Embracing the Climate Crisis
Jamie Saye is the co-founder and general manager of Sustainable Arts in Leeds (SAIL). This organisation, rooted in the heart of West Yorkshire, is leading a pivotal movement: guiding the creative and cultural sectors towards an environmentally sustainable future.
There’s a growing tide of understanding and urgency rippling through the arts and cultural world. The sector, becoming increasingly aware of its intrinsic ties with the environment, is embarking on a significant shift towards sustainability. For instance, Arts Council England has firmly positioned environmental responsibility as a vital investment principle, meaning arts and cultural organisations must integrate sustainable practices to qualify for funding.
Concurrent with this shift, audiences are contributing to the momentum. A study named Act Green conducted by Indigo reveals a shared sentiment among viewers – they believe that arts organisations bear the responsibility to tackle the climate crisis, and they are hoping for bold, innovative solutions.
“The challenges looming over the sector are indeed substantial, but with our commitment and guidance, they're not insurmountable. We're not just observers; we're partners, collaborators, and allies in this journey towards a more sustainable future.”Jamie Saye
Journeying towards sustainability
What does this mean for the arts? How does an organisation transform into a sustainable entity? These are complex questions with many challenges, and potential solutions that cost more, or take more time to implement.
Take for example the idea of waste reduction, which is often seen a cornerstone of sustainable best practice and one of the most tangible impacts. It encourages the idea of maximising resources and minimising waste by using everything at our disposal. However, the real-world implementation isn’t as simple. Consider theatre costumes. Second-hand costumes from charity shops could serve as a sustainable alternative. But does this solution fulfil the designer’s vision? How much modification is needed to fit the cast? Can these costumes withstand daily use and touring?
Power is also a big issue, with cultural organisations often inhabiting old, inefficient, listed buildings. To heat and cool these buildings effectively takes a lot of energy, and with the rising tide of energy prices over the recent years, many have looked to see whether they could generate their own energy through systems such as solar panels. However, due to the aforementioned listed building status, many organisations can’t take advantages of the cost savings that on-site generation can bring, and deep retrofit to make the buildings more energy efficient is often cost prohibitive.
Travel is another impact, not just in terms of staff travel and the movement of resources, but audience travel is a huge carbon impact. In some cases, audience travel can be responsible for around 75% of an organisations total carbon footprint. How then, when organisations are already stressed for income, do they balance the need to reduce their carbon impact, but also encourage bums on seats?
“Power is also a big issue, with cultural organisations often inhabiting old, inefficient, listed buildings. To heat and cool these buildings effectively takes a lot of energy, and with the rising tide of energy prices over the recent years, many have looked to see whether they could generate their own energy through systems such as solar panels.”Jamie Saye
Sustainability in Leeds’s cultural sector
In Leeds, there’s a wealth of creativity channelled into sustainable practices. A Leeds 2023 project, Making a Stand, pioneers the idea of borrowing timber from the supply chain for the installation and returning it for use in construction, furniture making, and community projects.
Opera North’s upcoming Green Season will introduce three brand-new productions, incorporating insights from the Theatre Green Book with the view to reduce the environmental impact of touring productions as much as possible, and recycling and reusing as much as possible (even an opera itself!)
SAIL stands as a beacon of support for the cultural sector, ever ready to assist in a multitude of ways. Whether it’s providing advice on minimising power consumption, steering capital projects, conducting Carbon Literacy training for staff to enlighten them about actionable solutions, crafting environmental action plans, analysing carbon footprints, or working with external stakeholders on changes that would benefit the sector, SAIL is actively engaged.
The challenges looming over the sector are indeed substantial, but with our commitment and guidance, they’re not insurmountable. We’re not just observers; we’re partners, collaborators, and allies in this journey towards a more sustainable future.