This is the second in our ‘Thinking about environmental sustainability’ blog series and focuses on mitigation. It’s a longish read, so settle in and enjoy.
Applicants to Creative Scotland’s Multi-Year Funding stream may find this blog useful for shaping responses to: 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?
Read blog #1 – introduction to the series.
In this blog:
- We’re not on track
- The routes to net zero
- Digital emissions
- Technological progress, infrastructure change and long-term plans
- Residual emissions
- Business models
- Other resources
We’re not on track
Creative Scotland’s Climate Emergency and Sustainability Plan sets out the agency’s aim for the arts sector, defined as all relevant funded organisations and individuals, to be on a trajectory to net zero by 2045, in line with Scottish Government targets¹.
We know from our work with organisations undertaking environmental reporting that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction in cultural organisations is possible. A total of 136 organisations report annually on their emissions and have plans for emissions reduction in place. Our environmental reporting framework guides this process of emissions measurement. Our website has an overview of the story so far. Due to actions that have already been taken, RFO emissions have reduced by 40% since 2015/16. But despite this relatively strong progress and great work by many organisations, RFO emissions are 3,500 tonnes higher this year than they were last year, which means they’re back at 2018/19 levels. The upshot of this is definitive: we’re still not on track to reduce emissions to meet the Scottish Government’s targets.
The routes to net zero
Buildings and energy use – approximately 60% of all reported emissions
For most arts organisations that own or manage their building, utilities (gas, electricity, other fuels and water) probably generate the largest proportion of their emissions. It is generally possible to reduce energy and water use, and thus bills, by about 20% through changes in practices (eg switch-off campaigns, reducing high-energy behaviours) and low-cost interventions (eg motion sensors on lighting, thermostatic radiator valves, alterations to toilet flushes, mending dripping taps etc). These actions can be taken by individual organisations and their green teams and you can find out more in our guide to energy.
Achieving the next level of emissions reduction may require more extensive capital works, especially for those organisations working in old and historic buildings. Boards and leadership of organisations that own their buildings can plan for future work. This could include:
- Allocating or sourcing funding to assess the future capital works required so that they can plan effectively
- Planning for potential closure periods to enable the work to be done
- Strengthening their own knowledge of their building’s construction and the areas where work needs to be done
- Learning about and familiarising themselves with place-based plans in the local area such as Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies
- Developing the skills and capabilities of their staff to work in this area
- Ensuring that the knowledge is recorded to avoid losing it due to staff changes
Glasgow Women’s Library’s Net Zero Handbook provides an excellent practical resource for this work.
Those organisations that lease buildings from third parties such as local authorities will need to work with their landlords.
Travel, transport and freight – approximately 30% of all reported emissions
Emissions from travel and transport are generally the hardest to reduce for arts organisations and artists alike. They tend to be the most erratic part of any organisation’s footprint, varying year on year depending on planned activities and programme, particularly for organisations that don’t run a building. International collaborations often lead to an increase in the use of aviation, which comes with higher emissions. The cost can be a challenge for tight budgets and slower travel can be challenging for organisations working with freelance performers with packed schedules and/or caring responsibilities at home. We know many organisations are taking action and making good efforts but despite this in 2022/23 emissions from flights among reporting organisations increased five-fold compared with 2021/22 and were 8 % higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Organisations that are making good progress in reducing their emissions from travel use a combination of policy and carbon budgets. Policies that will support ongoing emissions reduction could include banning flights within the UK, Europe, or going entirely flight free. Measuring emissions from travel is relatively easy and can be done through claimexpenses (to which Scottish arts organisations get a discounted subscription rate). Organisations can use these figures to set carbon budgets and clear reduction pathways. Since travel often relates to working with other organisations there is also an opportunity to influence other organisations to think about the impact of travel and how to reduce it. For example, working up a budget for a lower carbon alternative even if a higher carbon option is taken – this can help to build knowledge and pressure to change how we budget for and fund travel in the arts.
Audience travel, while not a part of an organisation’s direct carbon footprint, can still account for a significant impact on GHG emissions so we need to carefully consider how we can minimise the impact in that area, maybe through building relationships and awareness among local partners and public transport providers, timing shows to coincide with public transport timetables, and encouraging awareness and use of sustainable travel methods among audiences.
Waste – approximately 1% of all reported emissions
While waste is the smallest part of the overall emissions from reporting organisations, it’s often very visible to audiences and partners alike and can provide an opportunity to connect with local authorities and communities. Avoiding waste is also the underlying principle of all carbon reduction. The most effective way of reducing waste is to explore how an arts organisation can participate in and support a circular economy. Groups such as the Circular Arts Network, the ARMS Group and Re-Set Scenery have started work in this area.
Emissions from procurement aren’t easy to measure (we have just started asking reporting organisations to think about them) but are worth getting an understanding of to evaluate whether the impact of supply chains can be reduced. This can most effectively be done through procurement policy underpinning engagement with suppliers proportional to the amount being spent. Being part of a circular economy minimises procurement emissions as well as those from waste.
Digital emissions are an even more complex area because the emissions generated are beyond the direct control and, in many cases, influence of organisations aside from carrying out good digital housekeeping. Globally, emissions from ICT total about 3% of emissions overall but this is projected to rise to 15% by 2040 as other elements of infrastructure change and our use of digital technologies increases. Start with our guide to your digital footprint and figure out your first steps with our guest blog by Glasgow-based digital carbon company, Neuto.
Technological progress, infrastructure change and long-term plans
We’ve already seen some emissions-saving technologies become available and/or being more widely used, eg electric vehicles and on-site renewables (three Scottish cultural organisations have taken this step). Organisations with scope to consider and introduce newer technologies can plan their implementation into their activities, acknowledging any risks. It’s worth remembering that new and improved technologies will become available and companies should research and build these into their longer term plans.
Another factor in emissions reduction so far has been changes to infrastructure beyond our control, which we can expect to continue and can work together to support. For example, as more renewable energy has been brought onto the wider UK grid, we’ve seen a reduction in the carbon intensity of electricity. This means that in 2015 using 1kWH of electricity resulted in 0.46kgCO2e whereas in 2023 using 1kWH of electricity results in 0.21kgCO2e, a reduction in carbon intensity of more than 50%. Greener public transport infrastructure has also become more available. Transport Scotland aims to decarbonise Scotland’s railways by 2035 and scheduled flights within Scotland by 2040. Similarly improved technologies will enable more buildings to be decarbonised more easily as time goes by.
Organisations can work together to influence the wider changes that need to happen. For example, groups such as the Scottish Classical Sustainability Group have made good progress with their report on train travel, and the ARMS Group.
Organisations should research relevant changes and build these into their net-zero trajectory, whilst not relying on a ‘magic bullet’ some way into the future to enable them to avoid taking short-term actions.
Many organisations have asked us about what to do about those emissions that they don’t think they can cut out. These are known as ‘residual emissions’ and often people consider ‘offsetting’: buying carbon credits from an organisation that can reduce carbon (eg by replacing carbon-emitting infrastructure or equipment with carbon-free kit) or sequester carbon (very commonly by planting trees). The Scottish Government has created some guidance on this, and Creative Scotland has followed this with its own guidance.
The key message is that organisations should concentrate on reducing their emissions as far as possible before considering offsetting, or even insetting, which is where ‘offsetting’ is undertaken within the wider Scottish public estate. The cost of carbon credits will be incurred every year until the carbon emissions are cut out of the organisation’s activity: better to spend the money on your own reduction effort, which may then reduce costs each year, rather than give it to someone else.
Over the longer term it is likely to be necessary to consider not only how you can do what you do more efficiently and in a lower carbon way, but also what you do to achieve your artistic, social, financial and environmental goals. The most innovative organisations are already considering their business models.
It is telling that despite widespread support and commitment to greening the sector, our collective emissions have now ‘recovered’ from the COVID-19 pandemic and are drifting upwards again. This is related to real or perceived pressures around what making and sharing cultural work entails. Emerging artists and producers wanting to raise their profiles seek opportunities to travel more widely, venues aim for bigger audiences leading to more energy consumption and higher emissions from audience travel, and theatre companies develop by planning tours further afield leading to higher travel emissions.
To date, success is shaped around economic models that encourage and rely on growth. Unless we can very swiftly find a way to decouple carbon emissions and economic growth, we need to explore different business models with different measures of success, and if we’re serious about achieving our ambitious climate goals then we need to start learning about and testing these now. Boards and company leaders seeking Multi-Year Funding can use the first period of funding to explore these new business models, on their own and with peers and their core funders, to inform and enable them to move towards them gradually rather than being forced into sudden change in the future.
- Starting Point
- Environmental reporting (including a carbon management planning tool and a carbon budget calculator)
- Theatre Green Book
- Arts Green Book
- Guide to preventing, reducing and recycling waste
There are also climate justice considerations for mitigation. These will be covered in our blog on 18 October.
¹ At Scottish Government level, Scotland is committed to a legally binding national target of net zero by 2045 with interim targets of a 75% reduction in emissions against a 1990 baseline by 2030, followed by a 90% reduction by 2040. Multi Year Funding will take organisations funded up to 2028 at the least, getting close to 2030. For those based in places around Scotland that have set more ambitious targets (Inverness and Dumfries and Galloway are aiming for net zero by 2025, Glasgow and Edinburgh by 2030), these targets need further consideration when your organisation is planning its operations and activities.
(Top image ID: Wavy lines in varying shades of green with the text ‘BLOG SERIES: Thinking about environmental sustainability #2’)
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