Carbon Reporting in the Arts: a Call to Action

The GCC was founded with a simple mission, to help bring about a 50% reduction in carbon emissions across the art-world by 2030. This goal can only be achieved through the collective efforts of committed members taking active steps to change for the better.  


But before talking about 2030, we need to address a more fundamental and pressing concern, which is at the heart of everything we do over the coming decade. What exactly is a 50% reduction in carbon emissions? How much do we need to reduce by, how do we maintain these reductions over time, and how will we know if and when we have achieved our goal? If a hundred, or even a thousand, individual galleries cut their emissions in half does that achievement equate to a 50% reduction across the entire art-world? This is both an organisational and sector-wide question. Unfortunately, this is also where we reach our first major stumbling block: the lack of data. 


Put simply, it is not clear what exactly is the combined carbon footprint of the art-world as a whole. We do have some estimates. For example, Julie’s Bicycle (in their 2021 report The Art of Zero) announced an estimated figure of around 70 million tonnes CO2e per annum – a figure taken by estimating the number of galleries, events, shipments, and flights (amongst other factors) taken and multiplying these by the average carbon footprints for all of these activities across the sector within a set period. This is a fair estimate, but this figure by itself does not serve as a workable roadmap by which we can measure our activities over the coming decade. This presents a challenge for us moving forward, but it also represents an area in which we are uniquely well placed to contribute. 

“Passion without action is meaningless”

GCC’s calculator is not simply a tool for individual organisations to use to understand their own footprint, it is also a landmark opportunity for us to take stock and evaluate the impacts of our practices as a whole. The data gathered in the process of organisations using our calculator will allow us to develop more nuanced and representative understandings as to our true carbon footprint across a wide range of areas and over a longer period of time. This will help us develop more effective strategies to tackle our carbon emissions. No less importantly, going forward, we will be able to see the data as it evolves, and how the emissions change with new practices and conditions. This sector-wide approach to data and carbon reduction efforts has already proven successful across a range of global sectors such as in the example of the higher education sector.  


On an organisational scale, if you want to know where you are going and how to get there you need data. The more you use the calculator, the clearer your path forward will be. Time and again we see that the best results come when the targets are clear, and that data is being continuously generated to allow for on-the-fly monitoring and alterations to any existing strategies. This simple approach, grounded in data and realistic targets, is by far the most common and effective strategy for change, and it is employed across the world from the work of the Carbon Trust to Julie’s Bicycle. Such actions are also integral to our efforts at GCC as a whole, and while no single figure will ever be entirely accurate, it is only through taking these steps and by members and individuals using the calculator regularly over the coming decade that we have any hope in achieving our collective targets. 


The GCC was founded with the goal to help facilitate a 50% reduction in carbon emissions across the art-world. We are all passionate about this ambition. But passion without action is meaningless. The task may at first seem insurmountable, but an approachable road map forward is possible if we all do our part. The road to 2030 begins now and the first—and in some ways most crucial—step is simply to use the calculator, reflect on your practices, and in so doing help us all chart a new way forward. 


July 9, 2021