Why the Arts are Going Green
Over the past few months we’ve seen a ramping up of calls for governments and industry to make major changes to avoid an impending climate disaster. Extinction Rebellion have staged mass ‘die-ins’ in museums across London, Greta Thunberg has led more than 1.4 million schoolchildren in a mass climate strike, and we’re hearing calls for a ‘Green New Deal’ from politicians in both the US and UK.
So why should this matter to the relatively small arts sector in Northern Ireland? The answer is two-fold. Just like anyone else on the planet, we’ve got a personal responsibility to the planet we live on, and to the survival of future generations. The other side of the coin is that it’s a relevant issue for our audiences.
Now more than ever consumers are looking for ways to reduce their negative impact on the environment. Brands such as Adidas and Iceland have jumped on the trend, launching product lines and marketing campaigns based on a green ethos. But there is far more public trust in cultural and heritage organisations than in multinational corporations. We have a real chance to make a genuine connection with our audiences on this issue, and to make changes that are more than just a marketing tactic.
Saving Energy and Fighting Climate Change
A 2018 YouGov survey found that 74% of UK adults are ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ concerned about climate change. Reducing energy use in your venue or offices, using sustainable transport options, offering remote working, and even changing your web browser can help reduce your negative environmental impact.
Reducing energy and fuel use probably has the most direct impact on climate change for most of us, but can be hard for audiences to spot. If you’re committed to change, consider displaying an environmental pledge in your venue or online. Julie’s Bicycle run a ‘Creative Green’ certification scheme. Siamsa Tíre is Ireland’s national folk theatre, based in County Kerry. They’ve been green certified and done some amazing things as part of their ‘Greening Siamsa’ initiative (check it out if you’re in need of workplace green inspiration).
Lighting can have a big impact too. The theatre sector was brought to the brink of a crisis last year when eco-design regulations threatened the existing lighting stock in theatres. It was temporarily averted, but it was a wake-up call to address the issue. Although LED lights can’t currently replace conventional theatre lights, LED can be brought in with new builds and refurbishments.
The Family Panel’s Future of Families report highlights a growing trend in the UK population towards re-use:
A large percentage of consumers are starting to question our ‘throw away’ society and not just for environmental reasons, monetary decisions are at the heart too... It used to be termed ‘hand me downs’ or ‘seconds’ and was attributed to those who couldn’t afford as much. However, nowadays it’s deemed as smart; re-use of quality products, as well as saving money.
Sharing resources is something that the arts sector has always been good at. A great example of this is Belfast Tool Library which will be launching in late summer 2019, located at Vault Artist Studios. As well as a tool lending library, it will also offer access to a well-equipped wood working workshop, and training opportunities. They are currently working on their website ahead of launch, so for more info, please contact email@example.com and ask to be added to their mailing list.
And if you work with community groups or young people and children, a membership with Play Resource will get you access to recycled arts and crafts materials for free.
Reducing Waste and Plastic
Reducing waste (particularly plastic) has risen to the forefront of public consciousness in the past few years.
Belfast’s Culture Night are busy working on making the 2019 Culture Night as eco-friendly as possible, and Glastonbury have just banned the sale of single-use plastic bottles at 2019’s festival.
Theatre-forum’s 2018 conference made lots of environmentally changes, such as reducing print, ditching single-use plastic cutlery, and giving everyone a re-usable keep cup instead of providing plastic or cardboard disposable cups.
Here at thrive, we’ve been requesting sustainable cutlery from events caterers and are planning to make our future events catering vegetarian and vegan too.
A Co-Ordinated Approach
As well as longer-term changes, there are plenty of little changes we can all make right now. Here in the thrive office we’ve started recycling (as it isn’t offered in the building), turning off office lights when it’s bright out, reusing paper, using the ecosia web browser, and walking to meetings whenever we can.
Organisations like the Lyric are making big changes in-house, but also using their programming to increase awareness and understanding of environmental issues:
At the Lyric we are busy working on a brand new piece which we have commissioned in partnership with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, to educate young people on the Climate Crisis which will tour primary schools next spring. We have also recently changed our recycling supplier to ensure that our waste is managed more sustainably, introduced a BYO Keep-Cup incentive in our café and we have engaged with the Woodland Trust and Infinity Farm to take over our outdoor space as a wildlife haven and a proper shared civic space for local residents. Our future ambitions include a zero-waste production, and setting up a costume and set library resource.
If you want to take things further with some collective action the Belfast Green Arts Collective is looking for more members. If you are an artist, work in the arts sector or have an interest in the arts and environmental issues they are calling on you to join the group and make a change. You can also find out more and sign the Green Arts NI pledge on 19th June 6pm at the #Belfastimagining shop on Royal Avenue.