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Sustainability and cultural events – mica

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Sustainability and cultural events – mica

Pearl Jam is a veteran of eco-activism in the music industry – the band has been striving for carbon-neutral touring since 2003. Five years later, Radiohead has also committed to making their tours climate-friendly. Jack Johnson has also been promoting and expanding his “green” touring since 2014. With all of this, however, you have to ask yourself: How sustainable are cultural events in Austria and Europe today?

One of the greatest challenges of our time is to achieve inclusive and sustainable development without destroying biodiversity, ecosystems and indigenous or traditional cultures. Sustainability is a diverse concept: in addition to the urgent call for climate action, it includes aspects such as social, economic and cultural change. In 1987, the United Nations clarified the concept of “sustainability”: a responsible use of resources and processes that supports the needs of the current generation and in turn enables future generations to also meet their needs. Although the concept of sustainability in today’s sense goes back over 50 years, the music industry has only become aware of it in the last two decades. Since then, the commitment of musicians and organizers to the topic has continuously increased.

At the European level, organizations such as Julie’s Bicycle have been mobilizing in the arts and culture sector against climate, natural and social crises since 2007; They try to take effective measures and initiate political change. The Green Touring Network encourages artists and other players in the music industry to actively contribute to climate protection, with a focus on developing a more sustainable, future-oriented industry. Among other things, the initiative has written a practical guide for artists, tour managers, organizers and booking agencies, the Green Touring Guide. This contains alternatives and tools to reduce the carbon footprint of a tour and encourages us to rethink existing practices.

Sustainable Music CARES, an initiative by Mauricio Lizardo Prada, is another interesting example of an organization that produces and supports sustainable music in the spirit of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which were adopted in 2015 as part of the “Agenda 2030” by the United Nations Nations were set. In recent years, the European Music Council (EMC) has developed SHIFT Eco-Guidelines – guidelines for management, politics, travel and events for networks and platform organizations; the EMC is currently working with other initiatives on climate certification for cultural networks.

At the Austrian level, pulswerk, the consulting firm of the Austrian Ecology Institute, supports organizations and companies in the development and implementation of sustainable processes and products, as well as in obtaining climate certifications. The Green Events Austria initiative works with the events industry to develop and promote sustainable event concepts, products and services.

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The NÖKU Group (Lower Austria Cultural Industry) is also dedicated to sustainability: It follows a sustainability strategy to implement the 17 SDGs mentioned. In autumn 2020, the group published the NÖKU sustainability standard, an event guide for its employees, all locations and almost 40 participating cultural and scientific institutions. The standard takes various aspects of cultural events into account in terms of sustainability: venue, event technology, procurement, waste management, social issues (such as accessibility), mobility/transport, catering/gastronomy, communication and accommodation.

The castle park and the event locations in Grafenegg have implemented the NÖKU Group’s sustainability model and have been implementing sustainability measures since 2021 (including in the areas of transport and mobility, cleaning and waste management, energy supply, event technology and printing) and were recently awarded the Austrian eco-label as ” Green Location” award. In the social area, they also strive for youth training and accessibility.

These cases are exemplary for the prioritization of ecological sustainability in Europe and Austria. The focus is on “greener” events, but social sustainability – audience inclusion, gender and diversity – is also taken into account on a smaller scale. To date, however, there has been a lack of a holistic concept that also includes economic and socio-cultural aspects. Issues such as well-being, fair pay and working conditions, equality and equal rights for artists and employees are just as important to achieving a sustainable, fair cultural scene. For this purpose, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals can serve as a framework that encompasses all three dimensions – environment, economy and society – covers various subject areas and strives for global prosperity.

In this context, it is also important to note that sustainable development is also a high priority for the European Union: culture is discussed, for example, in the “EU Work Plan for Culture 2019 – 2022” and in the “New Strategic Agenda 2019 – 2024” with all three dimensions Sustainability associated. The EU sees culture as a fundamental element, crucial for the realization of sustainable development (see European Council Resolution on the Work Plan for Culture 2023 – 2026). Austrian cultural policy advocates justice, fair pay and gender diversity and supports the sustainable strengthening of the art and cultural landscape through participation and collaboration.

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But cultural organizations, festivals, venues and even artists must also consider their responsibilities and how they can contribute to a more sustainable environment. A purely technocratic approach that looks for external solutions (e.g. the obsession with reducing C02 emissions) is not enough: internal dimensions must also be taken into account. Examples of this include the selection of artists for events with a focus on gender, diversity, well-being, and fair pay – even with regard to human relationships in the workplace.

The Green Touring Guide sees the biggest hurdles in implementing sustainable event strategies as “fear of higher costs”, “uncharted territory”, “suspicion of ‘greenwashing’” and “doubts about the benefits or impact”. This requires a practice-oriented, interactive expansion of capacities with a focus on practical learning. Proven, effective procedures must be shared in the spirit of knowledge transfer. These things are essential for everyone who works in the cultural sector and beyond: In order for a movement towards sustainability to take place, cooperation is needed from all protagonists – from decision-makers and cultural leaders to cultural practitioners, managers, audiences and others. The first step is to implement democratic, participatory, inclusive cultural policy and sustainable financing.

It is important to accept that we must move away from mainstream neoliberal capitalist paradigms. This logic constantly demands growth, profit and power; Instead, we must strive for reduction and dismantling in all areas. Berthold Franke, regional director of the Goethe-Institut for Central and Eastern Europe, calls it “intelligently shrinking” (More Europe, p. 82). Instead of ever more variations of the same thing, we need a fundamental shift from quantitative to qualitative values. However, dismantling and reduction are associated with other challenges – they cause or accelerate problems such as the need for framework conditions for living wages for the creation, production and presentation of music. The only way to create effective solutions and shape sustainable, collective futures is through strong collaboration within and outside the industry.

Achieving sustainable development requires the management of internal and external aspects at global and local and at macro and micro levels. Seen this way, in order to create a sustainable future together, the SDGs must be complemented by Inner Development Goals – transformative personal competencies that include the following dimensions: the relationship with oneself, cognitive skills, caring interaction with other people, social Competencies and enabling change. Nonetheless, we must first transform our mindsets, skills, priorities and values ​​to create long-term results and effective solutions – and above all, we must confront the root cause of the problems of our current economic system. Only then can we create more efficient systems that lead to a world that is fairer, greener and more sustainable – a world where empathy for other beings, caring for our planet and acting for a better future become a matter of course.

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Aleksandra Bajda

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