Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Honest waster or silent saint?

Last night I went to a MusicTank event on sustainability. It had a heavyweight panel including the former CEO of EMI Music, a former MD of Virgin Music, Stevie Wonder's tour manager, a bona-fide climate scientist and the sustainability manager of Live Nation, the UK's largest concert promoter.

I have also been talking lately to Arcola Energy who are leading the Mayor of London's Green Theatre initiative and I have talked to many people working in the arts while looking for best practise in introducing sustainability into arts organisations.

I have been gazing at the crystal ball with this information so for what it's worth, here is my analysis:

At Kyoto the UK agreed to reduce GHC emissions by 50% by 2050. Back then science believed two degrees of climate warming was a threshold we could live with. Unfortunately the latest science says the effects of two degrees will be far worse than predicted and we've reached that point far sooner than we thought.

It appears that Kyoto was not enough. This is why the Copenhagen conference in December 2009 will be so important.

Tackling climate change requires cooperation but commerce is driven by competition, not cooperation. Here lies the dilemma for everyone. Which is why the aims of anti-capitalism and climate change can find an alliance.

There is no technical fix to climate change. It falls to behaviour modification to reduce consumption and taking a huge leap of faith into the dark to act now. Either that or be driven into climate wars by famine or asphyxiation. Behind the religion and ideology, wars have always been about securing natural resources.

Tackling climate change NOW, not later, is the only strategy that can work given the magnitude of the risk. Innovations or actions that are tried and fail now are a better strategy than "wait and see what works". The essential action is everyone must do something immediately and then share what they learn. Tackling climate change has to be open-source.

The music industry has identified that packaging contributes one third of its carbon footprint. If it switched from plastic CD jewel cases to cardboard, it could reduce that by 90%, getting a very swift 30% reduction on its emissions. Getting everyone to agree to do this is like herding cats, even though the big conglomerates agree they should.

If the music industry doesn't get their act together regarding climate change, there is likely to be a widening of the net of present legislation. Even though most music or arts organisations don't yet have to complete a PAS 2050 disclosure (totalling their carbon emissions), I predict the Govt. will progressively lower the bar so that all organisations will have to soon enough. Measuring your carbon footprint will be as stringent a requirement as filing VAT returns and the process will be similar with carbon allowances, budgets and trading of a rapidly reducing pot of carbon permits.

I have been hearing a lot of concordance with sustainability and agreement from arts managers that their current practises are wasteful but hearing too often “we haven’t got the time or money to change it”. In the publicly funded arts, the budgets and so staffing levels are always too small. Although rife with politics, (like everything) deciding who gets public money in the arts is mostly a Darwinian process and even sacred cows will be not exempt from slaughter if times get harder and I can tell you with my fundraising hat on they are very hard right now.

Music organisations (and practically everyone else) must learn how to produce a carbon balance sheet. Many industries have to do this already. Although it is difficult for a SME to justify doing that on the basis of cost now and (as there is no legal requirement) but the cost if they leave it to later will be even higher. Dow Chemical learned with pollution control some time ago that it makes more sense to be ahead of their competitors and the legislation than following them.

If everyone in the music business started keeping carbon balance sheets, it would then become easier for everyone. It is going to take cooperation between everyone in the supply chain (which for music is just about everyone).

We can start with the easy stuff; the energy used in buildings and transportation and keep adding items like the paint and wood used in the sets until we can account accurately for the carbon value of everything consumed and produced, month by month.

Measuring energy use is quite straightforward but we must also tackle the issue of audience transport. After packaging, this is the second largest factor in music's carbon footprint. Although indirect (promoters don't choose how the audience gets there), the only way the Govt. is going to influence that is by making the promoters do it.

The carrot and sticks the Govt. will use will be subtle due to the political difficulty of introducing such legislation. For example the 'pop code' or purple book that states how many toilets per thousand people etc. a festival must have are only recommendations, not laws, but it is virtually impossible to get a license for public entertainment without adherence to the code as 99% of councils make them a condition of licensing. The industry people I have spoken to suspect privately that many other measures will have to be enforced by the back door this way.

Govt. policy is encouraging the arts and media to lead on climate change because of the media's power to get the climate message to the audiences and because of the carrot and stick it has over funding (through ACE etc.) It is privately thought certain that a carbon footprint will become another metric (or tickbox) for securing public funding.

Disclosure of a carbon balance sheet should not be feared, especially by any early adopters. Until everyone is doing it, no fair comparisons can really be made. If an organisation can produce a carbon balance sheet, it will better equipped to manage its carbon footprint than one that can't and so will be first in line when carbon becomes tied to funding. An honest waster would be given preference or have the advantage over a silent saint.

There is money for tackling climate change. There are plenty of grants for organisations that want to employ a sustainability manager or conduct research into sustainability change management in cooperation with a higher learning institution like Knowledge Connect.

With imagination, organisations can find ways to pay for the processes needed to manage their carbon balance sheets beyond that it actually saves money to begin with. Some could even turn it into a profit centre by acting as a consultancy if they get started before their competition does.

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