It’s been nearly a year since I began this column and over the past few months the art world undoubtedly seems more aware of the climate and environmental emergency. Green-themed exhibitions and initiatives now abound, and the latest eco-blockbuster, Dear Earth, Art and Hope in a Time of Crisis opens at the Hayward Gallery in London this summer (21 June-3 September 2023).
But while it’s always good to have hope, it is also vital to ask what is actually being done? With emissions still on the rise, extreme weather conditions now the norm and the 1.5ºC limit on global warming needed to ensure a liveable future on the planet now apparently all but scuppered, it is really no longer enough just to talk the talk.
This is certainly the view of the Gallery Climate Coalition (GCC), the international charity devoted to facilitating a greener and more sustainable artworld, of which I am a founder member. The GCC now has more than 800 members throughout the visual arts sector and from across the globe from Berlin to Taiwan—all of whom have pledged to reduce their emissions by a minimum of 50% by 2030 in line with the Paris agreement, and to achieve zero waste by the same date.
But how many are actually doing this? Some galleries, institutions and arts organisations have already published their carbon audits on the GCC website and are following their Decarbonisation Action Plan. But many more members have yet to offer any evidence that their membership commitments are being honoured. To celebrate those who are backing up their words with actions and to rally the rest, this month the GCC is launching a new 'Active Membership' category to identify the members who are pulling their environmental weight.
“We're more than two years into the GCC project, but we're also two years closer to our 2030 targets, so it's more urgent than ever that we encourage effective action,” says GCC director Heath Lowndes. “It’s no good members just lingering on a list, we have to see that action is taking place, otherwise it just looks like greenwashing which is bad for them and bad for us,” he adds.
To earn their Active Member designation, members need to fulfil a number of criteria which are listed on the GCC website. These include having completed an emissions report or carbon audit over the last two years and setting targets accordingly; establishing an in-house ‘green team’ and publishing an Environmental Responsibility Statement outlining their commitment to action.
Individual members or smaller organisations lacking the necessary infrastructure to do the above are requested to provide evidence of action they have taken over the past calendar year. This can range from an email to a studio provider/gallerist/commissioner or fabricator stating commitment to environmental responsibility and actions taken; requesting sea shipments and/ or zero emissions local transport; switching to a reputable renewable energy provider or stipulating to collaborators that no single-use packaging be used in when transporting works. Or if a member is exhibiting in or working on a group show, another way they can show their active commitment is to set an environmental action plan with all participating artists.
Once these criteria have been fulfilled, members upholding the GCC commitments will be identified by a jazzy zig-zag badge displayed beside their names on the charity’s website. This will be year stamped and produced annually until at least the 2030 target. Their dedication will also be further rewarded by a number of special Active Member Benefits, including substantial discounts from sustainable packaging suppliers Rokbox, Spongy Bags and Kvatt and a 25% discount on a digital subscription for The Art Newspaper.
Not that any of us should need inducements to do what we know we all need to do. It’s just a matter of putting intention into practical action. And harnessing the power of art to inspire us to make these changes.
As the musician, artist and climate change activist Love Ssega declared in his self styled ‘rallying call’ performance that recently rounded off the GCC’s and Whitechapel Gallery’s recent Climate Crisis—Art Action symposium: “What’s happening? The planet is crying… Let’s rip up the process and the boundaries …What are we all doing here? Having more seminars, colloquiums, panels and rumination?... It should be fun, we should be flare, inspire others that we care.” Amen to that, and with deeds as well as words.