The Venice Biennale slashed and offset carbon emissions to achieve carbon neutrality in all five 2022 festival editions, including the 59th International Art Exhibition which closed last month. While Venice is known for having been ravaged by the deleterious effects of climate change in recent years, the Biennale hopes to turn the city into a global example of how big arts events can significantly reduce their carbon footprints.
“[Venice] has become a symbol of environmental fragility and one of the main examples of the challenges the world faces if it does not take measures to fight climate change," Roberto Cicutto, President of the Biennale, tells The Art Newspaper. "Reaching carbon neutrality has turned the Biennale, exactly as happens with its arts events, into a laboratory that is at the disposal of the entire world,” he adds.
The Italian sustainability certification agency RINA awarded carbon neutrality status to the 2022 editions of the Biennale's Art, Theatre, Dance, Film and Contemporary Music festivals after the organisation "worked in two directions" to reduce effective CO2 emissions by 1,129 tonnes through directly reducing emissions and offsetting residual emissions via the purchase of carbon credits.
[Venice] has become a symbol of environmental fragility and one of the main examples of the challenges the world faces if it does not take measures to fight climate changeRoberto Cicutto, President, Venice Biennale
Measures included switching to 100% renewable sources with zero CO2 emissions, recycling exhibition materials such as fabrics, using electric buses and hybrid energy boats to transport visitors, using electric carts and forklifts to build displays, using locally sourced products for restaurant services, and pledging to reuse structural elements in displays from this year's art exhibition in the 2023 architecture exhibition. Simultaneously, the Biennale invested in renewable energy production in India and Colombia.
Carbon neutral status was previously awarded to the Venice Film Festival, part of the Biennale, alone in 2021. The organisation now has a list of suggested behaviours for visitors to reduce their own carbon footprints on its website. "We will continue to spread information about the changes the Biennale is making and the good practices visitors can directly realise themselves," Cicutto said.
Other leading art fairs and exhibitions have tried to reduce their own carbon footprints, with both Frieze and Art Basel—members of the Gallery Climate Coalition that is working to reduce the sector's environmental impact—recently making a range of commitments including to reduce real emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and achieve zero waste by the same year. Biennials with their vast carbon footprints are, like art fairs, facing pressure to become more sustainable.
The Venice Biennale's measures may resonate particularly strongly against the backdrop of Venice's environmental woes, with rising water levels leading to increasingly frequent acque alte and catastrophic flooding in 2019 damaging swathes of the city.
The organisation promises it will continue to reduce real emissions across all festivals and, next year, will measure the carbon impact of the Architecture Biennale for the first time. "For 2023 the resources available are the same as in 2022," Cicutto said. "All artistic sectors and activities will be involved in studying and analysing the reduction of carbon impact and its manifestations."