Eco-ethics of cooperation

Cultural institutions, like other entities organising social life (public or private) are part of the circulation of goods and services. This means that they create and maintain economic relationships with businesses, mainly through purchasing products or commissioning various services. Choosing a particular company to cooperate with, not only do you contribute to it financially but also support its management policy. Decisions of your institution may be an example for others to follow, that is why it is important to choose your partners wisely and refrain from supporting financially big corporations which excessively exploit natural, social or cultural resources.
Remember that cultural institutions are one of the elements driving the market, so they exploit the planet as well. Think how to slow down. Are all the purchases made by the organisation really indispensable for its functioning? Is it possible to buy less? A socially and environmentally-responsible cultural institution tries not to unnecessarily increase the demand for goods and services and chooses economic and business partners consciously. This is what eco-ethics of cooperation is about.
Eco-ethics is a set of values, norms and priorities that indicate a respectful human attitude towards the natural environment. The eco-ethics of cooperation is therefore the application of ecological rules in economic and business relations. This can be achieved through organising environmentally and socially sustainable tenders, researching the company or institution’s policy, introducing relevant provisions in contracts or by activities promoting the change of legal regulations at the municipal, city or even national level.


Ecological code of ethics
Firstly, formulate an ecological code of ethics which should be part of the institution’s policy and mission (see: INSTITUTIONAL POLICY). Built into this code should be principles of ecologically ethical cooperation, especially relevant with commercial partners. Below are some suggestions:

1. Plan your purchases. Planning your expenses well will make it possible to purchase only the necessary products and will allow you to choose an appropriate seller or service provider.
2. Instead of buying – rent. This can work particularly well in the case of multimedia equipment. Its market and practical value drops very quickly due to the whirlwind speed of technological development. A tremendous amount of electronic devices are being produced only for them to immediately become electro waste. Rent and you will save money and reduce waste. If you own such equipment, share it with other organisations, particularly those with a smaller financial capital.
3. Buy locally. When you enter into cooperation with a local business, you support the local economy. The capital remains in local circulation instead of supplying foreign accounts of market giants often registered in tax havens. In addition, the supply chain at every stage of production is easier to verify and, above all, local transport reduces the emission of carbon dioxide.
4. Buy for democracy and support cooperatives and alternative business models based on the social and solidarity economy model.
5. Choose products with certificates of ecological and ethical trade.
6. Check companies with which you cooperate for their ecological and social policies. Verify which raw materials they use for production and how they dispose of and or recycle waste. Do they observe the labour code? Do they pay taxes?
7. Avoid cooperating with big corporations, choose small and medium companies, preferably local ones. This way you look after a more sustainable distribution of goods and money among local companies and employees.
8. Check how banks invest your money. Do they hold shares of unethical companies or projects associated with fossil fuel mining, exploitation of land or theft of water?  

Revising the existing economic relationships
Based on the ecological code of ethics, analyse the network of economic relationships in which your institution operates. Perhaps not all services are necessary, perhaps some may be limited? For instance, publishing services (cooperation with printing houses) – consider limiting printing of promotional and information materials to the necessary minimum (see: COMMUNICATION). Another example is gardening services – less frequent mowing of lawns or sowing a wildflower meadow, which you only need to mow once or twice a year will be much better for the environment (see: NATURE). 

You can also re-evaluate some of the services and notice the potential craftsmanship qualities. Let us go back to traditional printing services. As part of your programme, you can organise, for example, a linocut workshop, teaching the participants how to make graphic copies using this technique. Apart from knowledge, you also provide participants with specific skills which they could monetise in the future. You can use the linocuts created at the workshop for promotional and communication purposes. They will certainly be treated with greater respect by the recipients than the mass-produced leaflets. Certainly, you can replace some of your business partners with other forms of entrepreneurship based on cooperative capital (cooperatives, cooperatives). Take a look at the policies of partner companies. Do they subscribe to similar environmental values as your institution? If not, do not give up this cooperation right away, try to renegotiate the terms of contract.

Social and solidarity economy entities and social enterprises are forms of legal entities which are managed in a democratic manner, their activities are not profit-oriented, and are guided by the values of social and economic good. The democratic management principle is based on involving members of the cooperative in the decision-making process, unlike in ordinary business enterprises where decisions are made by the owners. This ensures that people working for the cooperative have full influence on the direction of the enterprise’s development and business decisions. The activity is non-profit because the generated income is not privatised, but supports further development of the company and/or its employees. The overriding goal of the cooperative is to create jobs, thus contributing to the professional activation of excluded or marginalised people, professional and social reintegration, improvement of the economic status of the local community and local economic development. The solidarity aspect of such enterprises also engenders mutual support by creating dedicated networks and aid funds. From the point of view of eco-ethics, such entities refute the economic relations of exploitation and abuse by their very practice. Support them by using them. In this way, you can take care of the good economic, social and psychological condition (fight against exclusion and unemployment) of the place where you live and work. By cooperating with these entities, you also have a greater opportunity to agree on the principles of cooperation, e.g. by agreeing on specific products to be used in the production of your order. The most popular entities of the social and solidarity economy are social cooperatives, labor cooperatives, disabled people’s cooperatives, but also non-governmental organisations conducting economic activity. These entities, just like other enterprises, issue invoices for goods and services, and a cultural institution may settle accounts with them. Over the last few years, cooperative development policy has developed significantly. There are special online search engines (e.g., with a location filter, which will help us to easily find potential partners for supplying goods and services for our institution.

Cooperating with individuals
Consider supporting individuals from your local community by buying goods and services directly from selected people or informal groups. Such entities often do not have legal status and cannot issue invoices. Bear in mind, however, that you can settle accounts with individuals on the basis of a sale and purchase agreement.

Venue hire
Cultural institutions make their spaces available for long-term rental or one-off commercial events. Analyse each proposal carefully, because it affects not only the natural environment, but also the public image of your institution. If an institution promotes drinking tap water, but the restaurant that sublets its premises only serves bottled water, this inconsistency will greatly inhibit the process of changing everyday habits. The same is true for such things as plastic disposable tableware during commercial events. Such lack of consistency inhibits the process of promoting change and may lead to accusations of an inconsistent approach to creating an ecologically responsible organisation. Include appropriate provisions in lease agreements, especially regarding waste management and not using plastics, but also in promoting ecological attitudes. In this way, we can jointly shape our ecological practices and educate our audience and partners. 
One good example is ‘Wars i Sawa w Nowym’ bistro which hires space at the Nowy Theatre in Warsaw, and also serves as a staff canteen. The dishes served there are vegan and vegetarian.


Introduce socially and ecologically responsible ethics of cooperation following good practice and regulation included in so-called green public procurement. European law is increasingly supportive of ecologically responsible decisions.

It is worth choosing goods with environmental certificates. The Ecolabel, also known as the daisy, has the widest geographical reach within the European Union. It has existed since 1992 and is awarded to products meeting high environmental standards. The oldest eco certificate is the Blue Angel (Blaue Engel), created in Germany in 1978. Qualifying products are assessed on the following factors: raw material efficiency, pollution reduction, noise reduction, waste elimination or reduction and potential for reuse. The register of ecological certificates can be found, for example, here: []. In addition to ecological certificates, it is worth paying attention to social certificates, i.e. Fairtrade, Fair for Life, Fair Trade Certified, Fair Trade by Ecocert or products delivered by certified Fair Trade Organisations (members of the World Fair Trade Organization).

Green Public Procurement
On the website of the Public Procurement Office you will find environmental criteria for so-called green public procurement (GPP).  
This process focuses on minimising the environmental impact of goods and services throughout their life cycle. This means that price of a given product is not the sole criterion but the costs of energy, maintenance and final disposal should also be considered. For example, purchasing products with high energy or water efficiency can significantly reduce your utility bills. For instance, a green tender for printing services could include the following environmental criteria:
printing on recycled paper, with eco-friendly ink, using water-based glue;
description of production processes reducing environmental footprint (e,g, optimising printing sheets, use of ink, energy efficient machines, LED lighting);
packaging for shipment in accordance with zero/less waste approach: limiting plastics, using fillers for protection from paper cuttings or compostable materials (e.g. foam peanuts), using multiple-use packaging or recycled packaging;
offering ecological alternatives (selection of paper, ink, circulation, format) fit for a particular specification and not compromising on quality of print and aesthetics of the publication
Such criteria were used by the Zachęta National Art Gallery in Warsaw when ordering printing services.

In addition, there are a number of documents and certificates confirming pro-ecological approaches of companies to the environment, e.g. a report in the national database on the emissions of greenhouse gases and other substances – KOBIZE or an entry in the database on products and packaging and waste management (BDO). 
Green public procurement principles should be used while selecting any service or goods. Whether it is a tender for a cleaning company which uses environmentally friendly detergents, gardening services based on non-invasive gardening methods, or energy efficient computer/multimedia equipment.

Socially sustainable public procurement
As well as environmental indicators, which can be used in decision-making concerning potential cooperation, pay attention to the social policies of particular organisations. Do they promote decent work standards regardless of gender, age, disability, personal views, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, while respecting human and labour rights? It is also worth promoting organisations operating in the field of the social and solidarity economy, micro-enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also worth promoting. Does the company take into account the issues of fair and ethical trade, which can be confirmed by fair trade certificates? 
The website of the Public Procurement Office contains information on social criteria that can be used in a socially sustainable public procurement process.


If you have managed to introduce socially and ecologically responsible ethics of cooperation with businesses in your institution, it is worth promoting this attitude. However, remember to support your attitudes with specific actions and require the same from cooperating entities. Be vigilant and make sure these are not just self-serving actions (‘greenwashing’).

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
CSR is a management strategy, according to which companies voluntarily take into account social interests, environmental aspects or relationships with various groups of stakeholders and in particular with employees. In business terms, being socially responsible means investing in human resources, environmental protection, relationships within the company’s environment and informing about these activities. There are a number of tools, standards and guides to help you manage and implement CSR into your corporate strategy. The most popular ones include: SA 8000 (published in 1998), AA 1000 (published in 1999) or the ISO 26000 standard published in 2010. CSR uses a number of tools, such as activities for the benefit of the local community, pro-ecological activities, development programmes for employees, courses, training; employee volunteering or social campaigns. Perhaps your organisation has already had an activity or a social campaign that was part of the CSR strategy of a given company. Before we enter into this type of cooperation, it is worth verifying whether the company’s policy is actually implemented in practice. It may be that the socially responsible management is only a declaration, and individual actions disguise the more general organisation of a company’s work, which may be inattentive to people and the planet. Again, we can fall victim to greenwashing, or, in other words, green fraud.
It is worth emphasising that the concept of CSR and the norms and standards that it represents are a very positive phenomenon in the area of business. By establishing economic relations with companies implementing CSR practices, we also contribute to the promotion of this phenomenon. By entering social and environmental criteria in tenders and assigning high scores to companies implementing CSR strategies, we promote sustainable and fair trade.
More about corporate social responsibility in Poland.

Ecological advocacy
The previously mentioned practices, documents and attitudes, such as: environmental and social indicators in tenders, eco-labels, selecting companies managed in a responsible and pro-ecological manner for cooperation, have all contributed to changes in legal regulations in the past. One example is the campaign to ban animal testing of cosmetics. In 2013, after many years of struggle, the European Union introduced a total ban on animal testing of cosmetic products, including finished products, ingredients and combinations of ingredients. The regulation also prohibits introducing them onto the European Union market. 
Cultural institutions are platforms for distributing knowledge with enormous symbolic and critical influence which should lobby for changes in the law. Together with good practices, such as implementing green public procurement, they can change legal regulations and make environmental and social criteria obligatory, not just voluntary. They can help establish partnerships and networks to jointly influence the shaping of pro-ecological policies in city and provincial offices and cultural departments.

Weronika Zalewska, Untitled (Practices of voice emission), mixed media, 2021