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Culture for climate change

Mobilising arts and culture sector to contribute to local climate change policies
Manchester / United Kingdom
Size of city: 
511 852 inhabitants


Jonny Sadler
Programme Director, Manchester Climate Change Agency
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The Manchester Arts Sustainability Team (MAST) is a network of 30 organisations that was established in 2010 to enable Manchester’s (UK) arts and cultural sector to contribute towards the city’s climate change targets. MAST has achieved an average CO2 reduction of 7% every year since 2011/12. Building on the initial focus on “internal-facing” operational issues, MAST partners have recently expanded their activities to deliver a growing range of “external-facing” activities, to engage and inspire audiences to act on climate change. In 2016 MAST members participated in Manchester Climate Lab, a programme of experimental activities to test different techniques for engaging and inspiring people to act on climate change. Building on this successful programme, work is now underway to develop a new programme of arts and culture-based activities for 2017+, to engage and involve Manchester stakeholders in the delivery of the city’s climate change strategy for 2017-50.

The solutions offered by the good practice

Normal practice:
• Demonstrates how arts and cultural organisations can work together on climate change;
• Non-prescriptive and participatory approach to allow partners to develop an understanding of climate change and deliver action that is appropriate to their organisation;
• Diverse membership covering small, medium and large organisations, delivering a wide range of different artistic activities.
Good practice:
• Achieved an average CO2e reduction of 7% per year;
• “Carbon Literacy” training to help members understand climate change, how it relates to their organisation, and ways they can take practical action. Available to any city.
Best practice:
• TV soap opera: Coronation Street – climate change included as part of the story lines;
• Theatre: Contact Theatre – hosted “Our City, Our Planet” for young people to explore the issue of climate change and the future they want for the city;
• Municipality: Manchester City Council – sustainable events action plan;
• Manchester Universities: poetry events, role-playing, song-writing and music events; performance art; street games;
• Museum: Manchester Museum – 90,000 visitors attended the “Climate Control” exhibition;
• Major festival: Manchester International Festival – biannual festival whose Green Team are responsible for reducing the festival’s environmental impact;
• Art gallery: The Whitworth – award-winning £15 million redevelopment project, including best practice standards for reducing energy and CO2

Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

MAST’s external-facing activities involve Manchester citizens in both the development and the implementation of local climate change policy. For example, MAST’s “Our City, Our Planet” event worked with young people to help define the sustainable city they want. Climate Control at Manchester Museum focused on climate change and how people can take action. Over 90,000 visitors attended and were encouraged to contribute towards Manchester’s Climate Change Strategy 2017-50.
Integrated and participative approach Manchester has an overarching strategy for 2016-25, Our Manchester, which was developed based on the views of local citizens and organisations. The strategy’s delivery is overseen and driven by the Our Manchester Forum, a partnership of senior politicians, public sector, the private sector and NGO leaders. Manchester’s arts and culture sector is represented on the Forum through the chair of the Manchester Cultural Partnership. MAST enables the Partnership to focus on Our Manchester’s climate change objectives, as part of the city’s wider social, economic.

Based on a participatory approach

A participatory approach is at the heart of climate change policy in Manchester. The climate change strategies for 2010-20 and 2017-50 were directly based on the views of Manchester’s stakeholders. This approach is reflected throughout MAST’s work. MAST was established voluntarily by the Manchester Cultural Partnership in 2010, to begin to explore how the city’s arts and culture organisations could contribute towards Manchester’s climate change goals. MAST’s first Strategic Report, for 2011/12, set four strategic goals. Progress has been reported every year since then and the priorities reviewed to ensure they are aligned to Manchester’s climate change strategy. The MAST Strategic Reports for 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15 set out how the priorities and the range of activities has evolved over time. This has led to a number of joint initiatives, including exploring the potential for joint procurement of renewable energy, exploring the potential for a shared storage facility and a materials exchange, to reduce the need to dispose of unwanted props and materials, and Carbon Literacy training. MAST participates in various national conversations, as part of the co-development of a UK-wide response to climate change by the arts and culture sector e.g. Building Culture 2017 where the MAST chair was a keynote speaker, Fit For The Future 2016 and Sustainability In Production Alliance 2016.

What difference has it made?

Since 2012/13, MAST has achieved a 7% year-on-year reduction in CO2e. Environmental policies and action plans have been developed for individual MAST members, to embed action on climate change throughout their organisations. MAST members have undertaken renewable energy procurement, innovative and co-operative approaches to upcycling, reuse and recycling, and staff engagement campaigns.
MAST members have also delivered a series of citizen engagement activities, including:
• In 2014, Manchester Art Gallery organised a pop-up Wild Orchard inviting visitors to plant their own bee-friendly trees,
• In 2015, Manchester Art Gallery’s installation “The Lost Gardens of Manchester”,
• In 2015, The Whitworth Art Gallery celebrated its relationship with Whitworth Park through a textiles exhibition that responded to environmental issues,
• In 2016, the Manchester Museum organised the “Climate Control” exhibition, inviting audiences to share thoughts on climate change and talk with experts as a part of Climate Exchange programme,
• In 2016, Contact Young Company’s show “Climate of Fear” explored the emotion of anger through themes of climate justice, social inequality, memory and the body.
Activities delivered in 2016 encouraged participants to contribute to the development of Manchester’s climate change strategy for 2017-50. This helped to secure the input of 700 people, up from the 200 that were involved in the development of the 2010-20 strategy.

Why should other European cities use it?

Every city in the world will need to deliver major cultural changes to enable them to contribute towards the Paris Agreement. The following ingredients are enabling MAST to support Manchester’s cultural change and are possible to replicate in other cities:
• Local climate change policy: an existing/developing local climate change policy/strategy, which sets out the need for all organisations and individuals in a city to act;
• Governance and partnerships: MAST is a network that is linked to Manchester’s wider governance structures. It is not a formally constituted body and therefore avoids the associated legal and financial issues;
• Arts and culture sector: MAST is open to small, medium and large organisations, working across a range of different artistic activities;
• Funding: the large MAST members pay a fee which collectively totals £7,000 per year. This is used for the production of the annual report and the delivery of joint projects. Small organisations are not required to pay. Additional external funding is sought on a project-by-project basis;
• Tools: MAST’s Environmental Sustainability Toolkit could be adapted and used by other cities. MAST members use the free online Creative IG Tools for measuring environmental performance in the arts and cultural sector.
The tools have been translated into nine EU languages to date. Albert+ is an environmental standard for TV production (originally developed by BBC in Manchester) and available at