Gallery Climate Coalition, Interview with Poppy Paulus-Nicolas

Gallery Climate Coalition was officially founded in 2020, launching as the visual arts’ first open source destination for sector-specific tools and free environmental best practice guidelines on a range of topics. GCC’s scope and ambition evolved from a community project for commercial galleries in London to include all organisations in the arts sector internationally.

Emma Stones (ES), Producer at Chorus Arts, was joined by Cassidy Knowles (CK) Chorus Group Managing Director, and Poppy Paulus-Nicolas (PPN), Community Coordinator at GCC to talk about the role of sustainability in art, the ambitions of GCC and the conversations in sustainability that we need to be having.


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CK I want to start by saying I loved your carbon calculator!


PPN Thank you! Yeah, we launched it in October 2020, off the back of that weird period of lockdown. GCC was born out of a small group of essentially gallerists, from the visual arts, so our tool was initially tailored for galleries.

We worked with Danny Chivers on it, who is a leading carbon analyst and environmental writer , but we also ensured that our methodology and our carbon figures are in line with UK Government BEIS conversion factors and Julie's Bicycle, which is another major carbon calculating tool. We also had months of consultations with environmental advisors and experts within the visual arts sector.

From the research Danny conducted using a few organisations in London as case studies, it was clear that the top three areas of impact are transport, shipping and energy use, and what those formations or those bubbles look like is dependent on what sort of arts organisation you are. So, for example, non-profits tend to have a lot less travel impact, but their energy and shipping is going to be much higher, whereas for a commercial gallery, your travel and your shipping is probably going to be higher than your energy.

But I should also flag that we are currently redeveloping our calculator. We want to keep that ease of use, while allowing for more granular and a wider expanse of data inputs so it’s relevant for every type of arts organisation and artists


CK Yeah, that's really interesting, because we have been doing something similar with Isla. We’re supporting them with developing their tool to make it more effective for us as well, and materials is one thing that we've really been focussing on. Also working more closely with our supply partners to understand what material information they can get as well, because it isn't as easy as you might think.


PPN Yeah, definitely, and I don't know if this is also maybe something that you guys face, but something that we really struggle with as an international network is that the impacts of materials have so much to do with where they're coming from, and how they're getting to you. It's the broader supply chain and figuring out an approach and methodology that is applicable for members in the US, in Europe, but then also in Taiwan and in Australia is difficult.


CK Journeys in sustainability around the world are so different to us in the UK as well. We found it very hard working in the US with partners because it just wasn't on their radar at all. 


PPN Definitely, it’s interesting to see, geographically, where the conversation is at, even regionally. It can be the difference between Madrid to Barcelona, in terms of access to infrastructure.


ES Since GCC’s founding in 2020, what have been the other challenges you have faced?


PPN Time and capacity within an organisation. The desire to track and measure and reduce CO2e emissions is there, but the time and capacity, the ability to actually dedicate resource is not.The commitment to 50% reduction is daunting but it’s rare that we come across anyone that is actually resistant to change. 


ES On the other side of the coin, what have been the tangible sustainability changes and wins you have seen?


PPN Anecdotally, with a lot of our members, we do see the 50% reductions even now. And in some cases even higher.   

So, we initiated a landmark sustainable shipping campaign in collaboration with Lloyd's Market Association, insurers and shippers. When we first launched GCC, it felt like a distant dream to shippers, insurers, gallerists around a table talking about sea freight and more environmentally responsible shipping options. But just that process of involving the entire visual arts sector and supply chain means we can align everyone towards the same targets.


ES The deadline of 2030 in some contexts feels incredibly close and in others, quite far away. Do you feel optimistic about the goal and deadline?


PPN As a sector, the visual arts is relatively less environmentally damaging than industries like agriculture, construction, even fashion. But in proportion to our economic size, we are excessively carbon and waste intensive.

And there are so many solutions within the arts sector that can also be scaled and implemented across other industries. And I think we're kind of starting to see positive tipping points with those kinds of conversations.

And things are just changing, improving so rapidly, even in the three years since we launched, the landscape in 2030 is just going to be completely different to what it is now. We always talk about the fact that one of our values at GCC is that we're stubbornly optimistic.

But I think what is interesting as well as our own reduction targets and the tangible reductions we are already seeing, what we feel particularly optimistic about, is arts potential to push conversation.

Arts and culture have always played a really important role in social movements and it continues to do so. But we can only do that with honesty and sincerity if we're also walking the walk and talking the talk. So, I guess it's the duality of that, it's the platform and the voice that artists and arts organisations have and the opportunity for arts and culture to really lead the way and be a really vocal outspoken leader for other industries to also follow.


CK Do you get people or galleries that are not using their voice because they are concerned about greenwashing and also green hushing?


PPN Yes, green hushing is common across the sector. This is where the community and communication becomes important, because there is a lot of incredible work happening across so many arts organisations globally that are not being spoken about that openly.

And I think it's about changing the framing to kind of being really open and honest about the fact that nobody's doing it perfectly. And that's also not the point. We're all learning and figuring out as we go along.


CK Yeah, this is what I say to people all the time. No one's perfect. And we need to be sharing the case studies, small and big wins and calling people in and not calling people out.

Like you said, you need to check the community and the comms around it. It's so important for people to feel confident that they can get to that target.


PPN I'm pretty sure it was Gary Hume who said that he was a 10% activist. 


CK it's that same argument for being vegetarian or not. You don't need to be one perfect vegetarian just if everyone reduces their meat consumption by a day or two a week.


ES It's also a way of stopping people feeling so alienated. The pressure of perfection can be debilitating.


PPN Exactly. It’s important to make sure that everyone really feels that they can be a part of the journey. They could be at the very, very start of their journey, but that's brilliant and we'd still love them to join GCC.            


ES And can you tell us more about the Active Members for 2023. Have you seen an increase in the number of applicants for this?


PPN Yeah, we have seen a 50% increase in successful applicants this year, which is great. And we are also internally doing some shifts so that we're  able to focus a more energy on active membership next year onwards. We will have more capacity to do more of the community engagement and support members in doing those applications.

But I think what has really stood out for us kind of from the launch of active membership last year, and our kind of inaugural group was just how well received it was, like, there was just really no questioning as to the need for an initiative like this, or why we would do it. And if anything, there were requests for it to go further and to ask for more. Which is just brilliant.


ES It’s a really nice way of celebrating, as opposed to criticising. Acknowledging the work that is being done in a way that’s incredibly understanding and has a learning and growth mindset.


PPN We have 125 organisations and individuals this year that have achieved active status. And since the deadline closed, we've also been receiving more applications.

So I'm really hopeful that we'll be looking at 150 or more.


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GCC announced on Tuesday 9 April this year the 2023 Active Members.

Chorus Arts is proud to be one of these active members and while it is not a certification of sustainability nor a claim that we are doing things perfectly or have all the answers - none of us are at this point - we’re all doing our best to assess, report and reduce our impact, setting targets in line with science, taking any actions we can and working out other solutions as we go.

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March 22, 2023
Gallery Climate Coalition, Interview with Poppy Paulus-Nicolas
Emma Stones