Sustainable AmbITion: what might we do?

by AmbITion Scotland lead consultant Hannah Rudman

Inspiration to act sustainably so that we can save our civilisation and ecosystem is what citizens, corporations, and governments need (read about why our civilisation and ecosystem need saving here!). Sustainable AmbITion is about giving arts, culture, and heritage organisations support to make some first steps towards being ecologically sustainable – using digital tools. Just because we’re not seen as a significant part of the emissions/pollutant emitting and natural resource using problem (the energy, built environment, and transport sectors have greater impacts on a nation’s environmental footprint in comparison to the creative industries here) does not mean we should not be a significant player in the solution. Sustainable AmbITion is about providing arts, culture and heritage organisations the opportunity to begin working – through the use of digital technologies – towards being more sustainable themselves, so that with integrity and by example, they can begin inspiring their communities of audiences towards sustainable lifestyles: ecologically (economically and socially too).

I believe that the cultural and creative industries are a crucial key sector to facilitating mass behaviour changes (ie. amongst the general public) in relation to the reducing, recycling, reusing and renewing of the earth’s natural resources. We need a national debate to shatter the myth that consumerism = wealth, a myth that affects people’s aspirations and resource use. The point of a story can pierce a heart; a visual interpretation of data or a situation can blow our minds; emotionally engaging with a performance can make our souls sing; sending a viral video/cartoon/photo message round the globe through social media can embed meaning and understanding across cultures. Experiencing any of these can change mindsets and enable mass movements.  Having our imaginations opened up, our emotions set ablaze, and our creativity enlivened are where the creative and cultural industries have an important role in mobilising people to act and think differently. For example, Do The Green Thing celebrates people from 209 countries sharing their green actions and ideas creatively through social digital media; Cape Farewell and the RSA’s past Art and Ecology programme have engaged significant numbers of artists to engage the public with the idea it might be humanity that has caused the earth’s current ecosystem chaos, and therefore humanity must take responsibility to resolve this. (An example of content from Do The Green Thing):

Creative expression may wean people off the idea that money and stuff is all that counts. But we creative and cultural industries need to lead by example, and have a message backed up by our own integrity. The creative and cultural sector generally is behind other key sectors on engaging significantly with ecologically sustainability: the creative industries are neither a significant resource user nor pollutant emitter, compared to other key sectors. Some reducing, recycling, and reusing has begun voluntarily (and in some instances is incentivised because public funders demand an organisation’s carbon footprint to be counted) – Julie’s Bicycle is the company helping to organise and stardardise this effort, encouraging incremental change and continuous improvement, and in Scotland, Creative Carbon Scotland helps cultural organisations embed the Julie’s Bicycle tools and make reductions. But most organisations within the sector are not under any legislation, and therefore changes in resource, energy, waste, and water behaviours are only secured when significant economic efficiencies can be proven – environmental sustainability is not top of mind organisationally, it is not business critical.

Therefore only occasionally does environmental sustainability show up as a subject in the sector’s core product and output (great examples here though: National Theatre Scotland’s environmental policy is core to operations, but also in artistic output and product via shows such as The Last Polar Bears, and Five Minute Theatre which have an output focussed on being environmental sustainability. Five Minute Theatre – originally co-produced as an Envirodigital project – was created to show that theatre from anywhere can be shared and participated with anywhere else digitally: increasing reach, scale, and accessibility without emitting the 18 tonnes of CO2e a standard Scotland-wide tour would have created. The Last Polar Bears has been toured round Scottish schools this year by bike).

Aldeburgh Fest car shareThe creative and cultural industries need to be explicitly invited to the tables where environmental/economic/humanitarian strategies to avert ecological disaster are created. We need to become part of the mix of channels though which a public engagement strategy with the low carbon transition might be launched; we need to be a voice, and we need to be a platform, and we need to be an enabler for others’ creative expression.

We need ways of communicating complex interactive systems to the public and we need to encourage means of establishing and monitoring shared actions. We need ways of personally engaging with the new actions to give individuals a fulfilling role in society. These requirements are far removed from finance procedures and government regulation, but they are familiar to creative practices.

Architect and Photographer Charlie Baker reflects: “The creative economy is not serried ranks of desks with us all doing the same task but long or broad, adaptable and diverse supply chains. From the high paid to the voluntary, from the organised to the marginal, the latter often by choice. The music industry relies on the kid trying things out to keep feeding in new material.The film producer has a huge community supporting her, all the way to the bike messenger getting the tape to the distributor. So perhaps the greatest opportunity the creative economy can show is how it creates a working vibrant community.” (in After The Crunch, 2008). The creative industries model a vibrant community, ecology based way of working; it increasingly embraces open-source methods of working, and increasingly understands how to make things happen, fast, on the web with a digitally native generation. Furthermore, the creative industries help us learn and develop ideas in outside of the constraints of the formal education system. A country’s capacity to learn, rather than individual genius, affects national levels of creativity and innovation. The many ways in which creative industries enable each individual to develop their own learning, creative imagination, and emotional skills is incredibly important to achieving significant adaptation.

An Envirodigital research project undertaken with the creative and digital industries for the Scottish Government’s 2020 Climate Group in 2011 came up with this conclusion too. The government is yet to engage – lets give them some inspiring case studies!

For some ideas of what arts, cultural, and heritage organisations are doing to be more ecologically sustainable through using digital tools, check out our project ideas, and watch Hannah Rudman talking about this subject: