Do we need a CO₂-calculator?

We know about the potential of arts and culture to stimulate change. Social transformation processes need more than rational logic. In order to engage a critical mass for transformation to take place, it needs emotional involvement. Art is able to create such emotional involvement. Art makes complexity human. This is extremely important regarding the complex and for us Western societies very “distant” issue of climate crisis. 

Many cultural actors already contribute greatly to raising awareness and encourage behaviour change. But why does the arts sector also have to deal with its carbon footprint?

The Arts: relevant CO₂ contributor?

Compared to other industry sectors (i.e. the steel or the automobile industry), the arts and cultural field emits only a small fraction of CO₂. This might make their emissions seem irrelevant. It is not quite so; it does also have its share. 

Just think about the mega exhibitions, art fairs in Miami and Basel, the jet-setting culture of art tourist, collectors and journalists from Istanbul to the Venice Biennale (in 2019 counting almost 600.000 visitors). Then there is the transportation of artworks to such events, exhibitions or festivals and the touring of shows. All year long, all around the globe. It does contribute.

(Inter)national targets

The Germen Federal Government has decided upon a 55% reduction …correction: 65% reduction of CO₂ emissions which we are to achieve until 2030 (compared to 1990 levels). Yes, we. This means: All of us! The 1,5 degree goal established by the Paris Agreement is a task for society as a whole. Society as a whole includes all sectors and thus also the cultural one.

#LeaveNotCultureBehind

The road to sustainability

Now, where do we start? How do we know how much to reduce? What are our consumption levels today and where do we want to be tomorrow? What is the basis of it all? Bingo: Data!

A very unsexy term, I agree but at the same time absolutely helpful and just fundamental. Only if we have the data of point A (starting point) and point B (later point in time) we can make a comparison and identify a development. And not only will it show us if we have improved or not but also what kind of changes and reduction efforts have the most impact on our carbon footprint.

What you don’t measure, you can’t manage.

Peter Drucker

Hence, the road to sustainability starts with the collection of data followed by an understanding of where your biggest sources of emissions are. Those are important first steps towards a strategic engagement. It will make you be able to know and focus on your major emitters, better direct your reduction measures and finally get the results which will motivate you to keep following the road.

Data? Haven’t seen any…

The status quo of CO₂-emissions of the German cultural sector is largely unknown. There is hardly any data which can serve as a reference point and benchmark – yet! In order to tackle this gap, the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (KSB) recently ran a pilot project with 19 cross-disciplinary cultural institutions in order to analyse the status quo. They had been supported to elaborate their carbon footprint and detect main areas of “evil polluters”. Find out more about it on the website of the KSB (German only).

The environmental impact of the Arts in Germany is a blind spot.

Kulturstiftung des Bundes

Pioneer UK

In the UK, the blind spot has been turned into a fully fletched pool of emission data in the last couple of years. This is thanks to Julie’s Bicycle who, since its foundation in 2007, has come to be known as the first initiative to tackle the cultural dimension of climate change.

One of its first milestones was the development of a carbon calculator (the “Creative Green Tools”) for the arts and cultural industries. Not only did it help to measure, assess and significantly reduce all users carbon emissions (- 35%) but also resulted in extensive cost savings (about 19 million Euro) and a better reputation since 2012

How did they do that?

Since 2012, Julie’s Bicycle is collaborating with the Arts Council England (ACE) which is the major funding body for culture in the UK. Together, they introduced an environmental programme which incorporated sustainability in the policy framework of the ACE . In it, the calculation of every subsidised institution’s (NPO) carbon footprint is mandatory next to a strategy that shows how a reduction of impact is anticipated. 

Such policy regulation not only guarantees compliance but also forces profound adjustments of cultural practices on a large scale. 

Hence, policy becomes the driver for culture.

The calculator

Julie’s Bicycle’s CO₂-calculator helps to measure your energy use, water consumption, waste generation and recycling, travel and production materials. It allows you to do so for facilities and venues, artistic productions, tours, exhibitions and festivals. 

It is a relatively easy tool where you can enter the data you have and leave blank the fields which are either not applicable to you or your project or you do not know yet. This helps to become more sensitive to which data you may want to add in the future. 

The more data you fill in, the more accurate your results. 

Your resulting carbon footprint will show in total tons of CO₂. Each section (i.e. energy use or water consumption) will show the equivalent proportion to the overall footprint. If you continue to measure the project (or year) to follow, you will clearly see where you have improved and where not. In the years to follow, it will also show benchmark results of the sector which helps to get an idea where you are at compared to other cultural institutions.

The CO₂-calculator will help you to answer the following questions: What are my biggest sources of emission? How will a change of practice affect these emissions? What has the most impact? Thus what shall I most focus on?

Introducing the calculator to Germany 

Exciting news: The UK calculator is currently being translated for and adopted to the German context. This is thanks to the Aktionsnetzwerk Nachhaltigkeit für Kultur und Medien (ANKM) who is working on it together with the EON-Stiftung and the EnergieAgentur.NRW. 

You can now register both as an individual or an cultural institution within Germany for the public Beta-phase starting on the first of September 2021. The official launch is planned for mid October. 

The objective is to make the tool available free of charge. Go ahead and register now. Let’s reduce our environmental impact and be part of the solution for a liveable future.

P.S.: About CO₂ taxes

Germany has introduced a CO₂ tax this year. This means, every ton of CO₂ that it emitted beyond the allowance will generate costs. At the moment, this is 25€ per ton. However, this price is way too low to have the desired effect and will increase drastically in the future. This will have an impact on cultural institutions soon, too. 


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