Fans thrilled at the prospect of seeing Taylor Swift live on tour are probably not thinking about the carbon emissions produced by the pop icon’s travel to the venue. And TV viewers engrossed in the latest Tatort are unlikely to be wondering whether the on-set catering was vegetarian. And yet cultural institutions not only have a responsibility to protect the environment and the climate. They can also help to guide our society’s transition to sustainability.
Like sport, the culture sector has a great opportunity to share the sustainability message with society. It can do so by acting as a role model, powering its stage lighting with renewables and printing programmes on recycled paper. It can also address sustainability issues in exhibitions and performances. In this way, cultural institutions are able to influence the debate and promote a cultural shift. “Art and culture must engage with contemporary issues. They cannot sidestep the transition to sustainability,” says Viviana López Hernández, a researcher in the Oeko-Institut’s Sustainable Products and Material Flows Division. “They need to be thinking about these topics in all areas of their work, including their cultural outreach.” This applies not only to museums and theatres but also to films and TV series, for example. “If an on-screen character drives an electric car and drinks from a reusable coffee cup, this helps to shape our reality.”
At the same time, the culture sector itself must embrace sustainability. “This topic has gained far more relevance in recent years. Many cultural institutions are now aware that they need to take action. This includes building capacities and training staff, because there is often a lack of people with the right skills.” Many organisations are already taking action. Kunsthalle Karlsruhe has set up a Sustainability Unit, and as part of a pilot project supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation, 19 cultural institutions, including Staatstheater Darmstadt and Münchner Lenbachhaus, have calculated their carbon footprint. “And the TV industry is engaged as well. One of the pioneers was a Tatort production in Freiburg a few years ago, where it was a priority to have an eco-friendly shoot.”
Sustainable films and series
The Oeko-Institut is involved in various projects which look at how to boost sustainability in the culture sector. The “100 Green Film Productions” project is an example. As part of this initiative, around 80 film and TV productions were required to comply with a set of environmental criteria. “The Oeko-Institut provided technical support for this initiative by the Green Shooting Working Group and evaluated the criteria,” says Viviana López Hernández. “For example, we analysed participating productions’ carbon dioxide emissions and quantified the savings achieved through compliance with the criteria.” As for the formats, the researchers found that the highest carbon dioxide emissions for one minute of film time were generated in the production of mini-series (1,424 kg CO2e), followed by feature films (686 kg CO2e). Daily soaps and documentary series produced the lowest emissions (25 and 35 kg CO2e, respectively). “Transport and travel produce a particularly high proportion of emissions across all formats, accounting for 40 to 80%.” The study also showed that CO2 emissions can vary considerably, even between productions in the same format. “We assume that strategic factors, such as the choice of location or the size of team, come into play here. They determine how much travel is required, among other things,” says Viviana López Hernández. “It is also important to consider the issue of sustainability from the start of planning onwards.” This is particularly well-illustrated by the example of a commercial filmed in Slovenia: although much of the incoming travel was by rail, the production accounted for the highest CO2 emissions per minute
of film time by far. In total, the commercial produced 20 tonnes of CO2e. However, through compliance with the sustainability criteria, the emissions of all the productions analysed were reduced by around 1,000 tonnes of CO2e; this was achieved through the use of eco-friendly hotels or holiday apartments (723 tonnes), green electricity (142 tonnes) and avoidance of air travel (124 tonnes), among other things.
The researchers also looked at whether the predefined sustainability criteria, such as dispensing with air travel and avoidance of single-use plastic, are expedient and where challenges are likely to arise. “It is already working very well with mandatory criteria such as technical support from a green consultant and the submission of a final report. And overall, the optional criteria, such as avoidance of disposable batteries and the use of eco-friendly accommodation, had a positive effect as well,” says Viviana López Hernández. But problems were identified in relation to green electricity for set construction and the use of low-emission trucks. “Only around a fifth of the productions were able to achieve compliance with these criteria. This may be due to the fact that there is often very limited scope to influence how the electricity is supplied. Early planning is therefore crucial to ensure that filming can make maximum use of daylight hours.”
The project also aimed to improve the existing criteria. “With catering, for example, the focus was previously on local, organically produced food, not on providing vegetarian or vegan alternatives, where there is particularly high savings potential.” There has also been an overemphasis on increasing efficiency rather than on avoiding emissions. “Smaller teams and the choice of film location could make a difference here.”
The Culture4Climate project, which runs until October 2024, also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the culture sector and promote the transition to sustainability in cultural institutions. The project is led by Netzwerk Nachhaltigkeit in Kunst und Kultur (Network for Sustainability in Art and Culture) and delivered in partnership with the Kulturpolitische Gesellschaft (Cultural Policy Association). “Culture4Climate relies on a variety of building blocks,” says Jürgen Sutter, a Senior Researcher in the Resources and Transport Division and project lead at the Oeko-Institut. “We support cultural institutions such as museums and theatres and organisations from the arts, literature and heritage sectors across a range of areas at various stages of their journey towards more sustainability.” A key component is a skills and networking website which provides up-to-date information and materials. “A climate tool should also be integrated into the website to provide information on potential savings and policy options.”
The project, which is funded by the Federal Environment Ministry (BMUV), also focuses on the provision of training for culture managers in order to build practical capacities and fosters climate partnerships between cultural institutions and sustainable businesses. Knowledge-sharing and joint implementation of mitigation measures are among the objectives here. “Funding-related coaching is another key element; this means that cultural institutions are given support with their funding applications,” says Jürgen Sutter. “There are also plans to hold a competition for the culture sector on the global climate and sustainability goals in order to promote innovative strategies and initiatives.”
Will Taylor Swift take the train to her next concert in Germany? That seems rather unlikely. But vegetarian catering for Tatort is surely an option, and if the police chief then drinks her coffee from a reusable mug, sustainability will be advanced with every sip.
Viviana López Hernández’s main areas of research include sustainable products and consumption, global supply chains and sustainable food systems. Jürgen Sutter is an expert in eco-audit and material flow analysis and also works on resource efficiency and renewable resources.