Decarbonisation of Culture

Five directions for transformation from The Shift Project

By Erika Sprey SOTA

In March 2020, just as the health crisis was getting underway, a group of French art workers joined The Shift Project’s Plan for Transforming the French Economy (PTEF). The objective: to initiate in-depth work to shed light on the cultural sector’s greenhouse gas emissions and its dependence on fossil fuels. We picked and translated some of their propositions.

Relocate activities

It’s not about reducing the ideas, but limiting the distances covered. At the same time, this will help make culture a driving force for local transition, via its various needs: food and other consumables, buildings, energy and transport. In the field of books, depending on the publisher’s choices, the number of kilometres travelled by a book between the place of paper production, the printer and the place of storage can be reduced by a factor of 20, or even more!

Slow down

Artists will continue to travel… providing they extend the duration of trips so as to reduce their number. The quality of the creation, the well-being of the teams and the exchanges in the territories they are part of would all stand to gain, whereas today many professionals have to ‘chain dates’ at a crazy pace. We propose systematising the pooling of tours, exhibitions and broadcasts between several local partners, increasing the number of performances or activities of professionals in each territory (master class, collaborations with local artists, conferences, cultural activities), for example, during residencies, and finally slowing down by encouraging the re-creation of works abroad rather than their touring – particularly for theatre and dance. By stopping to take planes, choreographer Jérôme Bel invented a new mode of distribution of his works. This artist films his rehearsals, then sends the video files to directors on other continents who recreate his work with local dancers and tour it in their territories using the least carbon-intensive means of transport.

Reducing scales

The attractiveness of projects, which have been the driving force of cultural development in recent decades, has led to an ‘eventisation’ of culture with ultimately, a permanent growth in scales. The more visitors a cultural event attracts, the more international its audience, the more its programming needs to deploy spectacular performances to differentiate itself… and the heavier the carbon footprint becomes. Festivals, especially in contemporary music, just like fairs or biennials, offer stereotypes of this trend. Professionals are speaking of an ‘arms race’. We propose de-escalation. We estimate that by dividing its scale by ten, a festival gathering 300,000 people could slash its emissions by a factor of between 20 and 30.


Decarbonising culture by The Shift Project