"I combine extensive Board-level, strategic and capital and revenue project experience in the cultural sector and public service with deep and wide knowledge of climate change and carbon management."
Tired Earth: An Interview with Ben Twist, Director of Creative Carbon Scotland

This interview was conducted by Selva Ozelli


"I am now using my creative thinking, administrative and financial skills to lead Creative Carbon Scotland and run Scottish and international carbon management, adaptation and strategic climate projects with cultural and climate change partners."


What was the idea/inspiration behind creating Creative Carbon Scotland? 

After a long career as a theatre director and producer, I felt a restlessness about our impact on the planet, not just the performing arts sector’s impact, but society’s more generally. I believed cultural organisations could be key players in the social transition to a sustainable society so I decided to undertake an MSc in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh. Even before I’d finished people who knew me from my arts work began seeking me out for help on managing the carbon footprint of their organisations and venues. I started doing some work on a voluntary basis for Festivals Edinburgh and this basically planted the seed for what is now Creative Carbon Scotland. The organisation became official in 2011, so this year marks our 10th anniversary.

Initially, our work centred on building the arts sector’s capacity to measure its carbon emissions, and we continue to lead on carbon management planning and emissions reporting programme for the cultural organisations which receive Regular (ie 3 year) funding from Creative Scotland (the national development body for the arts and creative industries). This became a mandatory part of funding agreements in 2014. 

Within a few years we had begun to explore the role culture can play in influencing the wider world through the work cultural organisations and practitioners develop, make, publish, present and promote. Gradually our focus has widened to include both adaptation to the impacts of climate change by cultural organisations and culture’s role in facilitating effective adaptation by others, and to engage not just the arts sector but also screen production, the creative industries and heritage, and those organisations working on sustainability and climate change, encouraging them to explore how the cultural sector can help them achieve their aims.

Tell us about your organization's initiatives concerning getting artists, and creative sector involved in sustainability, climate change education, action, and partnerships?

All of our work is based on this belief: that the arts and culture have an essential role in achieving the transformational change to a sustainable future.

In 2013 Creative Carbon Scotland established the Green Arts Initiative, a community of practice of over 300 cultural organisations committed to reducing their environmental impact.

Membership is free and any organisation can join, they just need to nominate a Green Champion and commit to improving their environmental performance. We provide advice and resources, a friendly voice at the end of the telephone, and we put people in touch with organisations facing similar challenges, so they can help and learn from each other. We also run an annual conference, bringing people together so they know they’re not alone.

Having started with the practical carbon management work including the above-mentioned mandatory reporting programme for Creative Scotland, we initiated another successful programme – culture/SHIFT – which works more conceptually and helps apply creative and cultural practices to climate change projects and organisations to help them achieve their climate change objectives.

A big part of this is what we call our ‘Embedded Artist Projects, where we place artists in a climate change project, not to make artistic work but to apply the skills and practices from their field into the project, in much the same way as an engineer or accountant might do. Some artists are very good at public engagement or helping communities imagine a different future; some are good at handling complexity and contradictory issues in a positive way that other professionals might find difficult. Often these skills are under-valued both by artists and those in climate change – but with climate change we know that doing what we have always done is not enough and isn’t working. We need new ways of working, and artists can help provide these.

Earlier this year we published our culture/SHIFT methodology for running arts and sustainability collaborations, based on our experience in partnership initiation and facilitation, process management, and supporting evaluation of project outcomes and impacts. It includes a step-by-step description of project stages as well as the benefits and opportunities involved, and is a helpful resource for anyone interested in initiating such collaborations.

In addition, two toolkits were produced out of the work we did on the Cultural Adaptations project – I'll talk about this more shortly – which are free for anyone around the world to access and apply to their work. 'Adapting our Culture’ is specifically relevant to individuals, organisations and institutions seeking to adapt cultural organisations and activities to the impacts of climate change while the Embedded Artist Project toolkit is for those seeking new, creative and experimental ways of using creativity to develop and strengthen the adaptation of cities and regions to climate change.

Creative Carbon Scotland’s website is rich with guides, resources and case studies, including our Library of Creative Sustainability, which features examples of successful collaborations betwee artists and non-arts organisations to address key issues relating to environmental sustainability and climate change.

What partnerships does your organization have?

Over the years, our partners have been as diverse as our projects. We continue to work closely with our founding partners – the Edinburgh Festivals, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and the Scottish Contemporary Art Network as well as our principal funder, Creative Scotland. At present we are collaborating with Creative Scotland to develop a comprehensive Climate Emergency and Sustainability Plan that will help them and the sector overall to achieve the Scottish Government’s ambitious net-zero targets.

Many of our partnerships arise on a project basis such as our current work with NatureScot on a MarPAMM/Interreg project known as Seas of the Outer Hebrides, which aims to build a shared vision for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the region. Earlier this year we completed a three-year Creative Europe-funded project with partners in Ireland, Belgium and Sweden. Cultural Adaptations was an action-research project seeking to find creative, innovative and place-based methods to adapt to climate change through pairing cultural organisations with climate change experts and city governments. Clyde Rebuilt is another example of project partnering, this time for a short-term initiative, funded by EIT Climate-KIC as part of their ‘Resilient Regions’ programme to enable people and businesses in the Glasgow City Region to continue to thrive as the area’s climate becomes more extreme. Our partners included Climate Ready Clyde, a group of 15 leading local organisations which also co-funded the initiative, Sniffer (a Scottish sustainability charity), and Paul Watkiss Associates (climate-change finance experts).

A major breakthrough project in 2021 is Climate Beacons for COP26, which sees more than 30 environmental, cultural and heritage organisations in regions across Scotland working together to inspire public engagement and positive action both before and beyond the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference, currently taking place in Glasgow. For the first time, the Scottish Government’s Climate Change and Culture Divisions have funded a climate-culture initiative jointly. Creative Scotland and Museums Galleries Scotland are also funding partners.

Seven hubs known as ‘Climate Beacons’ have been formed in Argyll, Caithness & East Sutherland, Fife, Inverclyde, Midlothian the Outer Hebrides, and Tayside. Bringing together shared resources and knowledge from cultural and climate organisations, the Climate Beacons provide a welcoming physical and virtual space for the public, artists and cultural sector professionals, environmental NGOs, scientists and policymakers to discuss and debate COP26 themes and climate action specific to each local area. 

Creative Carbon Scotland is overseeing the project, connecting the seven Beacons and offering support throughout, alongside six co-ordinating partners: Architecture & Design Scotland, Creative Scotland, Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, Museums Galleries Scotland, Scottish Library and Information Council, and Sustainable Scotland Network.

How can people reach your organization?

Website: www.creativecarbonscotland.com
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @CCScotland
Facebook: @CreativeCarbonScotland
LinkedIn: @creative-carbon-scotland
Instagram: @ccscotland

Anything else you might want to add.

Along with some of the most influential Scottish cultural bodies, we invite non-cultural sectors to work with us. We believe arts and cultural practitioners and organisations have unique skills and knowledge to bring to problem solving. Many of them stand ready to help professionals in other sectors by bringing these different skills to the table. If they take up this offer, and some already are as demonstrated by our above-mentioned projects and partners, we believe there’s real potential to achieve the transformational change required for Scotland to thrive in a zero-carbon and climate-changed world.


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