Sustaining Great Art

Tools of the Trade

I have no idea how Julie’s Bicycle got their name but I know what they do: they help arts and creative organisations to become sustainable. Or in their own words:

Julie’s Bicycle is a not for profit organisation making sustainability intrinsic to the business, art and ethics of the creative industries.

Founded by the music industry, with expertise from the arts and sustainability, Julie’s Bicycle bridges the gap between the creative industries and sustainability. Based on a foundation of peer-reviewed research, we sustain creativity, enabling the arts to create change.

We work with over 1000 arts organisations across the UK and internationally, large and small, to help them measure, manage and reduce their environmental impacts.

They’re unique in their deep knowledge of both the arts & culture sector – their founder and CEO Alison Tickell comes from the music scene – and environmental standards and best practices.

They’ve recently been working with Arts Council England as a strategic partner to create indicators and tools to help arts organisations – for now, National Portfolio Organisations and Major Museum Partnerships – report on their environmental impact  – and they just co-published a nice report to draw the lessons from the first year of this project.

In 2012, Arts Council England became the first arts funding body in the world to embed environmental sustainability into the funding agreements of its major programmes. Arts organisations are an integral part of the fabric of their host cities and regions, and environmental sustainability is now, as Alan Davey, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, puts it, “both (an) ethical concern and economic imperative”.

Or to quote Anthony Sargent, General Director, Sage Gateshead:

There is no more essential task for us all – as citizens and as companies – than to start to live within the sustainable means of our planet.

Julie’s Bicyle has designed free tools and resources to support arts organisations in evaluating and reducing their environmental impact. It also provides useful case studies spanning a range of settings and scales:

Some interesting insights from the report:

Engagement and Impact

  • In the first year an outstanding 90% of all 704 organisations engaged in some capacity with the environmental reporting programme. These results represent the single biggest dataset from arts organisations globally.

  • In a survey, nearly 90% of funded organisations agreed or strongly agreed that “Arts Council Environmental Reporting has made or can make a positive difference to the arts sector as a whole”.

Size, shape, readiness and artform really do matter

Significant differences in reporting levels and reliability were observed across settings and artforms. Unsurprisingly, it is easier for cultural buildings and office-based organisations than for touring and outdoor events to assess their environmental impact; but the ability to report is also affected by the support and cooperation (or lack of) of landlords (for small organisations) and local authorities (for all).

In terms of artforms, “levels of engagement and reporting have generally been higher for theatre, Major partner museums  and visual arts, compared with literature, dance and music. Museums and theatres in particular have already been targeted by specific environmental initiatives, something which has not been the case for the other art forms”.

There is an appetite for learning through exchange and collaboration

A number of groups are already demonstrating the benefits of collaboration, including:

London Theatre Consortium, 13 theatres working to develop strategic, creative initiatives and share expertise and resources, including a sustainability strand.

Manchester Arts Sustainability Team, 13 arts organisations, venues and events, collaborating to support their own sustainability goals and Manchester’s climate change strategy.

Newcastle Gateshead Cultural Venues, 10 venues working to share learning and maximise their positive environmental, social, cultural and economic impact, with different workstreams, including a Green Campaign and Capital Investment Strategy which explores longer-termsustainable capital projects for the group

Royal Opera House, Royal National Theatre and Royal Albert Hall, who entered into a three-year contract for collective energy procurement known as ‘The Arts Basket’ provided by the energy broker Power Efficiency in 2012. Other organisations have since joined and benefits include reduced costs, better risk management and longer-term price certainty on a green tariff supply.

There is a clear need for a more differentiated strategy for year two and beyond

This is a significant outcome: defining categories of organisations based on their access to data – with relevant environmental indicators.

“Smaller organisations, offices and events (are) unable to provide meaningful energy and water data, and for organisations whose primary activity is touring and events, (…) reporting on other sources of environmental impact, e.g. transport and waste, may be more meaningful.”

Findings and recommendations from the Year 1 report will inform future funding agreements (2016-2018), including “continu(ing) to ask organisations to collect data and to develop policies and action plans that improve environmental performance and carbon emissions” as well as “ensur(ing) that what we ask is proportionate, as part of a differentiated strategy.”