Make a list of things which make up the production process. What do you have to switch on, build, transport? Where do you have to commute to? Provide appropriate sound and lighting? Record, order? What products? What materials, tools, equipment? When you finish, the list will be quite long. Remember that none of these things appear from ‘nowhere’ and go ‘somewhere’. Analyse how all of this is going to impact the environment.
3Rs for production (+ 1)
When producing a theatre play, a concert or an exhibition you deal with a large number of materials and have influence on decisions concerning power consumption, purchasing, raw materials and transportation. In order to make decisions for more sustainability, follow the ‘3Rs’ principle: reduce , reuse and recycle. In this context, it is necessary to add one more ‘R’ – repair.
Reduce. The most environmentally friendly resolution we may take at the stage of planning is: I shall not order and produce unnecessary things. There are already so many resources in circulation that we need to first learn how to use them. Whenever possible, look for ways for reducing raw materials being used. Avoid materials which would be difficult to recycle. Reduce the amount of material necessary to build a set or exhibition infrastructure. Instead of buying equipment, rent it from other organisations. If purchasing equipment is necessary, consider sharing costs with other institutions. Pay attention to energy-saving solutions – switch off and reduce unnecessary lighting, use energy-efficient LED lamps to reduce power consumption.
> Throughout the 2019/2020 season, the Drama Theatre in Wałbrzych was using the same modular set designed by Karolina Mazur and modified it to suit the requirement of particular plays. The set consisted of blocks made of plywood, which could be configured and complemented with additional elements: props, fabric, furniture.
Reuse. Check what your institution has in store, consider how you can reuse your resources. Reuse and recycle before producing. Insofar as these postulates are relatively easy to implement in smaller-scale activities e.g. by using paper or recycled packaging during workshops, larger items or equipment may pose a problem. If you work for a big institution, sometimes you do not even know if the material or equipment you need is available in store. Therefore, seek better communication with other departments. Together, prepare a catalogue of materials ‘for general use’ which the whole organisation could access and which would be regularly updated. Remember – before going shopping, check what your organisation has to offer. Also, act similarly in the case of invited artists – encourage them to reuse the resources you already have.
Many cultural institutions face the challenge of insufficient storage facilities. This is the reason why perfectly reusable materials are disposed of, as there is nowhere to store them. Avoid such practices – they are wasteful and non-ecological. Minor elements of the equipment which the institution no longer deems useful can be shared with local organisations and partners or disposed of during garage sales. This will allow you to gain some space in your storage, enter into cooperations with local foundations, associations, cafés; and get to know your neighbours. (See: GOOD NEIGHBOURLINESS)
> Case: Garage sale of items from Emilia’s museum storage, source: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
A bigger challenge to institutions is posed by large fixed assets, such as exhibition structures and set designs, which are painstakingly produced but often destroyed soon after the project finishes as they were custom-made for one-off events. Try planning to use the same architecture or set design for a few seasons or at least reuse and recycle their parts. If elements of set design are of particular financial value, organise an auction and donate the proceeds to a charitable organisation or fund programmed activity at your institution.
> Case: Charity auction of chairs from the “Estranged: March ’68 and Its Aftermath” exhibition, source: POLIN Museum.
Think about creating a consortium of different organisations with common storage facilities and common use of resources. Of course, many procedures that are possible to implement by NGOs are more difficult to carry out by public institutions due to binding regulations. As a result, some institutions do not even look for such solutions quoting public finance discipline. It is worth remembering that public institutions have an option to sell unnecessary equipment as the so-called ‘redundant assets’. Disposal is not the only solution, so consider introducing items into circulation giving them a ‘second life’. Warsaw’s Culture Cooperative was set up by an initiative of district cultural centres, associates, active local institutions, NGOs, informal initiatives and any willing persons. It shows that this sort of cooperation is real and that it is worth trying to overcome formal barriers. The Cooperative develops the idea of freecycling and sharing resources that are donated to the common pool e.g. venues for activities, equipment and materials with various entities. The only criteria are for the events to be neighbourly, open and non-commercial. They are guided by the idea of ‘sharing’ rather than ‘exchanging’.
> Read more: > Culture Cooperative: Borrow and Organise; source: NGO.pl
> See also: PARTNERSHIPS AND ECO-COALITIONS
> Exchanging and sharing may take various forms. For instance, Swedish organisation Retoy promotes the idea of sustainable attitude to consumption among children and parents. It develops a platform for exchanging toys, gifts toys to children in need or recycles toys in its educational lab. Read more: Retoy
Repair. One of the themes within reusing is repairing. A lot of items, e.g. appliances working slowly, an old kettle, slow computers are often prematurely considered inefficient and just disposed of. Sometimes they are thrown away without attempting to service them. However, a lot of these items may still serve. In refraining from repairing we unnecessarily lose lots of useful resources.
> Platform21, a Dutch design organisation, has made repair its motto. According to the designers, in contemporary culture recycling is overappreciated, while repair is underappreciated – both as a creative, cultural and economic power and in the context of its environmental potential. Read Repair Manifesto, source: Platform 21
> A thriving organisation from Catalonia associates local groups, businesses and organisations which wish to implement the idea of a closed circuit in the area of ICT. The organisation operates on an open-source basis and its main goal is preventing premature recycling. Its website contains interesting publications, including a report entitled ‘Barriers to reuse electronics coming from the public sector’. See: Ereuse/Publications
Recycle. At this stage, we bid our farewell to the item in question. The raw material from which it was made will be used to create something new. However, it is worth remembering that the key to a high level of raw material recovery is proper sorting of waste. In the creative sector, recycling may not only be useful but it can become a practice for creative activity. Looking for creative ways of recycling waste and re-introducing it into circulation in cooperation with artists could become a permanent fixture of an institution’s programme and manifest on various scales – from the ‘iconic’ bag made from banners to bigger projects. For instance, theatres tend to increasingly recycle elements of stage design from their earlier productions. More and more projects aim to be based on reused and recycled materials. Abroad even buildings are made of recycled materials, including buildings of cultural institutions!
> See how artists process their materials in a non-obvious way: The Arts and Sustainability: Renewable Materials from Unexpected Places, source: Medium
> Read about buildings from recycled materials: Quality architecture from waste. Waste as a new building material, source: Bryła
Communicate. If you do use recycled materials to create your stage design, use modular furniture which can be used multiple times or reuse the architecture of your exhibitions – communicate this through exhibition notice boards, let the audience know about it. Your practices may inspire others and the pro-environmental aspect of the project may constitute an additional incentive for the audience to visit your production.
There is one type of material which should be particularly avoided as far as possible – plastics. However, it is not so easy to avoid it. Plastics are used in the products of practically every sector. Plastic’s immense popularity is associated with its usefulness for people: it extends food storage period, it is light and universal. However, as a result we have become hostages to the millions of tonnes of plastic, which is deposited in the soil, water and in landfills. According to the Mare Foundation, if we do not change our attitude, by 2050 plastic in seas and oceans will outweigh fish.
How do plastics affect the climate? Conventional plastic is made of fossil fuels. Mining, production and transport of petroleum and natural gas contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases. Plastic takes about 500 years or more to degrade. When it degrades, it degrades, it separates into microplastics, which are currently practically impossible to remove. It is sometimes the case that plastics contain chemical substances which are harmful to the environment and human health.
It’s a myth that every type of plastic can be recycled. There are six basic types of plastic, each with different properties, and only a few have a recycling potential dependent on many external factors (e.g. profitability, durability, availability of recycling facilities in a given country). There is also a seventh type – the so-called other plastic, which is non-recyclable. As can be seen, plastics are not equal. There are also more and less harmful varieties, e.g. products containing toxic bisphenol A (BPA) should be avoided at all cost. High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE, 2) and Polypropylene (PP, 5) are highly recyclable. The most popular type, PET (1), used for making drinks bottles is recyclable but only under certain conditions. Its recovery rate is currently just 20 percent (compared to over 90 percent for glass), because recycling it is economically unjustified and the end product is of insufficient quality (PET quality deteriorates with each recycling process). Products marked as ‘compostable’ cannot be placed in an ordinary composter (they require industrial composters), while a lot of plastic products marked as ‘biodegradable’ degrade just as long as standard plastics, and separate into microplastics. Although not made from fossil fuels, bioplastics have a lot of properties in common with standard plastics – e.g. they absorb toxic substances like sponge and can easily be transferred to various ecosystems, polluting them. Plastic waste is so ubiquitous in the environment today that it has been suggested that we might regard plastic as a geological indicator of the Anthropocene Era.
As far as possible, let’s avoid contributing to this ‘deposit’. Despite appearances to the contrary, we have significant influence on this – based on UN data, nearly 40 percent of all globally-produced plastics are packaging materials. They leave behind plastic production associated with home furnishings, the building industry and electronics. And since it is us – the consumers – who decide about packaging, let us choose consciously and with our choices stimulate changes in the production sector.
> Read more: Plastics and climate, source: Nauka o klimacie (Climate Science)
Tool kits associated with materials
If you need concrete advice on what to pay attention to in order to green the production processes and raw materials you use, we recommend reading the following publications and websites:
> For museum specialists – a guide for sustainable action while packing, storing and transporting objects: Waste & Materials: Collections Care: Packing, Storage & Transport, source: KiCulture
> For people building sets, exhibition walls or working with fabrics, costumes, drapery, furniture, props; lighting and sound engineers: Julie’s Bicycle Practical Guide, source: Julie’s Bicycle
> For those looking for a database of ecological materials: Rematerialise, source: Kingston University
> For those interested in creating new non-toxic materials: #1: Materiom – a platform on making biodegradable materials from locally sourced biomass, created by an international community of designers, scientists, engineers and artists. #2: The Future Materials Bank – an internet platform for artists, aimed at gathering ‘future materials’, i.e. alternative, biodegradable materials, which could be used by artists instead of materials that harm the environment.