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Bridget’s Blog: How can we reduce our environmental impact as Music Education organisations?

18th October 2021

Music Mark CEO Bridget Whyte

We all know about the lifestyle changes we can make on an individual level to reduce our environmental impact, but what role can we play as music education organisations to enact meaningful change? Bridget Whyte discusses what steps Music Mark will be taking to reduce its carbon footprint and how our artforms can be harnessed as powerful tools for change. 

One of the outcomes of the pandemic for me was getting rid of our second car.  During the lockdowns we were driving only short distances – if at all. As you may know, Music Mark closed its office in London and ‘found zoom’. As a result, much of our work in supporting and connecting our membership now happens from our home offices.  The impact of those two decisions is that my travel costs – petrol and season ticket to London – have dramatically decreased, as has my carbon footprint.

As we talk about and engage in the discussion about the climate crisis, I am sure all of us are thinking about how we use our cars as well as considering other things we may be able to do on an individual level.  I attended a great conference run by the MIA a few weeks ago where there was an interesting panel discussion about ‘Net Zero’.  One of the speakers pointed out that ‘individual actions lead to collective actions and collective actions lead to change’.  We may feel what we are doing won’t make a difference when the challenge is so big, but we have to believe that it will.

The bigger question though is how we consider our response to the crisis as organisations.  At Music Mark, as I’ve already said, with the team working at home and most of our engagement with our membership happening online, we’re hoping that this will have an impact on our organisational carbon footprint, but what else could we be doing?  We had a conversation about this at our team away day recently and here are a few things we’ve thought of to get us started:

  1. We will not create printed leaflets or literature, and our resources will be digital. This includes our plan for A Common Approach which we are currently ‘refreshing’ and will be digital only.
  2. Although we will continue to have some Board meetings held as face-to-face meetings we will always offer a hybrid option for those who do not wish to travel and will aim to run as many of these meetings online as we can
  3. We are not going to have conference bags (nor provide the opportunity for our delegates or industry partners to put leaflets in them) this year
  4. We will also not be producing a printed programme for the conference but having an interactive digital programme on our conference website
  5. We need some T-shirts for the team to wear at the conference and are researching the best options in terms of environmental impact and organic/fair-trade materials.
  6. We are encouraging our membership to have online regional or special interest group meetings (and providing a platform for them to do so)
  7. We are committed to engaging more in the conversation, including identifying organisations and individuals we can talk to who might advise and support us and our membership

Following this discussion as a team, 10 days ago Matthew, our new Admin Assistant, attended an inspiring session run by Making Music called ‘Climate Emergency: What Can Music Groups Do?’

Here are some of the key points he took away from that session:

  • We can think about using our artform as a way of instigating change, of using music as a way to spread the message and awareness of the climate crisis
  • We all need to be honest about how we feel. Don’t be afraid to speak up or have the courage to have difficult conversations
  • Organisations need to do more than tokenistic ‘greenwashing‘. Recycling is nowhere near enough.
  • CO2 audits can be a way for organisations to understand their impact.
  • Organisations could nominate a green representative – someone whose job it is to call out the organisation on green issues or just to say “hang on, we should think about the impact on the environment here”.
  • We need to acknowledge that young people are afraid for their future.

Thinking more about the point around music’s power to highlight the climate crisis, Matthew mentioned that one of the speakers suggested we can tell ecological stories with music.  Performing The Lark Ascending or A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square for example, could take on poignant meaning when considering the rapid decline of the populations of both species. Sadly, one study even warns that the nightingale could totally disappear from some parts of the UK within 30 years.

But in more positive news, there is new music being written too. Matthew reported that Alison Burnley from Let It Grow outlined a project they are working on in collaboration with Oi Musica and The Soundhouse Choir: a song called ‘Enough is Enough’ written by Karine Polwart. The partnership are inviting people (and schools) to learn the song (listen here), create something new on the same theme, and share it online in the weeks leading up to COP26.

I remember too hearing about the project Hey Human by Tanya Brittain as one of the songs selected by Cornwall Music Education Hub to form part of Cornwall Council’s offer for the G7. It explores climate change from the perspective of Cornwall’s marine wildlife, birds and land animals. Change can happen, and it can be led creatively.

Over the coming weeks, inspired by the sessions Matthew and I have attended and the growing number of articles and programmes that are being published, we are going to look at creating a bank of resources for our membership – signposting you to things we’ve found. We would love to hear from any of you who have resources you use or have created which we can add to that bank too.  We’re also pulling together a reading list, beginning with these three books which might be of interest:

None of us can ignore what’s going on and I am sure as individuals you are all thinking more and more about this topic, but we also need to think about it as an industry.  It has been pointed out that Arts Council England are already asking their National Portfolio Organisations to commit to ‘net zero’, and it is likely that in time, any organisation seeking public funds will be required to make a net zero commitment and be able to audit their carbon emissions.

I would suggest what we shouldn’t wait to be told though – we need to think about this now.

And, I’m not sure what happened to my little sports car, but I feel hopeful that it will have been recycled either by being given a new lease of life, or more likely it will have been stripped down for parts, meaning fewer new parts for that make of car now need to be made.  I sometimes miss it, but I know I would certainly miss hearing the sky larks in the fields behind my garden office much, much more.

What might you do to support your organisation to reduce its environmental impact?