'Believe you can and you're halfway there.' Theodore Roosevelt

Last week I attended two presentations given to Arts Council England Relationship Managers by Catherine Langabeer, Operations Director at Julie's Bicycle. Her talk focused on the background to why Sustainability matters, what the arts council is asking of organisations and how Julie’s Bicycle helps to deliver this.

We started with the London Combined Arts team, whose portfolio ranges from the Royal Opera House with an Annual Grant of £25 million down to the Bureau of Silly Ideas (BoSI) that create 'surprising interventions in the public realm' and receive just £40,000 pa. Clearly we would not expect the same level of engagement from these; or so you might think. Well, says Catherine, yes, the Royal Opera House has a huge operation and has been working with us for years to reduce its environmental impact - but BoSI has also been thinking how it can make a difference with some really innovative thinking that you might expect from a small, nimble organisation.

Mike Brooks, Combined Arts Relationship Manager agrees. He, however, wonders how we can encourage those organisations who have not yet engaged with this agenda. We talk about the ethical, financial, legal and stakeholder benefits. Mike is impressed with some of the hard figures - £10,000 saved by Theatre Royal Plymouth by water-saving measures alone; the National Theatre saving £30,000 by changing Carbon Monoxide detectors. For him, the financial savings will be the clincher for those he will talk to. Afterwards I send him some more information and he emails me back to say 'this was really useful. The feedback from the team about the presentation has been really positive too.'

Next is London Literature. The issues are understandably different to Combined Arts; however, there is enthusiasm within the team. We discuss how engaging with sustainability can help with public engagement and how it can also sometimes impact on artistic output. Gemma Seltzer, Literature Relationship Manager, emails me and Catherine afterwards.

She says: 'There are some great examples of individual authors and poets tackling the big issues of our time and I’m now welcoming the opportunity to talk to National portfolio organisations about how they might approach the environmental sustainability agenda, in both practical and creative ways.'

This was the 12th presentation that Catherine has given. By the middle of March she will have spoken to just about every Relationship Manager in the country. I’ve attended most of them and I’ve been impressed with the level of positive response from staff - all of whom have many other demands to manage. A lot of the enthusiasm is down to the simplicity and power of the message; but a lot is down to the charisma, passion and depth of knowledge that Catherine and the staff at Julie's Bicycle bring.

Not for the first time I think we are fortunate to be working with her and her team.

Ian Rimington is London Relationship Manager, Theatre, at Arts Council England and leads on Environmental sustainability for the organisation.


I'm pleased to hear that Catherine Langabeer of Julie's Bicycle has been pushing the sustainability message to ACE Relationship Managers. One way of ensuring that arts and culture venues put sustainability at the heart of their programmes and operations is through their recruitment and procurement policies. If 'a proven commitment to sustainability' was enshrined in job descriptions and job specifications - especially for those in management and other leadership roles - this would make a very big difference to the culture and ethos of venues, and to their operating costs. ACE should probably make funding conditional (for venues over a certain size and scope) on a measurable commitment to sustainability and the environment, with an accredited EMS in place as a minimum requirement.

Hi - thanks for your comment. Just to clarify - our funding agreements do contain Environmental sustainability requirements - to measure energy and water usage and to have an Environmental Action Plan/ Policy. I agree that what you suggest would make a difference - I would even go further and say that principles and ideas implicit in Sustainable Development should be profoundly embedded in everything an organisation does. However, we should recognise that that is an ideal! Different organisations are at different stages; will want to progress in different ways and at different pace. We want to encourage organisations to make plans and policies that are appropriate to them - they will adopt practices when they see the value of them. I think a part of our job is to provide support for the choices made whilst drawing inspiration from the exciting and innovative leadership that is already out there.

I think you raise an interesting question about what we might, (perhaps should?), expect from larger flagship organisations. I don’t pretend to know the answer to that, but the debate would be interesting…



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