Two recent initiatives seek to turn art world sustainability pledges into action

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Globally, climate pledges are failing to produce results. In October, the United Nations reported that only 26 of the 193 countries that committed to climate actions have implemented their plans. While the art sector represents a small portion of global emissions, galleries, museums, artists and institutions across the world have been pledging their commitments to sustainability. These pledges bolster a system-wide change in perspective, but they don’t necessarily equate to a change in operations. Now, two initiatives—Gallery Climate Coalition’s “Active Membership” programme and Climate Action 8×8—are launching to support the art industry in turning sustainability commitments into concrete climate actions.

Since the founding of Gallery Climate Coalition (GCC) in 2020, more than 800 individuals and organisations have adopted the non-profit’s targets and commitments, which centre on reducing emissions across the sector by a minimum of 50% and achieving net-zero waste operations, both by 2030. GCC’s new Active Membership programme furthers this commitment. “Simply signing up does not guarantee that the necessary actions are then taken,” says a spokesperson for GCC. “This Active Member initiative has been introduced to distinguish those who have taken action, as well as incentivising those yet to do so.”

To achieve Active Membership status, participants must have completed an emissions report or carbon audit within the last two years, maintained a team devoted to green initiatives and published an environmental responsibility statement. Members who complete these steps will receive a badge for their websites and communications, the first of which will be awarded in spring 2023 and re-evaluated annually.

Meanwhile, Climate Action 8×8 has emerged as a parallel, collaborative initiative. Created by Galleries Commit and Art to Zero of New York, Art + Climate Action of San Francisco and GCC’s Los Angeles branch, Climate Action 8×8 provides galleries with eight suggestions for climate action in eight different areas of activity. Actions include measuring emissions, reducing waste and creating a Climate Impact Report—Galleries Commit signatories at Marianne Boesky completed the initiative’s first such report, for Allison Janae Hamilton’s solo show at the gallery’s New York space, in spring 2021. Participants in the first Climate Action 8×8 campaign are expected to complete their actions by autumn 2023.

The collaborative nature of Climate Action 8×8 and extensive list of suggested actions allow for flexibility and adaptability. “There is no single climate action plan that will work for all organisations. We need a diverse range of impactful solutions so that all arts spaces can actively contribute to the sector’s shift towards climate responsibility,” says Jodi Roberts, co-founder of Art + Climate Action.

So far, dozens of organisations have set out to achieve Climate Action 8×8 and Active Membership, representing a broad range of galleries, non-profits and institutions. A few members, like the Museum of Contemporary Art (Moca) in Los Angeles and Hauser & Wirth, have joined both initiatives.

“The most impactful approach to the climate emergency is to work together,” says Cliodhna Murphy, the global head of environmental sustainability at Hauser & Wirth. “This transparency will help to build a more sustainable future, as well as opening up the possibilities of sharing ideas and knowledge.”

Hauser & Wirth and Moca both have robust climate plans and dedicated employees responsible for implementing them. For smaller operations, which may not have the money or labour pool for full-time sustainability staff, the hope is they will be able to benefit from larger participating institutions’ resources. “The climate crisis feels relentlessly daunting and unstoppable, particularly from the perspective of a small gallery like ours,” says New York gallerist Charles Moffett. “What made joining the 8×8 campaign such a clear decision is their vision to empower galleries of all scales with real, applicable tools.”

As more institutions work together, the idea is that sustainable decisions and resources will become the norm. Climate Action 8×8 and GCC’s Active Membership represent steps towards achieving system-wide accountability, collaboration and change, and ultimately supporting the larger global effort.

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