Arts and culture sector realises ‘intrinsic’ value of sustainability

England's arts and culture sector has reduced its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy use by 17% over the past year despite a growth in cultural activity, according to the industry's latest sustainability report.

The report, conducted by not-for-profit firm Julie’s Bicycle, demonstrates the achievements of a sustainability programme developed by Arts Council England, the first national council in the world to introduce environmental reporting for its regularly funded organisations.

More than 650 arts and cultural organisations have signed up to the Environmental Sustainability Partnership programme, which requires participants to track their energy and water usage and implement an up-to-date environmental action plan.

Environmental action has saved cultural institutions from music, theatre, visual arts, museums, literature and combined art a total of £5.1m during 2015/16, according to the report, and improved staff wellbeing in 71% of the reporting organisations.

Arts Council England chief executive Darren Henley said: “We see sustainability as being intrinsic to resilience. It’s not only environmentally responsible but it makes economic sense. Our collaboration with Julie’s Bicycle is introducing us all to new ways of working.

“Our funding supports not only the mechanics of compliance – the environmental reporting tools, help and support but also thought-leadership. We all believe that art and culture can make the world a better place; this programme shows how our actions can make a real difference.” 

‘Beacon of best practice’

Renewable and low-carbon energy supply is reducing the sector’s dependence on the national grid. The report states that on-site renewable energy generation increased by 23% between in the past year and has tripled since 2012/13.

A 4.5% average annual reduction in energy use emissions has saved £8.7m since 2012/13, the first year of Arts Council England’s programme. If this rate of reduction continues, 2019/20 emissions would be 46% lower than in 2012/13, a combined cumulative saving of 160,900tCO2e and £54 million over eight years.

The Council-supported environmental action plans and policies are supporting business development. The report shows that 63% of reporting organisations use environmental data to inform planning and decision-making. Moreover, 75% found policies useful in supporting funding applications compared with 70% in 2014/15.

These findings were announced by Julie’s Bicycle as part of its wider Sustaining Creativity programme, which explores environmental challenges, drivers of change, and the opportunities that transformative solutions offer to the creative community.

Commenting on the new figures, the UK’s Minister of State for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock said: “This important partnership is a beacon of international best practice and shows how our arts organisations are leading the way in building a more environmentally responsible industry. The report demonstrates that a sustainable sector can also have a positive financial impact and improve staff wellbeing.” 

The art of sustainability

The rollout of the onsite energy efficiency solutions has led to a step change in the sustainability efforts of the arts and culture sector. For instance, the Tate Modern recently fired up a brand new 82KWp rooftop solar array which will provide a proportion of the electricity needed to power site’s various galleries.

Somerset House Trust, meanwhile, has upgraded its energy systems through two high-efficiency gas boilers and a gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP) plant, guaranteeing energy performance and annual savings of £235,000.

And building improvements such as energy-efficient lighting and solar panels have helped Nottingham Playhouse reduce its energy use by 30%, emissions by 145tCO2e and energy costs by £19,000.

In 2014, the National Gallery reported that it had become one of the first public buildings in the world to achieve 85% energy savings on lighting, by combining the use of LED lighting with a system that automatically adjusts external roof blinds.

George Ogleby

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