Thinking about environmental sustainability #1

In this new series of six blogs, Creative Carbon Scotland will provide some thinking about ways in which potential applicants can respond to Creative Scotland’s Environmental Sustainability criterion.

All applicants need to meet this criterion (and others) to secure funding. The answers applicants give to the questions will depend on their individual circumstances – if they are an organisation or an individual and, if an organisation, their size, the sort of work they do, the sort of organisation they are etc. Our blogs aim to help you think clearly about the criterion rather than provide any specific recommendations. We have made sure that nothing we say is contradictory to Creative Scotland’s own thinking, but otherwise these are our thoughts and should not be read as suggestions or official guidance from Creative Scotland.

To find out about Creative Scotland’s wider work on the climate emergency, you can read about their Climate Emergency & Sustainability Plan, which we, along with a team of carbon reduction and climate adaptation experts, helped them to write in 2021/22.

Three of our blogs will directly cover the key work areas identified by Creative Scotland in their guidance; two later ones will be relevant to all of the key work areas.


Mitigation is the technical term for carbon reduction or, more correctly, the reduction of greenhouse gases. Scotland’s target of reaching ‘net zero’ by 2045 is set in law and the arts and culture sector, along with the rest of society, will need to change radically to help meet it. Our blog will explore the mitigation strategies, including the question of how to address ‘residual emissions’ ie the emissions that are caused by essential activity that can’t be reduced. ‘Offsetting’ is the best-known approach, but it is problematic and controversial.

This blog about actions towards net zero will be written by our Green Arts Manager, Caro Overy. You may find it useful when you’re answering the questions: How do you intend to reduce carbon emissions in line with Scotland’s pathway to net zero? and/or How have you considered your commitments to environmental sustainability in planning your international working?

Look out for the blog on 4 October. If you can’t wait for the blog, there are many resources about this on our website and Starting Point is a good place to begin.

Climate change adaptation

Although mitigation is what most people think about when they think about climate change, recent weather events in the UK and abroad have driven home the fact that our climate is already changing, and we must adjust in response. Adaptation Scotland has some excellent resources on this topic.

Climate change adaptation is defined by the UN as ‘adjustments in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities‘. For our Creative Europe project Cultural Adaptations we produced two useful toolkits, exploring both how cultural organisations can adapt to the impacts of climate change, and how artists and creative practitioners can contribute to wider adaptation projects.

We hope this blog will be useful if you’re an organisation applying for longer term funding when you’re answering questions like: How will you manage the impact of the climate emergency on your organisation to ensure long-term business sustainability? For individual and shorter project fund applications it is also important to consider whether there are climate-related risks that could affect your ability to deliver your project, such as travel disruption, and think through how you could manage these risks.

This blog, by Green Arts Manager, Caro Overy, and our Director, Ben Twist, will be published on 5 October.

Programming focus

Artists and cultural organisations have an enormous opportunity to use their powerful influence to shift society’s thinking about climate change. They can do this through making or presenting work that directly or indirectly touches on climate change, or framing their work so that climate change themes are brought out. See, for example, this short film that CCS produced for COP26, working with many of the national cultural institutions.

How cultural organisations behave is also important: they can communicate and work with audiences, acting as ‘trusted messengers’, informing them about the climate actions they are taking, and more. Failing to do this makes the problem worse – we are all influenced by the stories and messages we hear whether consciously or not, and putting across ‘high-carbon’ stories, images or behaviours, or even simply continuing as though nothing has changed, reinforces the unsustainable ‘business as usual’ model.

CCS Director Ben Twist and Green Arts Manager Caro Overy will write our blog on how the climate emergency can be considered in both programming and programme delivery. It may prove useful or bolster your thinking when responding to: How will the climate emergency be considered in your programme and the ways it is delivered? We’ll publish this blog on 11 October.

Climate justice

Climate change exacerbates existing inequalities, both globally, where the poorest countries are most at risk of floods, heatwaves, drought etc, and at home, where poorer and disadvantaged people tend to live in homes that are harder to heat or cool and will be less able to afford the ways to protect themselves or adjust to the changing climate. Younger people and next generations will have to deal with the increasing impacts in the future, and women often have to manage the problems caused by the impacts of climate change today. People most affected by the impact of climate change are the least likely to have caused the greenhouse gas emissions that create the problem. Thus, climate justice requires rapid and robust climate action, which it will necessarily help to shape. Such action needs to be fair and equitable and should counter rather than worsen existing inequalities.

Although Creative Scotland doesn’t ask any specific questions about climate justice, clearly there are many intersections with equalities, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and Creative Scotland’s EDI criterion. This is an important theme: our website has an introduction to climate justice and our culture/SHIFT Manager Lewis Coenen-Rowe’s blog will be published on 18 October.

Collaboration and place-based working

Collaboration and place-based working are not explicitly covered by Creative Scotland’s guidance. There won’t be any specific questions on this topic in the Multi-Year Funding or Open Fund application processes, but successful climate action is something that neither arts and cultural organisations nor public and private bodies can achieve on their own. Scotland’s remote communities, different languages and islands highlight the need for place-based working, leading to an intersection with the EDI criterion. We must all collaborate, both within the arts and cultural sector, and across boundaries with organisations that have different aims and backgrounds.

Meanwhile, building strong and resilient communities is the best way of meeting the challenges of both mitigation and adaptation, and arts organisations and individual practitioners can help. Forward-thinking organisations will find new opportunities for rewarding and innovative work in a different Scottish cultural landscape. Our Climate Beacons project and SPRINGBOARD local assemblies are examples of collaboration, while artists and organisations across Scotland are already leading on place-based working. We’ll publish this blog on 19 October.

Creative Scotland’s guidance also references ‘a nature positive economy’ and although we won’t write a blog about this, it should be threaded through everyone’s thinking about climate change in their work. By a ‘nature positive economy’ Creative Scotland is linking the financial sustainability of the organisations it supports with their environmental sustainability. Avoiding taking the actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or to adapt to the impacts of climate change will increasingly lead to increased costs as air fares and gas bills rise, and to increased risks as changes in our climate lead to damage to buildings and cancelled events.

Any organisation seeking funding for an extended period needs to demonstrate how it is reviewing its business plan to ensure that it remains both financially and environmentally sustainable in the future. Many features of ‘business as usual’ in the arts and culture are neither environmentally sustainable nor financially sustainable in the longer term: we all need to think hard about what our core objectives are and how they can be achieved. This may well mean doing different things as well as doing the same things more efficiently.

We hope this introduction and the later blogs will be helpful to anyone applying for Creative Scotland funding – and will also help you to strengthen applications to other funders, who are increasingly looking for similar thinking through their support programmes. Ideally, your thinking about climate change will not be confined to Creative Scotland’s Environmental Sustainability criterion and answers to those questions, but will be threaded through your whole application, informing your responses to Quality and Ambition, Engagement, Equalities, Fair Work and International. Climate change is caused by and is affecting everything we do, and we can’t put it to one side in its own box.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that climate change is only one of several interlinked emergencies that we face. Biodiversity doesn’t feature in Creative Scotland’s criteria, but the Scottish Government’s Biodiversity Strategy demonstrates how considering these wider issues in conjunction with work on climate change can contribute to a strong organisational approach and accordingly a convincing funding application.

For applications to the Multi-Year Funding programme particularly, it is important to recognise that this period of funding doesn’t start until 2025 and runs at least until 2028, when the impacts of climate change will be increasingly strongly felt and the Scottish Government targets for carbon reduction will be getting closer. Climate change is showing that our current way of being in society as a whole and our way of working in the cultural sector is unsustainable. We need to imagine a new society and a new ‘good life’: a task that the arts are particularly suited to.

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