How Can Arts Institutions Address Climate Crisis?

Sustainable shipping for climate crisis

How can the art world address the climate crisis? What measures can they take today to reduce their carbon footprint? In this article, we explore the decarbonization action plan for arts organizations. 

How Can Arts Institutions Address Climate Crisis?

Climate Crisis: Where Are We at Now?

The recent reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deliver a clear and alarming message regarding the future of our planet. As global CO2e emissions continue to rise, the impact on our climate systems intensifies.

The rate at which global temperatures have been increasing since 1850 is unprecedented. Over the past 100,000 years, the Earth has never experienced such high temperatures. If global warming exceeds the threshold of 34.7°F, billions of people on Earth will face severe consequences within our lifetime.

How Does the Art World Add to Carbon Emissions? 

The art world, especially cultural organizations in the Global North, has a disproportionately large carbon footprint considering its size. In April 2021, the UK-based environmental non-profit organization, Julie’s Bicycle (JB), produced a report on the climate impact of the visual art sector. According to it, the art world’s global carbon footprint is estimated to be approximately 70 million tonnes of CO2e per year, which includes emissions from visitors traveling to museums and galleries. 

While many visual arts organizations place importance on preserving and promoting arts and culture, it is also essential to recognize that the climate crisis is the most significant threat to global cultures and integrate environmental efforts into their core mission.

Visual arts organizations have a unique opportunity to create a positive impact due to their prominent public platform and influential role in shaping public discourse. By showcasing practical climate solutions and featuring artworks, voices, and narratives that highlight the reality of the climate crisis, these organizations can actively address the crisis and contribute to meaningful change.

Sustainable shipping for climate crisis

What Contributes to the Arts Sector’s Carbon Footprint?

Within the visual arts sector, three significant sources of emissions are building energy, staff travel, and art transport. These areas are relatively easy to measure and offer several options for immediate action by arts organizations. So, they should be prioritized when calculating a carbon footprint. 

Although packaging and printing usually have a lower carbon footprint, they should still be included if possible. his is especially important as these areas intersect with other environmental concerns, such as the plastic waste crisis and the unsustainable use of material resources. 

What You Can Do: Decarbonization Action Plan 


  • Create a Special Team

Establishing an internal team or appointing a “green” ambassador is a way to foster a strong sustainability culture within your organization. This ensures that environmental considerations become integrated into decision-making processes at all levels. The composition and size of the team may vary depending on the scale, complexity, and structure of your institution. Here are some key considerations:

You will increase your green team’s efficiency if you ensure representation from different parts of the organization, including registrars, technicians, curators, gallery managers, HR personnel, and directors. Besides, you need to establish effective communication channels between the environmental team and the wider organization. This could involve quarterly internal newsletters or open “drop-in” meetings to encourage broader involvement.

  • Measure Emissions

Measuring the carbon emissions generated by your operations is a crucial step in effectively addressing climate action. This process allows you to strategically focus on areas with the greatest impact. Remember, “You can’t manage what you haven’t measured!” It is recommended to make carbon reporting an annual task, similar to tax returns or general financial record-keeping. Regularly submitting annual data enables you to track the progress of emission reductions as you implement changes and work toward your targets.

How Can Arts Institutions Address Climate Crisis

  • Look at Your Data

By delving into your data, you can quickly identify specific actions, events, and time periods that contribute most to your emissions. For example:

-Determine if specific exhibitions or events account for a significant portion of your shipping footprint.

-Identify if a few long-distance journeys to a particular destination contribute substantially to your air travel footprint.

-Analyze your energy usage data to see which months of the year have the highest energy consumption. This analysis will help you understand whether heating or cooling contributes more significantly to your energy demand in buildings. Additionally, it helps pinpoint which exhibitions have notably higher or lower energy requirements.


  • Set Reduction Targets

By establishing clear goals, you provide a roadmap for your organization’s sustainability journey. You might aim to reduce carbon emissions by a certain percentage within a specified timeframe or implement energy-efficient practices in all buildings.

Break down larger targets into smaller, actionable steps. This allows for easier implementation and monitoring of progress. For instance, if your overall target is to reduce energy consumption, you can set sub-targets for different departments or specific areas within your organization.

As you gain insights from data analysis and implementation, be prepared to adjust your targets accordingly. Flexibility and adaptability are crucial in responding to changing circumstances. 

  • Take Action

After calculating your emissions and setting targets, it’s time to take action and implement changes. This may involve integrating carbon reduction considerations into existing processes, such as ensuring that discussions about future exhibitions and events include conversations about flights and air freight from the very beginning. It could also entail initiating new projects, such as conducting energy audits for your buildings.

Aim for a combination of short-term actions that yield immediate reductions and long-term initiatives. Address the largest contributors to your carbon footprint and avoid getting caught up in lengthy discussions about minor emission sources. While it’s beneficial to avoid using plastic water bottles at your next event, make sure you’re not spending excessive time deliberating on that while neglecting efforts to reduce air freight emissions.

Most importantly, don’t feel overwhelmed trying to do everything at once. Sustainability is a journey – with measurable results along the way.