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Julie’s Bicycle and BOP Consulting have conducted a survey on leadership and environmental sustainability. Alison Tickell summarises the findings and plans the next steps.

Image of workshop delegates
Cultural leaders at the Sustaining Creativity Lab

James Allen

Our suvery (pdf) was the most comprehensive survey to date with leaders of creative and cultural organisations, and the results make for fascinating reading. They show a creative community with diverse levels of understanding, activity and needs with respect to environmental sustainability. The clear trends are as follows:

  • There is a high engagement across the sector, with strong affirmation of the importance of sustainability and an emergent vision and desire to lead change. The strongest driver for engagement is the personal commitment of staff.
  • Climate change risks and support from those in positions of leadership and governance are the weakest drivers, in spite of the financial and reputational gains to taking action, and the implications of failing to act.
  • For many, action leads to financial and/or reputational benefits, though environmental sustainability is yet to be perceived as a core business concern by executive and non-executive directors.
  • Of the 65 leadership organisations, 63% are Arts Council England-funded and are required to report on their environmental impacts: compliancy does indeed work.
  • Leadership is coming from the middle and not the top of organisations.
  • There is an appetite to come together and take a lead through peer groupings, knowledge transfer and networking.
  • Encouraging levels of action, with scope to further embed environmental sustainability into operations and communications of most organisations. Around half of organisations have also created work that concerns environmental sustainability, though very few consistently focus on this.
  • But despite the high engagement level and the financial and reputational benefits of incorporating environmental sustainability, there remains a value-action gap (the gap between the values and attitudes of an individual/organisation and the actions). Environmental sustainability is seen as a priority but actions do not match attitudes.

So, while the overall findings are encouraging there is still a great deal to be done. Understanding what more is needed is at the heart of the new programme we have just launched entitled ‘Sustaining Creativity’. This programme is very important: it needs to demonstrate that climate change and sustainability are essential to a holistic understanding of cultural value. It needs to challenge us on our current definitions of cultural value that do not weigh natural capital and the risks of inaction. What might our industry look like if it did do this? Where would it find inspiration and how would it be made and valued? How do the arts measure up now, to themselves and to the rest of the world? And would any of it make a difference? Over the next year we will attempt to answer these questions.

Environmental sustainability is seen as a priority but actions do not match attitudes

The creative community’s reaction to tough times has been simultaneously to go on the offensive by creating demand, and on the defensive by making the case for creativity, evidencing value on balance sheets and then how it spirals out into communities, the workforce, economies and general wellbeing. Not a week goes by when an editorial on culture and value does not appear somewhere. And in the creative industries the investment-value equation is not only the financial and social returns that, say, health or community investment bring, it also assumes that art can be a force for good. It plunges us into other realms – complexity, identity, community, joy, empathy – and through these ‘other’ experiences can help to solve human condition problems like poverty, inequity, and even perhaps climate change. This works wonderfully well. Overall, both the commercial and not-for-profit creative industries are net generators of value flows. Curiously though, value as it relates to the environment is wholly absent from this conversation.

Julie’s Bicycle is resolved, politely, to interrupt.

We have data and lots of it. At the time of writing there are 1,772 registered Creative Industry Green Tool users, our online carbon calculators. Over the next year we will increase that number to about 2,300. This is a rich source of intelligence which illuminates opportunities for improvement and innovation. But what it does not do is capture the collective heart, the culture of the creative community, as expressed through feelings, attitudes and actions.

The combined force of all the creative industries working together is unsurpassed when it comes to crafting culture: as such they are key drivers for developing a sustainable world view. All these creative disciplines combined should be at the forefront of the holistic rethink. But are they? As this survey highlights, there is a lot still to be done, particularly on leadership. At the moment there are not nearly enough creative pioneers for whom the light bulb moment means a whole way of seeing, rather than just an LED.

Consensus is not shared on the threats of climate change inaction, nor on the relevance of environmental issues. Once the housekeeping is done, what next? Which new markets and emergent economies (circular, shared and digital) can we stoke, and what does scaling these economies mean to the creative infrastructure?

Despite the absence of a critical mass of leaders who get this, the best organisations are leading a cultural renaissance, whether it be through commissions, communications, operations or innovation. The majority of these are obliged to report on their impacts annually because of their Arts Council England funding requirement. This is very important. It proves that compliance plays a vital role in establishing new norms, which pave the way for better leadership. In this community especially, which deals with interpretation and imagination, thought leadership and drawing on creative practice might just become the critical determinants of wider cultural values.

Without an evidence base we are reliant on anecdotes to prove to the creative community that there is everything to gain and no time to lose, and prove to the world that the arts are catalysts for sustainability.

Alison Tickell is CEO of Julie’s Bicycle.

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