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Environmental Sustainability at the heart of the cultural sector’s mission


Arts and Ecology  

Arts and Ecology

The UK’s Cultural Sector is being encouraged to consider environmental sustainability as being at the heart of what it does. DCMS has recommended to the sector that there are three core elements of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. They have recently published their Sustainable Development Action Plan 2008-11 that highlights proposed actions the sector should take. These include beginning to measure and reduce the carbon footprint of the cultural sector (see DCMS group carbon footprint assessment); and beginning to measure the impact of climate change on the sector’s cultural and sporting assets (see full literature review).

DCMS is also recruiting the cultural sector to help the government instigate behavioural change around sustainability. In the foreward to DCMS’s action plan, Culture Minister Margaret Hodge says:

“If we are to ensure a truly sustainable future, we need to encourage people to change so that they take the long-term consequences of their actions into account. [The cultural sector is already] using their influence to explain the complexities of sustainable development to the public…”

The report highlights the following projects as beginning to achieve awareness raising and instigating change:

Arts & Ecology, which is a new programme from the RSA profiling, supporting and encouraging artists, architects, film-makers and authors in addressing environmental concerns. Michaeala Crimmin, head of Arts at the RSA says:

“The past year has seen an extraordinary and heartening momentum in the cultural 

sector addressing sustainability. The challenges of climate change are stark but the 

arts bring new energy and insights alongside the facts and figures, the politics and 

the science. Pioneering initiatives are maturing – both practical projects focused on 

reducing our carbon footprint; and, as with our own Arts & Ecology project, those 

that act as a catalyst for the inspiration, insights and brilliance of the cultural 

sector as we face the huge environmental challenges of the 21st century and their 

human impact.”

Joseph Oliver, Director of Bash Creations is helping with a project for 14-16 year olds working with the Royal Parks and young explorers. The young people used their creativity and media skills to promote the project in an eco-friendly way. Joseph says:

“We need to convey the message that sustainability is not just an economic model 

and a political issue, but also a lifestyle choice. To encourage people to adopt a low 

carbon way of life we have to make the concept of environmental sustainability 

appealing, exciting – and even fun. 

I truly believe that the most effective avenues to promote social and behavioural 

change are the media, arts, sports and entertainment. If these sectors make a 

universal effort to influence the mainstream, this will go a long way towards our 

highest goal: leaving a habitable planet behind for our children.”

Over the longer-term climate change will impose significant costs and challenges for the preservation of the country’s historic environment, the design of new buildings and much of the sport and leisure infrastructure, such as public parks and playing fields. Coping with climate change remains an important part of DCMS’s sustainable development plan. Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate says:

“The challenge of climate change requires bold and imaginative action from the 

museum profession. Current standards for gallery environmental conditions assume 

the necessity of energy-intensive air conditioning and dehumidification. But we need 

to rethink the way we care for our art collections. We need to establish a new dialogue 

between professionals and empower them to consider fresh options. More tolerant 

guidelines could stimulate imaginative solutions in caring for our collections. This is 

particularly important for establishing the requirements for new buildings where the 

best opportunity exists for novel solutions. 

The time is right for such a debate. I detect a willingness among colleagues to take 

responsible long-term decisions. We do so from our current position of strength, and 

not belatedly in response to events. I am calling colleagues internationally to join 

this debate and to support its outcome. “

You heard the man!