Scotland leads the way to carbon-free culture and arts

Credit: Unsplash

Lucia Posteraro 
Multimedia Editor

Wind turbines have become a staple in Scottish landscapes. Conversations on climate change resonate with the hilly and fragile skylines extending from one coast to the other. What is less known, however, is how small groups tucked into Edinburgh’s streets are equally contributing to decarbonisation. A silent green revolution has begun in the Scottish arts too and is spearheading a movement of awareness and commitment to just art across Europe.

Creative Scotland is now at the forefront of assessing the environmental impact of the culture and arts sector. The organisation wishes to align with the 2009 Climate Change (Scotland) Act, which requires all public bodies to do their part in reducing carbon emissions. Since 2011, the organisation has been supporting Creative Carbon Scotland, a charity which is leading the sector to set common standards and comply with existing regulations from local, national and international authorities. 

Creative Carbon Scotland was founded by the Edinburgh Festivals,  the Federation of Scottish Theatre, and the Scottish Contemporary Art Network, ensuring that it commands strong support within the cultural sector itself. Creative Carbon is free from oil sponsorships and invites its members and institutional partners to join the movement. It consists of a small team of eight housed inside the capital’s City Chambers, until weekly events across the country force them out of the office.

Creative Carbon has become the latest of a set of practical engagements that were renewed in Creative Scotland’s 2018-2021 Environmental Action Plan. In the document, the organisation has committed to acting sustainably and encouraging the development of adaptation and mitigation plans. Since 2016, Regularly Funded Organisations are required to propose a Carbon Management Plan, subject to review every year.

The strategy gains importance in the light of recent reports from participants in the Creative Carbon framework. Between 2015 and 2016, Scottish theatres produced 8,100 tonnes of CO2, 93% of which came from utilities alone. Total emissions from the organisations involved amounted to 14,500 tonnes of CO2, up from the 8,000 tonnes reported in 2014–15.

Creative Carbon Scotland believes that the number has risen especially because of the new reporting obligations for funded bodies. And yet, yearly variations aside, a downward trend gives an optimistic picture of the future. Energy efficiency has become a favoured example of practical engagement, but a few organisations in more rural areas have gone as far as generating their own supply of sustainable energy.

Credit: Lucia Posteraro

The issue of “green art” is not limited to Scotland. Arts Council England was one of the first bodies in the UK to encourage environmental reporting in the culture sector. They estimate that the English sector consumes 7.2 billion litres of water in a year, enough to power 122,000 British households. 154,400 tonnes of waste and 379,000,000 kilowatt-hours of energy are another result of intense touring schedules. The annual energy cost is set around £26.7 million.

To tackle similar challenges, Creative Carbon’s Supplier Database informs members of the arts sector of available green suppliers. The list ranges from venue and catering providers to organisations providing sustainable energy and waste collection. The Green Arts Portal provides extra resources to support new sustainable projects on several levels, whether by helping artists monitor their carbon footprint or incentivising bicycle use among staff.

The Green Arts Initiative network has further strengthened exchanges on best practices, recently extending to one organisation in Ireland. Cultural and artistic bodies have their efforts recognised at the national level with a selected brand. In Glasgow, the Centre for Contemporary Arts has implemented the network’s advice in its Environmental Policy, which included a new building management system, the election of Green Ambassadors, and sourcing sustainable products.

Time and money remain obstacles to a faster transition. Constraints for capital improvements and the cost of lower carbon travel take a significant toll. Surveys among Green Arts Initiative members show that flying and international travel are seen as the third biggest environmental problem to deal with after funding and staff capacity. Not by accident, researching sustainable travel options was the most common strategy on which organisations want to work in 2020.

Efforts have been made for organisations to receive referrals to Resource Efficient Scotland, a group which collaborates with SMEs in all sectors. Some interest-free loans are offered to help with taking measures to reduce emissions. Challenges aside, the results of environmental programmes like this are already visible and continue to be supported by academic and institutional research, as the Scottish Government prepares to release a new Climate Change Plan by April.

For comparison, Arts Council England announced in January that 50 percent of its organisations developed new creative or artistic opportunities as a result of environmental initiatives. 49 per cent have produced, programmed or curated work on environmental themes, while 77 percent reported that their new policies improved chances in funding applications.

Moreover, 81 percent saw improved team morale, and 50 percent experienced reputational benefits. The green art revolution is far from being perceived as a top-down imposition, as members begin to reap what they sowed on multiple levels in a sector usually strapped for cash from rounds of austerity measures. Fiona MacLennan, Creative Carbon Scotland’s Project Officer, is convinced that Scotland is very much involved in such positive outcomes close to home.

Creative Europe has judged our Cultural Adaptations project, which they fund, as a game-changer”, she tells us. “We have also been approached by several international organisations asking for support and advice on promoting sustainability, as they see our approach as both simple and groundbreaking.” The data and level of cooperation across borders, even in a specific field, suggests that, in this regard, Scotland is making the largest steps in the right direction.

Ms MacLennan is adamant about those prospects: “Our greatest hope is that we won’t be needed in the future because society will be based on sustainable, just principles. Realistically, we expect to be busy for a while longer, working to connect the arts and culture with others working towards that transformational change”. As Glasgow turns into a battlefield for the planet’s future, so might the rest of Scotland do with its untapped policy potential.


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