At the start of 2021, as part of our commitment to our declaration of a climate emergency, Watershed appointed Zoe Rasbash as Environmental Emergencies Action Researcher to implement a programme of work about how to help creative companies face climate emergency. In this blog Zoe talks about the journey to creating a Creative Climate Action Toolkit designed specifically to support smaller businesses, organisations, collectives and freelancers to act on climate.
Over the last year and a half, I've had the pleasure of being part of the Pervasive Media Studio team to research how we can best support our community of creatives to act on climate.
I was tasked with using Watershed as a pilot study to test out what works and what doesn't work for catalysing climate action in a creative organisation funded and supported by Bristol+Bath Creative R+D.
I quickly realised the needs of Watershed to act on climate were quite different to the majority of the thriving creative sector in the South-West. For one, Watershed's building (heating, cooling, energy) is what makes up the majority of our carbon emissions, whereas most smaller creative businesses and freelancers work from home, or in a shared or rented studio workspace. Further, Watershed has a staff size of over 100 and regular income to support a linear (year to year) trajectory of action. Smaller creative businesses and freelancers often work project to project, shrinking and growing depending on funding cycles.
This also means smaller creative businesses and practitioners have a greater flexibility to experiment, pilot new ways of doing things, test and reflect. Unlike larger creative businesses and organisations which often have boards, reporting, executive groups that must all be consulted, smaller entities are well positioned to try doing things differently now, which can be scaled up and adapted to build new pathways to action. Small is beautiful, brilliant and vital!
And further, larger creative organisations and businesses already have a tonne of brilliant resources available to guide action, such as the likes of Julie's Bicycle, Creative Carbon Scotland and Arts Council England. Later this year, in celebration of Watershed's work three years on from our declaration of a climate emergency, I will release a reflective report on my action research process over the past year and a half in a large creative SME - what worked well, what didn't, and an honest reflection on the steps we've taken and how far we have left to go. This will include all the resources we've generated as part of training our staff for any creative organisation to use.
All of this is to say: there seemed to be a gap in the market for supporting more flexible approaches to climate action for smaller and dynamic creative entities, a resource which isn't prescriptive but provides prompts to think about where to start if you're wanting to do things differently.
Reflecting on where the power, resources and capacity of small creative businesses and freelancers lies in empowering positive change, this resource needed to take a broader lens to what we consider as climate action: beyond just the tangible emissions reductions of recycling and solar panels, towards considering how acts as simple as conversation, research and testing new ways of doing things can be very powerful conduits for change in collaborative and creative work environments.
This led to the creation of the Creative Climate Action Toolkit, specifically designed to support smaller creative businesses, organisations, collectives and freelancers to act on climate. It was developed from a series of workshops and conversations with a range of different creatives in our wonderful studio community and beyond - acknowledging that everyone is an expert in their own practice, and more often than not, know the pathways forward that make sense for them.
The toolkit is designed to support actionable, achievable and nuanced climate action - to combat the overwhelm we often feel at the scale of the crisis. This is in no way prescriptive, simply a jumping off point!
The toolkit includes:
- Creative Climate Action Video: This video gives an overview of key principles which help make the task of climate action feel more achievable and exciting, and breaks down different pathways to action. Laying out the unique barriers and opportunities for smaller creative practitioners and businesses, it suggests a guided exercise to help map and prioritise which actions to take forward.
- Creative Climate Action Worksheet: This is a worksheet to be used in accompaniment with the guided exercise, to help structure thinking and map ideas generation.
- Creative Climate Action Checklist: This can be used in tandem with the guided exercise or entirely on its own. It introduces 6 action areas: Buildings & Energy, Digital, Finance, Travel & Touring, Materials and Waste, and People. For each of these, it has a list of action prompts (sourced from different small creative entities through workshops and conversations) and a directory of tools and resources that can provide more information or support further action.
If you have time, do watch the video and go through the guided exercises - but if you only have 15 minutes on the bus, just take a scroll through the Creative Climate Action Checklist to see if anything feels relevant or exciting to you.
Small actions alone will not stop climate change, we ultimately need drastic transformations of our infrastructure and systems away from extraction and towards regenerative cultures. But local, bottom-up change is also important - small shifts in how we do things, what we ask from collaborators, and how we choose to spend our money does support the slow shift to a more environmentally conscious society. I am reminded of a brilliant quote by Alexis Frasz:
"It's not because artists have the answer, but because the creative process is about confidently walking into and through the unknown, again and again, and coming out the other side with new ideas, insights and pathways to pursue... Often these creative prototypes of new systems and ways of living are small and local, leading some critics to dismiss them as not enough for the scale of the problem. But climate change has global causes and local impacts, so local adaptations might be just what we need to flip the paradigm on its head. Moreover, who knows which of these local experiments might have the seeds for the next system inside of it, seeds that can germinate and spread?"
The toolkit is not exhaustive, indeed, if you have any feedback, thoughts or actions you have tried out, do send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.