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Posted on Tue 21 Dec 2021

Climate action: centring emotion to spark experimentation

Feeling overwhelmed, apathetic or uninformed about climate change? Supporting ourselves and others to move through them creates environments where ideas, action and creativity thrive.

A spark is contained by two hands lit up by the glow

Zoe Rasbash, Environmental Action Researcher at Watershed and PM Studio, reflects on a year of research on inclusive climate action in the creative sector. 


The climate crisis is a crisis of culture. It is not an apolitical environmental phenomenon but the consequences of a society that values individualism and disconnection from each other and the earth itself. It will not ‘affect all of us equally’, but disproportionately impact those who have contributed the least, making life worse for those already marginalised. 

We need profound systemic change to a zero-carbon society to address the climate crisis within our lifetime. If done right, this transformation can make life better for us all. We need policy change, new technologies, products, manufacturing processes, services, skills and jobs. We need to shift the values which underpin our society and new ideas, methods and tools to propel it. We need play and experimentation to do this.

And as the dust settles from COP26, it’s clear this push won’t come from the top down, so we must work from the ground up – working collaboratively for changes rooted in care, inclusivity and hope.

What has this got to do with the creative sector?

Maybe it seems unlikely, but the creative sector in the South-West is a site of tremendous potential. We need to experiment with different ways of doing things. Oxford’s Circular Economy Lab describes how small companies can work outside the established paradigms and exploit neglected opportunities to innovate. This is doubly true for creative companies which are well versed in harnessing curiosity and exploring alternatives, able to render experimental ideas in tangible ways.

And as we try different things, sharing our learnings is very important. The climate crisis requires collectivism over competition, especially considering our creative ecology’s interdependence and cultural influence.


For the past year, I’ve been researching how Bristol+Bath Creative R+D can best support the creative sector to become more environmentally sustainable. Tasked with developing a framework for climate action for small creative companies; I interviewed and met a brilliant range of people to map best practices and figure out what would be useful to support action.

And so far, I’ve concluded… a general framework for action would not be helpful. 

There can be no one-size-fits-all approach that embraces the South-West’s sparkling diversity of creative businesses. And nor should there be when the task at hand requires imagining, experimenting, and testing new ways of doing which can be scaled up and learnt from. 

The variety of functional needs, values and practices in the creative sector is enormous. Climate action for Watershed - a cultural venue with regular income, 100+ staff and a grade II listed draughty warehouse - will look very different to a small, dynamic theatre company that rents workspace and tours internationally. 

Just transition

Furthermore, we must ensure our climate action is inclusive, aligning with the principles of a just transition – badly designed, it can reproduce existing inequalities and leave people behind. Sustainability, after all, is social and economic as well as environmental.

The ability to take on all of this and experiment with new ways of doing things doesn’t happen magically, but in environments where individuals feel confident and armed with the knowledge to act. Conversations around climate often fail to do this: it can feel too big, too distant, too expensive, too hard to understand, and whatever changes we make won’t make a lick of difference. 

Barriers to change 

Feeling overwhelmed, apathetic or uninformed are not emotions to be buried. Addressing these feelings, and supporting ourselves and others to move through them, helps us create the environments where ideas, action and creativity thrive.

When our climate planning solely focuses on actions with tangible emissions reductions, it can eclipse the need for grounding work that addresses the emotional barriers – this can obstruct the potential for transformative and inclusive change down the line. 

From speaking with lots of different people, I have divided these barriers into five broad categories:

1. Lacking knowledge: On the crisis, on how to act, what’s relevant to your business, “How do we get to net-zero by 2030? What does that even mean?”
2. Feelings of being ‘overwhelmed’: At the scale of the crisis, scale of action needed, and prioritisation paralysis on where to start.
3. Lacking control over changes needed: Inability to make changes due to the interdependencies of creative industries or industry standards, renting space of work, council regulations – potentially requiring collective action from industry to push for changes bottom up.
4. Lacking capacity: while COVID continues, many organisations are short staffed and find difficulties creating capacity to implement deeper change, or have time to navigate resources applicable to their particular business model.
5. Lacking Resources: For large scale changes e.g. retrofitting buildings, undertaking full supply chain assessment. Potentially not even yet knowing what needs to be financed – just a feeling its going to be expensive!

Embracing difference 

So the task at hand is to develop processes for inclusive climate action that can be adapted to suit different sizes and structures and acknowledge our feelings as part of this journey. 

I have identified five 'levers for change’ that can combat these barriers while also supporting the development of a specific and unique environmental action plan (of some description). This process isn’t prescriptive but creates space for experimentation. The levers include: 

  1. Education & training: knowledge is vital for confident participation and informed decision making. 
  2. Impact mapping: Understanding and breaking down your workplace emissions helps prioritise actions and track reductions and provides a basis to creatively problem solve.
  3. Power mapping: Understand where your influence lies, what you have the power to change and where you may need to collaborate with others.
  4. Building a plan… or something else?: Armed with the information you need, you can begin to plan to tackle that prioritisation paralysis. 
  5. Embedding: You’ve mapped out what you want to do; now it is time to do it. 

Each of these can be tactically employed to meet different needs, capacities and resource availability.

What is next?

As part of my action research, I am working with Watershed’s Environment Group to take Watershed and Pervasive Media Studio through this process. We’re reflecting on what works and finding the stumbling blocks.

In 2022, I will be trialling this journey with a creative small business or freelancer to compare the adapting the process to suit different structures and sizes. If you’re reading this and interested in working with me as part of this action research, do not hesitate to get in touch. 

From here, we’ll have something of a sustainability journey that can be adapted to studio members specific practice to support long-term, transformational action.

And lastly, I recognise this is all fine and great, but sometimes you need a list of tangible ways to kick-start action. To support that, I’ll also be amalgamating all the brilliant and local resources I’ve come across in the research into an action handbook that can help with the ‘first steps’ in different areas from procurement to travel to audience impact.

As always, my door is open and I would love to chat if you have thoughts or feedback: