Arts Organizations Leading the Charge for Environmental Stewardship

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by | Mar 25, 2024

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In the face of escalating global climate crises, the role of arts organizations in spearheading environmental stewardship has become increasingly salient. The Paris Agreement of 2015, endorsed by 196 countries, set ambitious targets to limit global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, aiming for a safer threshold below 1.5 degrees Celsius. This critical ambition necessitates a worldwide effort to peak greenhouse gas emissions before 2025 and achieve a 43% reduction by 2030. Yet, as global temperatures edge closer to a 1.2-degree Celsius increase, the urgency for collective and effective action intensifies.

Arts and cultural organizations, often viewed through the lens of community enrichment and education, are uniquely positioned to contribute significantly to this global endeavor. These entities have the power to inform, engage, and mobilize communities toward meaningful climate action. This influence extends beyond programming and into the operational spheres, where the environmental impact requires meticulous management. The visual arts sector alone is responsible for over 70 million tons of CO2 emissions annually—a startling figure underscoring the need for systemic change. These emissions primarily stem from facilities, art shipment, and visitor travel.

Charting a Course for Environmental Leadership

By measuring emissions from facility energy use, transportation, and materials (among others), organizations can pinpoint critical areas for improvement. Tools and resources for the arts sector provide a pathway for such assessments, allowing institutions to establish a baseline and prioritize interventions.

The Sydney Opera House has committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), addressing global challenges such as climate change, inequality, and education by 2030. This commitment is reflected in their fourth Environmental Action Plan (2020-23), featuring ambitious targets like achieving a 6-Star Green Star Performance Rating, eliminating single-use plastic packaging, taking steps to become climate-positive, and achieving compliance with the International Standard for Sustainable Event Management (ISO20121).

Julie’s Bicycle, founded by the music industry in 2007, now operates across the arts and culture sector. Collaborating with over 2000 organizations in the UK and internationally, Julie’s Bicycle combines cultural and environmental expertise to focus on high-impact programs and policy changes, addressing the climate crisis head-on.

In the United States, the Broadway Green Alliance champions sustainable practices in theater production. Through its Broadway Green Captains program, the organization advocates for eco-friendly measures. They have spearheaded sustainability efforts in the entertainment industry by introducing resources like the Greener Reopening Toolkit and converting Broadway’s marquee lights to energy-efficient LEDs, resulting in an annual saving of over 800 tons of carbon. Achieving 100% Green Captain participation, engaging in textile recycling, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, and implementing eco-friendly practices such as rechargeable batteries and energy-efficient washers in shows have contributed to significant environmental impact reductions.

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