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It is important to think about sustainability, which is not only good for the environment, but can open up space for you to be more creative, future proof your practice (and help future proof the whole world) and ultimately save you money. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can only make art out of recycled materials or that you need to draw hard lines in the sand about what constitutes “ethical art”. Working in a more sustainable way means that you are asking the right questions, measuring the environmental impacts of your creative project and then reflecting on it for future improvements.

Take one step at a time so you don’t overwhelm yourself and build a sustainable practice over time. It is something you practice. Nobody knows how to do it instantly.

Image: SCORE: For Piano, SCORE, performance artwork, 2017

What does it mean to be more sustainable anyway?

Everyone has different opinions and measurements about what it means to be sustainable. Ask yourself what is important to you, what you want to achieve and how you will measure it.

What is important to you is not only dependent on your values but also on your project constraints. When you are planning your project the sustainable measure you take will depend on:

  • How much time you have to make the project.
  • The quality of the materials or production.
  • How much money you have.

You can read more about project constraints here.

Future proofing

Future-proofing is the process of anticipating the future and developing methods of minimising the environmental and financial effects of your project. Future-proofing is used in industries such as electronics, medical industry, industrial design and more recently in design for climate change.

In this instance, you might choose a material that does not look like an obvious sustainable choice at first but has a longer life. Maybe it can withstand more environmental stresses and shocks; and can then be reused time and time again before being recycled. This is really common with public art and festival work that tours. Even if it takes longer and costs more initially, if you build it right the first time you ultimately save money and reduce waste, because you don’t have to buy things twice or create more waste during maintenance. Sustainability is often about slowing down.

Measuring your sustainability

You can go very deep with this (e.g. with carbon offsetting and reporting) but chances are you are an independent artist and need to keep your headspace free for the actual art making. If you can’t work with a producer who is a sustainability powerhouse, make a list of sustainability objectives that you want to make (an agreement or project brief could be a good place to keep this information) and then use a traffic lighting system to review each one.

Green — Smashed it.

Orange — Managed to do some of it.

Red — Didn’t manage any of it.

Celebrate what you’ve done well, think about what roadblocks (e.g. time, cost, quality) you encountered and what you need to do to be more sustainable for the next project. File it somewhere you will find it again.

City of Melbourne do have a more in-depth reporting tool as well.

Events and public outcomes

Here are some general tips and things to think about when putting your art in front of audiences and working with other businesses:

  • Have water on site, for audiences to refill their own bottles. Ask staff to bring reusable water bottles and have reusable bottles for those who forget.
  • Provide participating artists and businesses a sustainability checklist, via email, with tips for how they can participate in a low impact way.
  • Use vacuum-driven portaloos instead of water driven. Ask for grey water to be used if possible.
  • Work with coffee carts who will offer discounts for customers who bring reusable cups and for dine-in coffees,
  • Work with food venders who have an environmental policy in place and use non-plastic cutlery and serving plates. Prioritise working with venders who use fair trade, local, seasonal, carbon neutral, and other sustainable food options. Ask them to avoid using single use waste products like sauce packets.
  • Book 50% of vendors who are either vegetarian or vegan which helps reduce carbon emissions.
  • Have seperate rubbish and recycling bins clearly labelled with signage about what should and should not be put in them.
  • Avoid the printing of vinyl banners, decals and fabric and other machine printed single use items. Use Water-based and low VOC paints and glues.
  • Have a no gaffer-tape policy (encourage people to think about nicer ways to install things).
  • Have comprehensive public transport information or a nice way to walk to the event, in promotion and/or ticketing information. Facilities, such as bike racks, should be identified on the events promotional information.
  • Use stamps instead of wrist bands.
  • Use hire companies where possible instead of custom building infrastructure and equipment.
  • Have a reporting tool in place so that the environmental impact of events can actually be measured and followed up on and improvements can be made for next time.