green recovery in the cultural sector

Culture for Climate logo. Black and white. Abstract graphic that could be trees or mountains and a sun or moon with text in English and Gaelic.

Culture for Climate Scotland (Cultar airson Gnàth-shìde Alba) encourages our sector to aim to reach net-zero emissions in advance of the Scottish Government target of 2045, and to do so in a collaborative and inclusive way that contributes to a just and green recovery. 

Our group believes that these 10 steps are necessary to achieve this aim. We call for the adoption of the following principles, a recognition of the barriers and, vitally, a commitment to urgently take tangible action. (This action will be different, and will need different support to complete, for the different players within the arts and cultural sector.)

This is a working list which will be responsive to feedback from the cultural sector and is intended to evolve over time.

Culture for Climate Scotland’s 10 steps towards a just and green recovery in the cultural sector

Principles

We encourage all within the cultural sector to adopt the following principles:

    1. Harness our sector’s ability to contribute artistically to wider conversations around climate change, positive responses and positive futures.
    2. Integrate and amplify underrepresented voices and freelance artists at every stage of systemic change, abandon behaviours that create or perpetuate systemic barriers, and work collaboratively with our wide-ranging and diverse sector to collectively improve responses to climate change and maximise the impact of our advocacy.
    3. Rebalance our desire to work internationally with caring for the environment and global communities. Adopt the principle of slow, sustainable travel, whilst not excluding more remote communities in Scotland or creating barriers to access.
    4. Practise ethical and sustainable sourcing of goods and services, and participate in the circular economy.
    5. Champion transformative behaviour across the cultural sector that promotes carbon reduction, climate justice and climate adaptation, to creatively influence policymakers and public opinion.

See the appendix for suggestions of specific actions to implement these five principles.

Tactics

We challenge ourselves and our sector to work collectively to dismantle barriers to net zero and a just and green recovery, through the following tactics: 

  1. Question entrenched thinking and reluctance to change.
  2. Improve understanding of our ability and responsibility to create change.
  3. Increase co-operation and inclusivity in the effort to cut carbon.
  4. Advocate for increased funding to enable change and environmental action.
  5. Critique and resist systems that aim for perpetual growth.

See the appendix for more details and suggestions of actions to implement these five tactics.


APPENDIX

Background and process

Culture for Climate Scotland (Cultar airson Gnàth-shìde Alba) is an independent working group that was initiated by Creative Carbon Scotland (CCS) for a pilot project from January to June 2021. The intention was to increase engagement with carbon reduction and climate justice by empowering a group of representatives from the sector to explore these issues, generate ideas and encourage their peers to join the discussion and take action as well. The group comprises members of the Green Arts Initiative, the Green Tease network and independent cultural freelancers, who collectively agreed four project aims, as outlined on the project page. It was initially facilitated and administered by CCS staff, and is now largely self-organising. 

The 10 steps towards a just and green recovery, and the examples for implementation below, were agreed through an iterative process of idea generation and consolidation, through a combination of mind-mapping software, meetings in subgroups, and collaborating on a shared document. These are initial suggestions from our group, but we recognise that taking on these challenges and reaching net zero in an inclusive and just way will require discussion, collaboration and co-operation across the cultural sector, particularly with more diverse groups and networks.

Principles and examples of how to apply them

These suggestions will not all be applicable or currently possible for all organisations and individuals, but provide an idea of actions that could be taken and objectives to work towards. 

  1. Harness our sector’s ability to contribute artistically to wider conversations around climate change, positive responses and positive futures.
    • Programme, commission, produce or create work that deals thematically with climate change, climate justice and the human response, to engage audiences and contribute to these important societal conversations – particularly work that provides hope of positive futures. Ensure this work is relevant and appropriate to the community it sits within or tours to.
    • Ringfence resources for artistic work that explores these issues or pioneers new sustainable methods of art-making or art-sharing.
    • Include exploration of climate change into artistic policy and practice.
    • If running artistic development opportunities, support and seek out artists wanting to make work on environmental or climate justice themes.
    • Embed programmes of education around relevant artistic projects, taking a global and historical perspective on content, including the history of colonisation and its effects on those worst affected by the climate crisis.
    • Reimagine our cultural buildings as carbon neutral, democratic and accessible local resources that support communities to create resilience to the effects of climate change.
  2. Integrate and amplify underrepresented voices and freelance artists at every stage of systemic change, abandon behaviours which create or perpetuate systemic barriers, and work collaboratively with the wide ranging and diverse sector to collectively improve responses to climate change and maximise the impact of our advocacy.
    • Be prepared to and allow for change, systemically and structurally.
    • Amplify and make space for underrepresented voices and stories.
    • Consult more with audiences so we can provide for the cultural wants and needs of society in a relevant and meaningful way.
    • Diversify the locations and demographics of the people we make work for, to provide cultural benefits to a wider, perhaps currently unengaged, audience.
    • Collaborate with and carry out paid consultation with communities and artists who face systemic barriers such as racism, ableism, homophobia, sexism, classism, xenophobia, ageism, and any other daily lived experience of oppression due to for example the immigration, care or prison system, to understand their needs with regards to climate change issues and support their work. 
    • Collaborate across the full arts and cultural sector, including with trade unions, grassroots organisations, arts workers, freelancers, membership organisations, etc to collectively improve responses to climate change and maximise the impact of our advocacy.
    • Reflect on your financial or cultural status and consider supporting smaller organisations and individuals (who don’t have the resources) to reduce emissions. This could involve sharing resources, spaces, knowledge and skills.
    • Encourage empathetic approaches to how and when we work and be flexible and responsive to new and non-traditional working practices.
    • Contribute ideas and share best practice with the wider artistic community.

     

  3. Rebalance our desire to work internationally with caring for the environment and global communities. Adopt the principle of slow, sustainable travel, whilst not excluding more remote communities in Scotland or creating barriers for those with access requirements.
    • Avoid unnecessary travel.
    • Commit to choosing the lowest carbon transport option available within the logistical capacities of the activity. 
    • Build in timescales and budgets to allow the use of public transport and alternatives to flights. 
    • Tell organisations who pay for your travel that you prefer to avoid flying when possible (and why), and ask them to financially cover the additional time for slower travel.
    • Consider the travel of audiences. 
    • Carefully consider issues for those who live in locations with fewer options for sustainable travel due to local infrastructure, and communicate the best options for different circumstances
    • Conceive new routes for remote, virtual international collaboration with others around the world. E.g. consider a cross-continent collaboration to create a production / concert / exhibition in two locations, to avoid transporting it between continents for a tour.
    • Ring-fence a certain percentage of your annual carbon budget for finding, supporting and presenting work from those countries and cultures facing the impacts of climate change.
    • Avoid flights within the UK and Western Europe, with exceptions for people who experience barriers to other travel options due to access requirements. 
    • Be aware of the digital divide in creative programming and solution planning.

     

  4. Practise ethical and sustainable sourcing of goods and services, and participate in the circular economy.
    • Choose accommodation with sustainable standards and an environmental policy (such as Green Tourism-certified accommodation), where it doesn’t create barriers for people with access requirements.
    • Choose a pension scheme and bank that is ethical and invests less in fossil fuels.
    • Choose a green and ethical website domain and email provider. 
    • Learn about and encourage circular economy practices, such as leasing instead of buying, and sharing and reuse networks. Waste products from one source could be valuable to another. 
    • If equipment needs to be purchased, ensure that it can be repaired easily and locally and that it can be recycled at end of life to prevent landfill. (For example, using wooden nails in sets.)
    • Build time and budget into production processes to allow for responsible and ethical sourcing of materials, including investigating potential second hand sources.
    • Create or contribute to a central resource of sustainable materials, sources of reusable and recycled materials and companies that can assist in creating a circular economy.

     

  5. Champion transformative behaviour across the sector that promotes carbon reduction, climate justice and adaptation, to creatively influence policymakers and public opinion.
    • Commit to training in climate literacy ensuring that everyone has a good understanding of the responsibility of the Global North to work towards climate justice.
    • Speak up regularly and prominently about the need for sector and society-wide carbon reduction, adaptation and climate justice. Actively aim to influence public opinion and behaviour, through programming, projects and communications.
    • Be public about the commitments you are making and why this is important.
    • Respond to relevant government consultations, perhaps through a sectoral umbrella body.
    • Sign, promote and adhere to pledges such as Culture Declares Emergency or the SME Climate Commitment.
    • Encourage and support freelancers to sign up to the principles of sustainability and support them to hold other companies they work with to account.
    • Promote the role and skill of artists in helping society think in different, creative ways and for influencing strategic and policy development.
  6. Tactics for shifting barriers

    Each barrier to net-zero and a just and green recovery is paired with tactics to begin to dismantle it. These are just initial suggestions; shifting these barriers will require discussion, collaboration and cooperation across the diverse arts and cultural sector, a willingness to change and a welcoming and inclusive approach.

  7. Question entrenched thinking and reluctance to change. Play, imagination and creating moments of joy are important skills held by our sector. These can be applied to visioning, trialling and sharing new ways of living and working which protect the planet and our wellbeing.
    • We must challenge the assumption that all change costs money, as this can result in inaction. Many changes will save money, especially those that reduce activity and find simple ways of doing less, better. 
    • We also need to be realistic about what we can do with the time and money we have. If we don’t have time to operate sustainably, that is a sign that we are trying to do too much. We must make the case to funders that creating and presenting art with a low carbon footprint takes more time, and that less output of better quality is more sustainable.  

     

  8. Improve understanding of our ability to create change. Most cultural organisations and freelancers want to do the right thing, but do not know exactly what to do. It can be hard to find clear information and relevant resources, especially for freelancers and small businesses on how they can become carbon neutral. 
    • Ask for and contribute to clear and tangible guidance, procedures and action lists for different parts of our sector on how to cut carbon, such as the Theatre Green Book, from easy, no-cost actions through to changes to building systems, budgets, project plans and strategies. 
    • Organisations and individuals could then choose (at least) three actions from a list of tangible guidance to commit to each year.
    • Creative Carbon Scotland could expand its offer of practical help and resources to freelancers and individuals within the cultural sector.
    • Education and training in climate literacy and climate justice are critical, to ensure that everyone has a good understanding of the responsibility of the Global North to work towards climate justice.

     

  9. Increase co-operation and inclusivity in the effort to cut carbon. Progress on reducing carbon and transforming practices is uneven across the sector, with some cultural players more engaged and more able to make change than others. Many freelancers feel unsupported, have less control or ability to make changes, and feel nervous to suggest changes to organisations. Those with access requirements face additional barriers when trying to make sustainable choices. 
    • Encourage collaborative, co-ordinated and inclusive working on the journey to net zero. Share resources and knowledge and be transparent about progress and challenges. 
    • Take everyone with us, including those who are hesitant to commit to change; ensure everyone’s voice is listened to and learnt from. 
    • Ensure that actions and policies to reduce carbon do not pose additional challenges for those who already face greater barriers; instead, talk with those who would be affected and find appropriate ways to adapt those carbon reduction measures; there won’t always be a one-size-fits-all solution. Extra action is required from others to avoid additional injustice being placed on those who already face more barriers.
    • Learn from good practice in other countries and in other networks.

     

  10. Advocate for increased funding to enable change and climate action.  While not all carbon reduction measures cost money, many do. Retrofitting buildings, decarbonising our heating systems, or building new, carbon neutral premises carry a high upfront cost. The more sustainable option is often more expensive, e.g. train vs plane, electric vs diesel vehicles, even vegan vs non-vegan catering. Cultural organisations and individuals do not tend to have spare funds to put towards these costs. We need to be able to budget for these costs, but that is difficult or impossible for those on short-term or project funding. 
    • Creative Scotland could introduce an environment budget line in their applications (similar to the existing access line), where applicants itemise any additional costs of lower carbon choices.
    • Organisations and individuals could create an ‘environment’ budget line in their core budgets that could be used for larger carbon reduction measures that carry an upfront cost, such as building improvements, buying an electric vehicle, or even hiring a carbon reduction consultant.
    • Funding criteria should include evidence of sustainability (of projects) and carbon reduction (within organisations), especially for public money. Creatives should be better supported to undertake low carbon projects. 
    • Support ongoing calls for a Scottish Government culture budget that spans more than one year, to enable long-term planning and saving for environmental improvements.
    • Make the case for increased and sustained government investment in the cultural sector as part of the green recovery and the shift to a wellbeing economy. Having greater resources and security should help us to implement the changes we know are necessary.
    • Advocate for increased Government spend on the climate more generally (such as grants for replacing gas boilers and subsidies for rail travel instead of aviation and the oil industry). 

     

  11. Critique and resist systems that aim for perpetual growth. Our sector and funding systems are part of an economy based on perpetual growth. This means we are often incentivised to continually increase our activity, aiming for more touring, international projects and travel; more productions, exhibits and events; more material use and more waste; larger audiences for higher income. But all of this produces more carbon and uses more natural resources, while our planet can only absorb and provide a limited amount of each. 
    • Recognise that continually increasing our activity carries environmental and social costs and also affects our wellbeing. Plan to do less, more sustainably. 
    • Emphasise wellbeing within working practices.
    • Discuss and debate how we value international work and touring compared to local, community-based work, which carries a much lower carbon footprint.  
    • Allow for radical questioning of what we value and where we place value.
    • Build in increased time to work sustainably across all areas of operations.

Return to the Culture for Climate Scotland project page.

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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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