A New Leaf

Literature's Sustainable Future

The event held for the literature sector last week at Free Word highlighted two things: it demonstrated some outstanding work (including Hay Festival’s ‘Hay on Earth’ initiative, Manchester Literature Festival and the Arvon Foundation), but overwhelmingly, it confirmed there is much more to be done to address environmental issues in the sector. And of course, Julie's Bicycle was more than happy to get the conversation going.

Julie's Bicycle's CEO Alison Tickell set the tone, reminding us of the scale of the challenge we face – picking out in particular the exponential increase in paper consumption (alongside other indicators) over recent years – and the potential for the creative sector to drive meaningful change. She shared results from our recent Sustaining Creativity survey that showed literature as the sector least likely to think of sustainability as relevant to their activities, and yet more literature organisations shared their vision for a sustainable cultural community than any other sector surveyed. The importance of engaging with our environmental impacts not just as individuals, but as an industry with cultural influence, should not be underestimated.

Andy Fryers from Hay Festival was second to speak, giving a run through of his work as Director of Hay on Earth. Andy demonstrated how Hay manages its environmental impact, including waste, water, energy and audience and artist travel; a gentle reminder that responsibly managing these areas should be at the forefront of any event organisation. At Hay, green event management goes hand in hand with programming and audience engagement activities. Examples shared by Andy include their Just Fashion competition with Levi’s and Central St Martins, which brought students from the Sustainable Fashion course to Hay to create garments over the festival with audience members. Stimulating change and new ideas in the minds of individuals should be the job of a festival – and green issues should be on the agenda.

Peter Hughes, chair of the Publishers Association Environmental Review Group, was last (but not least!) to take the stage. Whilst Peter comes from a corporate social responsibility background, he is also involved with the grass roots organisation, the Publishers Green Network, making his insight valuable from both perspectives. In summary, the publishing sector is vast, made up of multi-national companies and even bigger supply chains, but also smaller, independent companies, and the issues relating to publishing and the environment could span an entire book themselves! Peter alluded to paper sourcing, digital formats and the opportunities that print on demand could bring. Much of what was discussed brought up further food for thought. It would seem the environmental work done by the sector to date has widely been paper sourcing centric, with much being done by the industry and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to promote responsible forest management and paper procurement. Beyond this, there are still questions to be answered, namely around eBook and eReader technology, which are yet to be substantiated with thorough research. On the bright side, Peter reminded us that it is through the power of the written word where change can be found, encouraging small and large outfits to publish and promote books and stories that deal with issues relating to the environment. He also advocated consumer power to bring about this change, emphasising that it is as much on the consumer to make responsible choices and express views as it is on publishers to work to ethical and environmentally sound standards, and to enable readers to make informed choices.

Once the talks were over, breakout groups formed to continue the discussion, with an additional group convened on ‘sustainable buildings’. This was led by Nick Murza, Director of Operations at Arvon. Nick is responsible for the management of Arvon's three residential writing centres, and has been driving several environmental initiatives. All properties are now powered by green tariff electricity, and, following a report on potential renewable energy and heat investments that could be made, one of the centres has installed ground source heat pumps which provide the centre’s heat, all year round. Thinking holistically, Arvon have also looked at land use and stewardship, supporting and protecting biodiversity and truly locally sourced food. The discussion brought up the issue of governance and the need for support from the top to help drive change, particularly as boards and trustees are responsible for business planning and financial decision-making. The session also touched upon grants and funding streams to improve sustainability of buildings, and Nick encouraged the creation of a green group in the work place to make sure green issues are embedded within the working culture, particularly when organisations rent their office space.

The breakout for festivals and events also included Jon Atkin, acting Co-Director of Manchester Literature Festival (MLF). As well as drawing in a few thousand visitors in to Manchester City Centre annually, the festival has a huge portfolio of artists making up the 70+ strong events in the programme. With this in mind, MLF are keen to manage both the carbon footprint of their audience and artist travel to events. Initiatives have included making use of video link technology when artists are overseas, as well as providing a shuttle bus and walking-pick-up to those artists who agree to walk from the station. You can see more of MLF’s best practice here.

Overall, the event gave an insight into the ways that literature organisations are boldly innovating, instigating change, and bringing their artists, suppliers and audiences along with them. As a starting point for a broader, more joined-up conversation, it asked plenty of questions rather than giving all the answers.

In the coming months, Julie’s Bicycle will be developing more resources for the literature sector – contact us if you have stories, questions or successes to share with us and the wider arts community!

You can now view the presentations from the day by clicking below and download the notes from the breakout discussions here.

Sustaining Creativity