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Sustainability at heart

Leo Ribeiro

Arts and environment activist Alison Tickell is back in Australia to remind us of the importance of making environmental sustainability intrinsic to the business, art and ethics of the creative industries.
Sustainability at heart
Before training as a professional musician and becoming a leading authority on environmental sustainability in the arts, Alison Tickell felt she was always part of what is the world’s most important conversation today. ‘I come from a family of climate scientists, so I’ve always had it in the background… since I was very very small,’ says Tickell, who is the founder of Julie’s Bicycle – a UK-based non-profit company helping the creative industry reduce their environmental impacts and develop new thinking in tune with global environmental changes. About five years ago, Tickell thought it was 'absurd' that the creative sector was not doing very much about the issue and the release of Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth was timely. ‘It was incredibly fortuitous that colleagues of mine in the music industry were watching it, it had such a tremendous effect,’ she says. ‘There was a meeting of mutual concern and interest, so the timing was absolutely perfect and since then the issue has taken over my life, because, of course, it is one of those issues that the more you get to know about the more deeply systemic it becomes,’ Tickell says. ‘So many roads actually lead to it because everything we do has a relationship to it, so it has become very very absorbing.’ Julie’s Bicycle was founded in 2007 after Tickell took out some friends from the music industry out for supper to talk climate change. ‘I was prepared to just stop everything and start this company from scratch and I really wanted to just check that I was going to get support and ideas,’ she explains. ‘Before you ask the reason why it is called Julie’s Bicycle, it’s is because we had dinner at Julie’s restaurant that night and I arrived on a bicycle and that is as simple as it gets,’ she laughs. Since its establishment, the company offers practical advice, tools, resources and Industry Green environmental certification to over 350 organisations in the UK and internationally. Among clients and associates are heavy weights Live Nation, The Sage Gateshead, Frieze Art Fair, the Association of British Orchestras, EMI UK & Ireland, Sony Music, London’s National Theatre and the Royal Albert Hall. ‘The issue for many people was not that they didn’t want to do something, but that they didn’t know what was the right thing to do, and there is any number of ways that we can respond to this issue and I think there is probably a place for all of them,’ she says. ‘Harnessing that energy that you get through coalescing into a community of shared concern it was a very obvious thing that needed to be done and of course, the minute you start developing that energy, it starts to generate itself so I was surprised and I’m still surprised that people have been so keen and interested. It has been one of the loveliest parts of the work that we’ve done recognising that there is a great deal of commitment to tackling this, even though the solutions are incredibly complex.’ According to Tickell, our global and local economies make it quite difficult to address climate change and while change has started to happen, it is not happening fast enough. Issues around population growth, equity and an acceptable standard of living in both developed and developing economies are some of the factors in a complex equation that demands enormous commitment, ingenuity and support on every level. ‘These are really complex, difficult issues that need to be looked at and these are being looked at, but they make for some very uncomfortable conclusions which require long-hand systemic change,’ she says. ‘I think what I recognise is that, like anything, it’s not happening fast enough, but nevertheless there are changes afoot.’ For Tickell, we are on the cusp of real change and the increasing number of people investing in greener energy around the globe is a welcome sign in what she calls our historic high ethos. ‘We need to accelerate new technologies and above all, we need to accelerate investment into making those technologies scalable and able to really compete in the current marketplace… We have got a lot of work to do with it and it’s very fraught with equity, political responsibility and around short-term vested interest, which is very much a picture of our economy, and we need to actually juggle all that, so it is very very difficult, but I think that things have started to shift.’ When Tickell visited Australia last year, she noticed an ‘absolutely overwhelming sense of extraordinary commitment’ from our arts and cultural sector. Not only Australians understand and address environmental impact, but we do also find ourselves in a very privileged position. ‘Australia is one of those extraordinary places that is really looking both West and East, and our international arts and cultural imports and exports actually do, at some point, land in Australia. So you’ve got an extraordinary capacity both in terms of a national response and an international response, of course. If we are increasingly looking East, I think Australia is going to play an increasingly pivotal role in that, so that stretch of ambition, as well as commitment to really looking at the complexity of this and to deal with it as an arts and cultural community, it is really very much part of the DNA of the Australian community.’ If Australia should be proud of its commitment to a more sustainable future, it must also beware that like anywhere else in the world, we still have a long hard road ahead. ‘We need to start looking forward, and this isn’t actually in terms of a very dire approach to what this issue means, there is that narrative around it, but it’s often unhelpful narrative, much more interesting is actually looking at what our future arts and cultural sector needs to look like,’ Tickell says. ‘What kind of cultural and societal values do we need to push at their heart? What kind of technologies, building structures, events and artistic expression? Is that going to be manifest over the next 20 years?’ ‘At the moment we’re all being a bit reactive, we’re not being very proactive and again I think we’re at a transformative time now, which is where we need to keep reacting, but part of our reaction really does need to be looking forward now. That will accelerate not just our thinking around this issue and what it means, but also the practical application of that in our sector. So that needs to be hurried up.’ While Tickell understands the arts and cultural sector cannot single-handedly lead the world into a more sustainable future, she is also aware the sector has a unique and ‘very special place’ in our fight for survival. ‘There are certain things that we absolutely and ought to be taking a lead on and a lot of that is around imagining a future, presenting complexity around the issue without it being too didactic and pushing the practice of sustainability at the heart of the artistic process; so that instead of it being relegated to either a boring thing that certain people have to do, or indeed a side issue, it actually starts to become in all aspects, materially, artistically, aesthetically, and how it is being produced, it actually starts becoming absolutely intrinsic to it. 'And then I do think that we have an extraordinary capacity to lead, we are very, very, very good at expressing ideas, and also in fraught leadership we tend to get out there and speak and I think that’s where we have quite a unique place.’ Abaf will present a series of special events as part of AbaF's Richard Pratt Legacy Project with guest speaker Alison Tickell across the country. She will discuss the role of environmental sustainability to the business and ethics of the arts and cultural industries. This series of public forums is also supported by The Pratt Foundation. For more information, visit Arts & Sustainability with Alison Tickell. For more information on AbaF's policy on sustainability, visit the AbaF website. SA Date: Monday October 22, 2012 Time: 10.15am for 10.30am to 12pm Venue: Fisher Jeffries, Level 1, 19 Gouger St, Adelaide, SA Register: Securely online Contact: Will McRostie on 08 9233 0676 or NT Date: Thursday October 25, 2012 Time: 5:30pm to 7pm Venue: Malcolm Nairn Auditorium, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT Register: Securely online Contact: Meriel Corbett-Weir on 08 89430657 or ACT Date: Monday 29 October, 2012 Time: 5:30pm to 7pm Venue: The Street Theatre, Childers Street, Canberra ACT Register: Securely online Contact: Jenny Norris on 02 6247 4199 or WA Date: Wednesday, 31 October 2012 Time: 4pm to 6pm Venue: PICA, Perth Cultural Centre, James Street, Northbridge Perth WA Register: Securely online Contact: Toban Harris on 08 93668005 or

About the author

Leo Ribeiro is an ArtsHub writer.