How arts organizations can consider their environmental impact and develop policies to offset their carbon footprint

CEC ArtsLink is committed to the necessary and urgent actions to reduce carbon emissions. Since 2019, we have been  prioritizing support for the artists whose work raises awareness and catalyzes community action around social and environmental justice. Last fall, we adopted our first sustainability policy mitigating the carbon footprint of our programs generated by international air travel. 

In this conversation, our Trustee Marc Mewshaw , Board Chair Skip Rankin, and Executive Director Simon Dove delve into various aspects of the policy’s inception, implementation, and monitoring, as well as introduce arts organizations leading the way in sustainability practices.

We invite our colleagues in the cultural mobility field to consider their environmental impact and to find the carbon footprint offset models that work for them and for a better, greener world. Have an inspiring example? Please share with us!

A conversation with Marc Mewshaw, Skip Rankin, and Simon Dove
Landfill in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Photo by sto len, 2023

What inspired CEC ArtsLink to develop and implement this sustainability policy?

Marc: As an arts organization with international mobility at its core, CEC ArtsLink faces a unique challenge in modeling good environmental citizenship. Our raison d’etre is global exchange, which necessitates substantial air travel, and yet we strive to live our values, chief among which is our belief in the urgent action required to address the climate emergency. Acknowledging this contradiction, our sustainability policy centers on thoughtful measures to mitigate our carbon emissions. By funding clean energy, we strive to demonstrate that through conscientious investment in renewables, organizations can make meaningful efforts to reconcile their operational needs with sound environmental stewardship.

Simon: 2023 has just been reported as the first full year with an average temperature rise of 1.5 C degrees above pre-industrial levels. Clearly, we all must urgently do our utmost to reduce carbon emissions. Our team already works remotely, with the majority of our meetings held online, so we had to look hard at how we could reduce our carbon footprint. The principles are firstly, to avoid, and then to reduce travel where possible. Some of our programs have moved online as well as many preparatory sessions for Fellowships and Residencies to avoid air travel. Yet key to the success of our work is to bring people together, so we needed to look at best practices in offsetting our necessary carbon emissions.

Artists’ Mobility and Community Engagement

Which recent CEC ArtsLink programs have effectively combined artists’ mobility and sustainability?

Simon: For the last few years our programs have sought to prioritize supporting artists whose work is helping to raise awareness and catalyze community action around social and environmental justice. Our Art Prospect / Trash 5 Festival in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in 2023 focused on pollution and environmental stewardship. Since the pandemic showed us how effective residency preparation can be online, we have implemented a permanent change to the ArtsLink International Fellowship program, replacing the initial exploratory research visit to the US with an extended and supported online residency. This is really effective in preparing the Fellow for a much deeper and focused  in person visit, and we have effectively reduced the carbon footprint of the program by 50%.

Carbon Offset Certificates

What was the decision-making process behind choosing Schneider Electric as the provider for carbon offset certificates?

Skip: When the Board decided to find ways to support CEC ArtsLink’s sustainability policy and specifically to address our carbon footprint, I recommended Simon to have a conversation with Schneider Electric. The company assists both for-profit and not-for-profit institutions in finding solutions to offset their carbon footprints thoughtfully and efficiently. CEC ArtsLink does not have a more traditional carbon footprint – we are not engaged in any manufacturing and do not have a large facility or infrastructure to support. However, our staff and participating artists must travel internationally in support of our mission. With this in mind, Schneider Electric was very helpful in finding meaningful solutions to address CEC ArtsLink’s particular issues. We decided to invest in carbon offset certificates in support of a wind energy project in Turkey, one of our network countries. 

Monitoring and Review Process

How does the organization involve both the staff and the Board of Directors in the annual review process?

Simon: Each program Director is responsible for decision making along with our international partners. They carefully review how to optimize the travel required for each initiative and how to maximize the value of the trip – such as longer stays or multiple engagements in one location. We have a shared document where each program records all travel. We use the carbon calculator Atmosfair focused on air travel and very quick to use. The Trustees have agreed to review the data each year and make recommendations for policy updates or changes.

"Key to the success of our work is to bring people together, so we needed to look at best practices in offsetting our necessary carbon emissions." - Simon Dove

Cultural Mobility Field Advocacy

Are there other initiatives that exemplify best practices in the field?

Marc: Arts organizations leading the way in sustainability practices, emphasizing environmental consciousness through their operations, programming, and advocacy, include Climarte, advocating for climate action through arts; The Gallery Climate Coalition, providing sustainability guidelines for the art sector; A Blade of Grass, supporting socially engaged artists focusing on environmental themes; Ecoartspace, fostering collaboration between artists and environmental scientists; and Green Art Lab Alliance, amplifying creative responses to environmental issues. On the philanthropy side, I’ve been quite impressed with the leadership displayed by The Frankenthaler Climate Initiative and the thoughtful example set by Helicon.

Simon: We also looked to Europe where a number of organizations and initiatives are both researching the environmental impact of the arts industry offering guides and training for the cultural field. In the UK Julie’s Bicycle is leading the field with information, resources, tools, and training, and in Europe On the Move part of the SHIFT eco-certification for networks and has many reports, guides and useful links to resources.

January 23, 2024
Environment Social Practice