Silviu Scrob All We Need Luxembourg

Performing Arts and Environmental Responsibility, a Contemporary Theme


May 27, 2021

We live in a period of climate change that poses a major threat to all life on Earth. It is a extensively studied subject that has sparked global concerns and measures. Among the first documents signed by the new U.S. President, Joe Biden, is the Paris Agreement on climate change. The major challenge of our century is to protect the environment and find sustainability that allows both us and future generations to live well in a healthy environment. Recent global scientific reports all reach the same conclusion: current trajectories are fundamentally unsustainable. Source.

“Nature can be preserved, restored, and used sustainably.”

Presenting the latest Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services by IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), the institution’s president, Sir Robert Watson, stated: “The health of the ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life globally. This report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but we must begin now at every level, from local to global. Through transformative change, nature can be preserved, restored, and used sustainably. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental reorganization at the system-wide level, encompassing technological, economic, and social factors, including paradigms, goals, and values.” Source

The International Resource Panel (IRP) was launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2007 to build and share the knowledge needed to improve global resource use. In 2019, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) published a report titled “Resource Efficiency and Climate Change – Material Efficiency, Strategies for a Low Carbon Future.” From this report, we learn that “emissions from the production of materials such as metals, minerals, wood, and plastics doubled between 1995 and 2015 accounting for nearly 25% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. This is equivalent to the total GHG emissions from agriculture, forestry, and land-use change combined. However, material efficiency receives much less attention in climate discussions.” The creation and presentation of performances rely heavily on the existence and use of various materials, such as set designs, furniture, props, costumes, stage carpets, masks, lighting, speakers, screens, projectors, mixers, etc. Source1; Source2.

We do not have direct evidence that climate change influenced the emergence and spread of the COVID-19 virus, but we know that climate change alters how people interact with other species on Earth, which matters for our health and infection risk. Climate change causes or facilitates animals to come into contact with other animals they would not normally interact with, creating an opportunity for viruses to enter new hosts. Many of the underlying causes of climate change also increase the risk of pandemics. Deforestation is the largest cause of habitat loss globally. Habitat loss forces animals to migrate and come into contact with other animals or humans, thereby increasing the risk of virus spread. We have many reasons to take actions to reduce our environmental footprint, and reducing the risk of infectious diseases is just one, albeit the most recent, of them. 

My first lesson regarding my environmental impact was during preschool. I had thrown packaging on the ground and my grandfather told me not to throw anything on the ground that doesn’t grow in nature and sent me to pick up my trash from the ditch.

Visiting the “All We Need” exhibition in Luxembourg.

An interesting experience that made me reflect occurred in 2007 when I visited the “All We Need” exhibition in Luxembourg. The exhibition explored individuals’ perception of the world in the context of globalization and industrialization correlated with human needs and planetary resources. The first part of the exhibition proposed ten large installations that narrated the subject of daily life, creating spectacular images, such as a 25-meter-high rocket, empty plastic bottles arranged in the shape of a sea wave, or statistics made with piles of rice grains prompting us to reflect on equal needs among all human beings. The last part involved interaction with an application where you answered a series of questions about your lifestyle. Questions related to daily hygiene, daily routine, consumption behavior, and the level of waste produced, eating habits, how we selectively collect garbage, how much we recycle, how much we travel, hobbies, etc. Based on the answers to these questions, the application’s algorithms calculated my environmental footprint and how many planets would be needed if everyone on Earth had the same lifestyle as mine. I was concerned to learn that if everyone on Earth lived like me, 3.1 to 3.4 planets would be needed to sustain us all. I retook the test by modifying the values a bit to see what changes at the end. I couldn’t get it below 3.1 planets for irresponsible people like me. I was pensive for a long time after that. Source

In recent years, more and more articles and documentaries present the environmental footprint for various products, such as producing a kilogram of meat, a plastic package, or a cotton shirt. Once you see and realize this information, you cannot remain indifferent unless…

A New Approach

Given the information from the introduction, I believe it is our generation’s duty to focus on a new principle in the creation and presentation of performances – environmental responsibility. It is our responsibility, those working in the performing arts, to start seeking and creating opportunities to reshape our production and consumption systems in ways that respect the planet’s availability in the long term and support well-being. Responsibility in the context of creating and presenting performances involves a new approach that, in addition to all other considerations, must take into account the impact on the environment. Responsibility refers to becoming aware of and improving the impact that materials, equipment, methods of work, emissions, facilities, and related experiences offered to the audience have on the environment. Our generation of performing arts professionals is the one that must become aware that their professional decisions have a major impact on the environment. I am referring to the directors of performing arts institutions, producers, directors, artists, set designers, costume designers, production staff, technicians, etc. All of these must become aware that their activities and actions have a major impact on the environment and other living beings – present or future. I do not think it is necessary to go to the extreme of emptying performances of forms and means in the name of environmental protection. Even if artists were to perform naked, with “invisible” sets, and scenes bathed in darkness in the name of environmental protection, we still would not be able to eliminate (reduce to zero) the impact that performances have on the environment. And if we were to eliminate all activities that have a negative impact on the environment, what would be left? What we can do, however, is to be aware of this impact and inform, sensitize, and educate the new generation of performing arts professionals in the spirit of environmental responsibility. I believe in the benefits of raising awareness and educating on this subject from the inside out. The reverse, where changes occur due to European regulations or under pressure from the public – who will become aware before us and demand environmental responsibility – will catch us off guard and be more difficult and harder to digest.

Thought-Provoking Themes and Proposals

Environmental responsibility in the performing arts is a complex subject that requires studies and research to generate knowledge about the impact that creating and presenting performances has on the environment. It also involves identifying practices to reduce the negative impact on the environment and educating about environmental responsibility among professionals in this field. Until then, each of us can start thinking about what we can do to reduce the environmental footprint of the performances we are involved in. Far from being an expert in environmental responsibility, I can only suggest some themes for consideration by all those active in the performing arts.

  • Orientation towards new equipment and technologies with reduced electric consumption, more efficiency and environmental friendliness.
  • Efficient planning and scheduling erected to reduce the environmental footprint of the entire process of creating and producing performances. Such efforts challenge us to become aware of and use resources more responsibly, minimize production times, and use workshops, equipment, and human resources involved in creating performances more efficiently.
  • Digitization of work processes to reduce paper usage, streamline communication and work times, etc.
  • Introducing formulations, requirements or elements into production technical sheets that direct the creation and presentation of performances towards respecting environmental responsibility.
  • Improving waste collection systems resulting from the process of creating and presenting performances.
  • Creating systems for recycling or reusing materials resulting from the production process.
  • Seeking to introduce as many environmentally friendly materials as possible into the production process, with a high degree of recyclability or reuse.
  • Seeking to introduce as many locally sourced materials as possible into the production process (which does not add transport to the environmental footprint).
  • Actively involving and orienting efforts to find environmentally friendly solutions in the development of cultural infrastructure.
  • Introducing recyclable materials in actions serving the public and recommending to partners and third parties to use recyclable single-use items.
  • Developing a platform to revalue objects, costumes, set elements, furniture, and props from the warehouses of performing arts institutions. Many performing arts institutions still have tons of such materials from retired performances. Many set designers are looking for different set elements and wonder if they could take elements Y and Z from institution X, which they would modify and integrate into their next production.
  • The creation of interactive applications to engage participants in interactive missions that inform, empower, and reward them for environmentally responsible behaviors.

Our generation, willingly or compelled by circumstances, will face the issue of the impact that our performances have on the environment. This means that we will be placed in the position of measuring how environmentally and socially responsible our actions are throughout the entire process of creating, producing, and presenting performances. Under the influence of treaties, regulations, standards, and European recommendations, companies in all industries are required to measure the environmental performance of their products and organizations. At the European Union level, tremendous efforts are being made to create a fair and just legal framework for measuring environmental performance, supporting opportunities for cross-border trade in ecological products, encouraging the development of an environmentally conscious mindset based on the life cycle, sustainable material management, and sustainable production and consumption. The ultimate goal is to change patterns of production and consumption to create a sustainable economy. Source.

Environmental footprint for staging a performance:

The European Commission has worked and is working on developing common methods for calculating the environmental footprint of products and organizations in various sectors. A first pilot program was tested between 2013 and 2018, involving over 280 voluntary organizations and companies, resulting in a first set of information and rules used for calculating the environmental footprint. With more and more data available, I believe we are approaching the moment when we can make the first calculations of the environmental footprint for staging a performance, organizing a festival, or running a theater’s activities over a year. Source.

Efficiency strategies in production, dissemination, and consumption will play an essential role in efforts to create and present performances with the smallest possible environmental footprint. Cultural policies, strategies, and research on resources used in the performing arts need to be better aligned with the urgent need for mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

Essentially, we are talking about raising awareness and changing our behaviors, those of us who work in the performing arts sector, or why not, in the entire cultural and creative industry. It is necessary to realize that our industry and our actions cannot ignore the impact we have on the environment. We are the ones who must take the first steps towards environmentally responsible performances, and these first steps must be taken now before it’s too late. So, do you think about the environmental footprint of your actions?

January 25, 2021.

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