Creative Industries and the Climate Emergency: The path to Net Zero

Creative Industries and the Climate Emergency: The path to Net Zero

By Julie’s Bicycle
BOP Consulting


This report presents for the first time an environmental overview of all of the UK’s Creative Industries. For every industry, it provides a summary of sources of carbon emissions and other environmental problems, projects to reach Net Zero, and obstacles to progress. It is both a starting point and a call to action.


Our climate is changing and that is changing us. We are not surrounded by the biodiversity the world once had. We cannot be confident of our seasons, or the behaviour of our seas and rivers, or our own resilience.

We know we have to change. The Creative Industries have brought this nexus of changing the world and an imperative to change ourselves directly into our view. Actors, musicians and creative leaders have been at the forefront of environmental campaigns and industry action. The Arts and Humanities Research Council's (AHRC’s) Cultural Value Project has made the case that promoting environmental sustainability is an important example of why culture matters so much. Those who have brought the natural world so vividly before us have naturally been leaders in protecting it.

At the same time, the Creative Industries contribute daily to the problems of sustainability. Everything we do has a carbon footprint, including the digital world we easily take for granted. Equipment, the energy demands of museums, theatres and concerts all make their mark and take their toll. Some 80% of the environmental impacts of a product are locked in at the design phase; that’s why design matters so much.

Yet relatively little academic research or policy exists for the Creative Industries and climate change. There has been insufficient research and policy on the technical, financial, business and cultural issues needed for Creative Industries to reach Net Zero.

This report presents for the first time an environmental overview of all of the UK’s Creative Industries. For every industry, it provides a summary of sources of carbon emissions and other environmental problems, projects to reach Net Zero, and obstacles to progress. We are immensely grateful to all of the industry informants, trade associations and academics who have helped us construct this foundational work.

The report shows that climate change and environmental issues are now at the top of the agenda for creative businesses, from international corporations to start-ups. There are dozens of innovative projects and tools to help reduce carbon emissions, and some are supported through UKRI.

But there is so much more to do. This report is a starting point and a call to action. The report highlights gaps in our knowledge base, opportunities for collaboration and coordination, the skills and education requirements of the sector, and potential research projects which need to be scoped and undertaken. We have not yet brought our creativity to bear on our own sustainability challenge.

I hope this report will mark a moment of change. The Creative Industries must look in the mirror it has so brilliantly shown to the rest of the world, and take steps to meet the challenge of our environmental crisis.

Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair, Arts and Humanities Research Council

Executive summary

Human activity is causing rapid changes to the climate. Over the next two decades, global temperatures are expected to rise by more than 1.5°C above pre industrial levels, largely driven by the burning of fossil fuels, and profoundly changing the world we live in. In response, the British government’s Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener sets out proposals for 'decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy to meet our Net Zero target by 2050'. This strategy does not provide policies at the sectoral level, but makes it clear that 'to reach Net Zero, everyone will need to play their part' through more energy efficient processes, the adoption of low-carbon technologies and the promotion of green choices in consumption and investment.

'to reach Net Zero, everyone will need to play their part'

As a sector that represents 6% of the Gross Value Added (GVA) of the overall UK economy and employs over two million people, as well as being embedded in the supply chains of others, the Creative Industries will need to work with the government to meet these goals.

This report, for the first time, presents a sub-sector by sub-sector overview of the Creative Industries, current industry-wide initiatives, barriers to progress and recommendations to strengthen existing efforts. While there has been particular attention to carbon reduction, it is impossible to treat it in isolation: biodiversity loss, ecosystem damage, pollution and so on are widely implicated in climate change, and vice versa. Alongside climate change, therefore, broader environmental concerns have also been considered, along with approaches such as circular economy design principles.

The report is a scoping study and does not provide in-depth analysis of value chains, neither does it attempt to evaluate methodologies nor calculate the carbon emissions of industrial activities. Rather, it offers: an overview of the current state of play; a summary of issues pulled from existing academic and policy literature reviews, and insights from interviews with key industry representatives from trade bodies and other well-placed organisations who are, in many cases, leading on climate initiatives in their sub-sector. We are grateful to all the industry contributions that were received, and a list of consultees is provided at the end of the report.

Over the last twenty years, the science and study of climate change has burgeoned, and during the same period the Creative Industries have also been the subject of increased academic and policy interest. Despite this, there has been little overlap or research attempting to bring the two fields together. Many Creative Industries have taken the initiative themselves, with a growing range of research and partnerships, mostly not peer reviewed, guiding their climate initiatives and decision-making. The level of published research on climate impacts varies significantly between sub-sectors and academic industry collaborations tend to reflect immediate practical needs. There has also been academic interest in broader notions of sustainability and the contribution that culture can make to well-being and more sustainable forms of consumption and production.

Although regarded collectively as a sector, it is well understood that the different Creative Industries have distinct structures, regulatory frameworks, value chains and working cultures that are often best analysed at the sub-sector level. This is very much the case with their environmental issues. This report therefore provides a brief overview of each sub-sector in turn (based on desk research and industry interviews), drawing out the major sources of carbon emissions and other environmental impacts, as well as the initiatives and programmes aiming to tackle them, the agencies that have been leading on this and the particular challenges that need to be overcome. All of these overviews consider the complete value chains of the sub-sectors, from origination through to production and consumption. In many cases the value chains can be complex and far-reaching, but it is only through assessing the indirect emissions made by a creative business, that the full environmental impact of the industry can be understood.

The overwhelming message from these sub-sector overviews is the importance of climate and the environment, and the extent to which businesses are engaging to promote positive change. This is demonstrated not just by industry declarations and public statements, but tangible work programmes. Commitment is widespread and growing, from large creative businesses, many of whom now have director-level responsibility for sustainability, through
to small businesses and start-ups. Trade associations and other organisations that represent the Creative Industries are taking a leading role in this: raising awareness, developing tool kits and setting standards. However, while many leading figures in the Creative Industries are campaigning for change, and businesses are engaging with environmental issues, it is less obvious that this is yet being driven by consumers or investors.

Despite the industry commitment, it is recognised that governments at a national and regional level have an essential role to play. For instance, the country’s hosting of COP26 in 2021 helped to galvanise a number of industry initiatives. But for industry energy and activity to be as impactful as possible, new ways of working need to be established which account for mitigation and adaptation with the Government helping to develop standards and targets to encourage industry activity and guide investment decisions. An important part of industry activity is the development of a number of industry toolkits for calculating carbon emissions and to assist businesses in implementing climate strategies. The distinct nature of the industries means that the tools need to be bespoke.

Nevertheless, there is still much to be gained by collaboration across the Creative Industries and a forum for aggregating the industry data, promoting the use of tools, sharing learnings and publishing industry-wide progress towards reducing emissions would be valuable. As part of broader policy issues around the Creative Industries and research and development (R&D), creative businesses would benefit from a substantial programme of R&D investment to help innovate and develop new technologies and processes for decarbonising and reducing waste and adapting to the inevitable changes already locked in to climate impacts. Linked to this is the need for greater research and understanding as to the sector’s potential for promoting positive change and how its activities influence consumer attitudes and behaviours with regards to the environment.

Go to the full report (PDF)

Logos Creative Industries and the Climate Emergency

Resource type: Research | Published: 2022