As a creative, it can be often depressing to hear about the poor effect some creative industries have on the environment. Take the fashion industry, for example, it accounts for about 8-10% of global carbon emissions, and nearly 20% of wastewater.
However, the pandemic and its shift in how we receive creativity and creative media has encouraged many a positive impact on environmentally creation and consumption. A locked-down audience responded with increased streaming and engagement, proof, were it needed, of the centrality of culture tour well-being. The pandemic has shown that culture matters and being able to connect to our cultural communities matters also.
Furthermore, the pandemic became a prequel to the climate crisis, showcasing habitat destruction, animal welfare, economic slow-down, falls in carbon emissions, urban animal takeovers and further shared signifiers. The dynamics of global versus national, health versus business, the deals that decide who gets what, how, when and where are all here in a moment that reveals the cracks before we are ready to mend them.
Even if you look at mainstream media, this year’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here series on ITV has chosen to film the show in Wales over Australia for a second year running. This has reduced many unnecessary flights to the other side of the world for both cast and crew.
Similarly, smaller companies and creative freelancers are making these changes. Julie’s Bicycle, a registered charity in England and Wales, is a great example of a creative business idea ahead of its time. When Julie’s Bicycle was founded by the music industry it was looking for the glue to mend the cracks. Their work is based on a simple premise; they change the arts because arts change the world. They start with climate action: the nuts and bolts. Reducing impacts and finding solutions to scale and accelerate action: pathways for net-zero cultural buildings and events, less extractive productions, touring and freighting, and supporting the climate justice movement to hardwire the bigger social perspectives and imperatives into cultural work. Expertise is required at all levels; not just the artists but everyone who supports their work.
Over 12 years Julie’s Bicycle has worked with hundreds of organisations and creatives to take climate action and our work, which started in one sector – music – has extended to many cultural sectors and countries. Their partnership with Arts Council England pegged funding to annual environmental reporting and policies, a world-first which has generated global interest. The gains have been considerable: a 35% reduction in carbon emissions and 23% reduction in energy consumption since the programme’s inception, resulting in £16.5 million of savings across the portfolio.
Now that many spaces have reopened, creators find that the innovations that have maintained a cultural response to the Covid crisis have created something new. With Massive Attack and Coldplay renouncing touring if emissions cannot be avoided and Mark Rylance exiting the Royal Shakespeare Company over BP sponsorship, the ‘new normal’ is already sure to be unlike its predecessor.