Environmental impact

Assessing environmental impact can be divided into several stages. The first involves determining the current situation in the institution, i.e. posing the question: what is consumed and in what quantities? You can use a carbon footprint calculator or a water footprint calculator to get a general idea. The next step may be to set consumption limits for specific resources. The easiest to monitor is the consumption of energy, water or paper (the necessary information can be found on meters or invoices). In institutions where company cars are used, it is worth monitoring fuel consumption. Once we monitor the consumption of selected resources, we can proceed to the next step, i.e. changing the supply chain. It is worth verifying purchases in terms of their environmental impact (certified products, e.g. fair trade, products of companies committed to reducing carbon footprint or products of local cooperatives) and introducing tenders with environmental criteria. At the same time, at every stage of introducing changes, develop staff awareness concerning environmental education through self-education or external training. Audit is a more complicated activity requiring larger investments.


At this stage, what is important is assessing the current situation of the institution, i.e. addressing the question: what quantities of resources are used. At first, it is worth choosing areas that are easy to monitor, such as: consumption of energy, water, paper, fuel in company cars. The necessary information is available on meters or invoices.

Calculators of carbon and water footprint.
The Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF) is a tool for determining the impact on the environment. It allows for a comparison of one’s own impact with the impact of other organisations. The OEF defines environmental impact holistically, including carbon and water footprint. [link].
Free online calculators usually calculate carbon footprint. These are not ideal tools but they can give you a general idea (e.g. carbon footprint calculator, water footprint calculator). If we want professional and precise environmental footprint research, we must take into account a long and costly process. The online calculator is a simpler and cheaper, albeit imperfect, alternative. It can be helpful in educating and informing employees and the public about the scale of an institution’s impact on the environment.

Setting limits.
Defining limits on the consumption of fuel, print, energy, water, etc. and their monitoring reduces the consumption of resources and may also shape the scale and mode of an institution’s operations. If we have a limited amount of resources at our disposal every year, we will try to keep within the limit. This means that perhaps some activities will not take place at all or will be carried out in a sustainable spirit. (see: PRODUCTION: MATERIALS, EVENT PRODUCTION, PROGRAMMING, COMMUNICATION, INSTITUTIONAL POLICY, EMPLOYEES).


Sustainable purchasing
It is worth analysing the impact of the institution on the supply chain through sustainable sourcing. A supply chain is a structure within which goods are created and transported to the place of consumption. Managing the supply chain should meet the highest standards of quality and responsibility. A sustainable supply chain takes responsibility for the whole life-cycle of a product: from production of resources to the moment when the product becomes waste. This means adhering to environmental norms and caring for human rights and work conditions of those engaged in the production process [link].
A cultural institution is unable to monitor the whole process but may base its decisions on the information made available by the producers. This may include certificates, e.g. related to fair trade (see: ECO-ETHICS OF COOPERATION). Some products include calculations of carbon footprint. Companies sometimes add information on the labels that they strive to reduce or offset carbon footprint. There are also less formal ways of gaining information on products and services. It is worth promoting social economy by working with local cooperatives.

Ecological education.
Employees should have access to information collected when measuring the institution’s environmental impact (e.g. link: https://unccelearn.org/). Equal access to knowledge will allow for collective decision-making, for example regarding the institution’s operation and setting of priorities. If possible, it is also worth organising training (see: EMPLOYEES).

An audit is about examining the current situation in an organisation. It may consist of the verification of documentation regarding the environmental obligations of the institution (environmental audit), analysis of the supply chain and environmental impact (audit in the field of sustainable development) or examination of the daily practices of employees, processes and how the building is used. Auditors rely on documents, interviews with employees, observation of their practices and ways of using space (human-space-environment). Using various tools, they search for areas for optimisation aimed at maximising effective use of resources (‘zero waste’ audit). (see: AUDIT)

Tenders with environmental criteria. 
It is worth verifying companies with which we cooperate by carrying out green tenders with environmental friendliness as one of the criteria, promoting cooperatives and purchasing ecological services and products. When preparing Terms of Reference (TOR) for an Invitation to Tender, it is worth including points such as: confirmation of submitting environmental reports, use of ecological and/or recycled materials, environmental criteria (e.g. how the company in question reduces carbon footprint), being up to date with sustainable solutions and keeping the clients informed about them. It is also worth paying attention to other criteria associated with sustainable development such as job security (employment contracts), equal opportunities (description of staff, remuneration policy). An example of such a tender carried out by Zachęta art gallery is available here


Sustainable development strategy of the institution.
At this stage, it is worth preparing a sustainable development strategy for the institution, based on accumulated experiences and knowledge. To create it, you can use data from the analysis of the institution’s environmental impact (minimizing resource consumption, setting limits, sustainable supply chain, audit (see: AUDIT, ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT), recommendations of the green team (see: GREEN TEAM)). Working on the strategy is a multi-stage and complex process in which all employees should be invited to participate from the very beginning in order to jointly agree on the possibilities of introducing the proposed changes. (see: INSTITUTIONAL POLICY)

Weronika Zalewska, Untitled (Sprouting of community), mixed media, 2021