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Leading lights: the sustainability champions making UK culture greener


Musicians, television producers, and arts organizations have the power to make people understand and care about the climate crisis. Positive News meets three people driving positive change within the UK culture sector

Creative industries have a unique opportunity to act on climate change.

“Artists interpret the world for the public,” says Alison Tickell, founder of Julie’s Bicycle, which helps the cultural sector take the lead in environmental best practices. “They can take complex subjects and present them in an intelligible way, narrating the situations we face.”

Discussions about the climate crisis can be dry at times. But artists can relate it to people’s everyday lives, says Tickell. “They can put it at the top of the agenda, which is where it should be.”

We spoke to three people who are leading the way:

Jamie Saye, Senior Technician at Opera North and Co-Founder of Sustainable Arts in Leeds

“I have always been interested in sustainability. In my personal life I try to reduce my carbon footprint, eat food from my plot and not buy things in plastic. So when Opera North said they were putting together a team to address sustainability at the company, it felt like an incredible opportunity.

We formed the ‘Green Team’ and started working. We started controlling the company’s carbon footprint by doing things like moving to [renewable energy provider] Good energy and started awareness campaigns and staff participation. We also tested a completely recycled set for a recent production of [musical drama] Not Such Quiet Girls, using parts from the set of another show called Don Carlos, so it was really cool.

Jamie Saye conducting carbon literacy training at Opera North

Jamie Saye conducting carbon literacy training at Opera North. Image: Opera North

I also co-founded Sustainable arts in Leeds (Sail), a non-profit membership network, in 2018 to unite organizations in the creative and cultural sector to take action on the climate emergency. I’m a big advocate of not reinventing the wheel; We don’t have much time, so we should share knowledge and best practices, and that’s what Sail does.

One of the things arts organizations are really good at is telling stories to a lot of people. If we can do that in a really good way, there is the potential to get a lot of people involved. Scientists state the facts, but I don’t think humans respond so well to the facts. The creative industry has the power to make people feel it, see it, and have an emotional response. I think that’s what’s going to change this. “

Aaron Matthews, Director of Industry Sustainability at Albert

“We help people who work in television and film to understand how they can bring about positive environmental change. Our first goal is to eliminate the impact of making content. The second is to make sure we are telling the right stories. And that’s what I’m most passionate about.

Within this, we do three things. First, we measure to see how we are doing. For example, last year we discovered that the climate crisis was mentioned the same number of times as ‘zombies’ on various television channels, which is not enough. We also offer guidance and training and encourage growers to make changes.

It is not enough to have a story about recycling. We need to talk about climate change in discussions about absolutely everything from fashion to food to home. For example, home renovation projects should create homes fit for the future.

“If producers are not committing to climate change, they are jeopardizing their own authenticity,” says Aaron Matthews. Image: Albert

Our biggest challenge is getting into people’s diaries. When we talk to senior editors, they think we’re going to scold them. But once there are people in the room, they usually jump on board. Climate change is happening, so if producers don’t get involved with it, they are putting their own authenticity and accessibility at risk.

If you look at content from 30 years ago, casual sexism and attitudes toward smoking, for example, stick out like sore thumbs. I think we will look back at the way we talk about climate issues in the same way, but we don’t have 30 years to go through the transition. “

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Peter Quicke, Joint CEO of Ninja Tune and Co-Founder of Music Declares Emergency

“I have always had a great interest in sustainability and political activism. Then a few years ago I looked at what Extinction Rebellion was doing and it was a wake-up call for me to do more too. That crystallized my thinking on the subject and catalyzed the activity of Ninja Tune.

Since then we’ve been doing a number of things to be more sustainable, like using CD card sleeves. We no longer press vinyl to 180g (‘heavyweight’) but to standard 140g, which gives us a lower carbon footprint. We also have 18 solar panels on the roof of our London office and we get our electricity from renewable energy provider Good Energy. We also offer a subsidy to all of our staff to take trains.

“The cultural industries have a high profile, so we can interest people,” says Peter Quicke. Image: Ninja Tune

I also participated in the creation Music declares emergency. It is a group of artists, music industry professionals and organizations that have come together to help address the climate crisis by campaigning and working to reduce our own carbon emissions. We have a great catchphrase, ‘there is no music on a dead planet’, and we’ve put up banners at the NME and Q awards. Billie Eilish even wore a slogan top at the American Music Awards.

Addressing the climate crisis is important and the whole world needs to be concerned about this. Cultural industries have a high profile and visibility, so we can interest people. That’s the opportunity we have: we can talk and make more noise than our size. “

Lead Image: Illustration by Ryan Chapman



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