Holding people to account over the choices they make, and helping them make better choices, works!

Today, in a Comment is Free piece in The Guardian, to coincide with the release of the ‘Sustaining Great Art & Culture‘ report, Nicholas Serota Chair of Arts Council England lists some of the headline achievements of ACE’s 10 year partnership with Julie’s Bicycle (a charity that supports the creative community to act on climate change and environmental sustainability.).

Over a 6 year period, Julie’s Bicycle has supported, cajoled and gently badgered ACE’s National Portfolio Organisations to report on their environmental sustainability against certain criteria. For small organisations such as Talking Birds, this is a slightly blunt tool: as one of many small companies renting a temporary office in a building we don’t own, untangling our energy or water use from that of the entire building – let alone exerting influence over others’ energy or water use is nigh on impossible, but the important thing is that the existence of this reporting programme starts the conversation, and it is conversations that prompt behaviour change.

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We all know that climate change is a massive issue – and we now know we have (probably) 12 years to plateau the mess – but it’s still true that individuals and companies find the scale of the problem just too big to even try to contemplate – yet alone do anything about. However, what today’s report highlights for me is that (a) holding people to account over the choices they make, and (b) helping them make better choices, works!

The report headlines that in the last 6 years there has been a 23% reduction in energy use, and a 35% reduction in carbon emissions across Arts Council’s National Portfolio. These are astonishing figures! If the arts, with our meagre funds, in our draughty old buildings and/or traipsing around the country to take our work out to you, can make these kinds of changes in behaviour and these kinds of impacts – then surely it’s possible for every other sector (and individual) to step up too?

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As I mentioned, the energy reduction is hard for Talking Birds at the moment because of our current office circumstances, but we’re working on that – and we are also doing lots of other things which don’t yet get reported on, but are just as important. We thought it might be useful to list some of our top ‘quick wins’ of things we do (at work and/or at home). If you don’t already do these, maybe they might be useful suggestions for you, or at least give you something to consider. If you have some actions that aren’t on the list please let us know via the comments – we’ll add them in – always good to use the hive-mind to crowdsource a list of practical ideas 😉

  • Always carry a refillable water bottle, coffee cup, fork/spoon and reusable carrier bags with you.
  • If you have to grab lunch on the go, choose something with no/minimal/paper packaging (in Coventry, a falafel wrap is a good option for this – but take your own cup if you want juice).
  • Use Ecosia as your search engine, because they will plant a tree for every 45 of your internet searches.
  • Switch your electricity and gas supplier to a renewable energy provider like Good Energy.
  • When food shopping, take your own containers/bags/tubs with you and choose loose produce when you can – in Coventry, try the market, or further afield, support the Zero Waste Shop (popping up across Warwickshire) and The Clean Kilo (in Digbeth in Birmingham)
  • If you are not already vegetarian or vegan, try to eat plant-based foods more often – if you need convincing how tasty and filling this can be, take yourself to The Pod for lunch sometime.
  • Get your (organic!) milk delivered in glass bottles – in Coventry, try Luckett’s Dairy.
  • If you can’t live without carbonated water, invest in a carbonating machine (like a Soda Stream) where the gas canisters are recycled.
  • Don’t fly. If you have to travel abroad, go by train.
  • Actively choose recycled/sustainable options on office paper, toilet roll etc
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning materials such as Ecover (then get refills), Bio D and Method (who use recycled plastic bottles).
  • If you regularly cater for small events (board meetings, networking etc) invest in some washable (ie crockery!) plates, cups and cutlery. Think about changing the balance in favour of vegetarian/vegan options rather than these being considered a ‘special dietary requirement’.
  • Try to spend some time outdoors to keep connected to nature, stay well, and observe the changes of the seasons (both expected and unexpected).
  • Look for zero waste or plastic-free toiletries, like Ben&Anna’s deodorant, toothpaste in a jar and shampoo in a bar.
  • Try to buy less stuff, but think carefully about what and where you buy. Buy local if you can, as every local (rather than chain shop or internet) purchase helps your town – if you don’t have a local bookshop and haven’t been put off ordering online by Dr Who, try hive.co.uk (yes, it is still internet shopping, but your purchase also gives a donation to an independent book shop of your choice, and I understand that they also pay tax).

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Let us have any of your ‘quick wins’ in the comments!


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