#1 Understanding the Ecological Impact of Cultural Activities

“People are actually working on the subject of climate change so it might be a run up. It might make a difference. It’s like the beginning. It’s only the beginning, but there is a beginning.”
– Héloïse Lesimple, The Shift Project

Cultural activities have a significant environmental impact, known as the “cultural carbon footprint.”
This footprint stems from factors like venue construction, energy consumption, and transportation for artists and audiences, especially air travel. Emissions arise also from lighting, heating, and cooling, often using fossil fuels. Promotional materials and costumes production also contribute to carbon emissions.
The Shift Project’s November 2021 report,
“Décarbonons la Culture !” emphasizes culture’s role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. It highlights education and policy changes as crucial. 

Session leader: Héloïse Lesimple, The Shift Project
Method based on the report Décarbonons la Culture ! by The Shift Project (2021)

Article written by Angela Mognol

What is the ecological impact of cultural activities? What are the main sources of CO2 emissions? How is culture at risk in the face of climate change?

In the ongoing pursuit of addressing the challenges posed by climate change, no aspect of our lives should be overlooked. Today, we’ve been into the world of culture and its environmental footprint. The inaugural session of the second chapter of LeCake titled “Décarbonons la Culture !” saw Héloïse Lesimple, Public Affairs Project Manager at The Shift Project, shed light on the ecological impact of cultural activities. 

“We grew up in a world where we thought that energy was free and infinite. This is really a new way with climate change to understand that there is a problem with energy consumption and energy is not actually an infinite source.”
– Héloïse Lesimple, The Shift Project

Cultural activities, which include everything from art exhibitions and music concerts to theater performances and film festivals, have a notable ecological impact. This impact, often referred to as the “cultural carbon footprint,” encompasses the emissions generated by these activities. These emissions result from various factors within the cultural sector, including the construction and maintenance of cultural venues,  involving substantial energy consumption and emissions. The materials used, transportation of construction materials, and the energy required to operate these venues collectively contribute to CO2 emissions.
The transportation of artists and audiences often involves long-distance travel, which can lead to high carbon emissions, especially when air travel is involved.
The energy consumed during cultural events, including lighting, heating, and cooling, can be a significant source of emissions. Traditional energy sources, like fossil fuels, are still commonly used, contributing to the sector’s carbon footprint.
The production of promotional materials, props, and costumes also results in carbon emissions. The extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, and transportation all play a role in this aspect of the cultural carbon footprint.

Report: Décarbonons la Culture ! – The Shift Project – 30 Nov 2021

Héloïse Lesimple presented the Shift Project Report Décarbonons la Culture. This report was published in November 2021, with a primary focus on outlining the critical role of culture in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. The report highlights two fundamental aspects: education and policy changes. To achieve substantial progress in reducing emissions within the cultural sector, a deep understanding of energy’s role, climate change, and the associated challenges is essential. Additionally, strong, ambitious policies and collective efforts are needed to drive meaningful change.

“In order to change the cultural sector, we need strong policies. We need an ambitious one. And that’s why we have to do lobbying. This is what The Shift is trying to do.”
– Héloïse Lesimple, The Shift Project

1- Education: understanding energy and climate change
One of the first steps toward a sustainable cultural sector is comprehensive education. Individuals within the cultural field must grasp the significance of energy, its centrality to our way of life, and its impact on our economic well-being. Equally important is understanding the complexities of climate change and why it poses a grave problem. To bridge this knowledge gap, continuous training programs are recommended, ensuring that everyone in the cultural sector comprehends these critical concepts

2- Policy changes: the role of public institutions
Individual efforts alone cannot achieve the desired reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Public authorities must take a leadership role by implementing ambitious policies, including labeling systems, financing options, and incentives. These policies are essential for driving cultural and creative industries in Europe and beyond toward sustainability. Without strong policy support, only a few small players will strive for sustainability, while the sector as a whole remains unchanged.

3- Lobbying and the European Green Deal
Lobbying efforts are crucial for pushing sustainability agendas within the cultural sector. The European Green Deal serves as a significant driving force for change, inspiring other European countries to follow suit. By advocating for bold policies and emphasizing sustainability on a broader scale, the cultural sector can align itself with the larger goals of the European Union and contribute to a greener future.

4 – Main dynamics for change
The report identifies five key dynamics for achieving sustainability within the cultural sector:

The first is to  relocate activities, encouraging  the use of local resources, such as catering and local workers, to stimulate the local economy and reduce the carbon footprint associated with cultural events. Then, slow down: recognize the need to slow down the pace of cultural activities to align with sustainable practices. Reducing the number of trips and opting for longer stays can significantly decrease emissions. The third thing is to reduce the scale: promote small, localized cultural events rather than large international gatherings, as they are more sustainable and less resource-intensive. Finally, renounce to certain high-carbon practices already in use and high-carbon technological opportunities

What is our takeaway?

Understanding the ecological impact of cultural activities is an essential step in addressing climate change. As Héloïse Lesimple’s presentation highlighted, the cultural sector generates significant CO2 emissions through various channels, making it imperative for cultural institutions and practitioners to adopt sustainable practices and minimize their carbon footprint. Moreover, culture is not immune to the impacts of climate change, with cultural heritage, practices, and events at risk. By recognizing this interplay between culture and the environment, society can work toward preserving and adapting cultural traditions in the face of a changing climate.