This post was first published on The Learning Planet following a Museum Freelance Twitter Chat back in the summer. With thanks to Bridget for allowing us to share here.
Yes, I’ve been active and vocal about the planetary emergency for as long as I can remember. But I’ve never been very strong on environmental management of one’s work and life. I don’t want to say that I’m unconcerned with my own footprint: I do all the things I can. I don’t fly, don’t drive, eat mostly plants, only had one child, and use 100% renewable energy. The only air miles I count are the ones involve in transporting my food.
But that said, I’ve always pushed back against the way ‘environment’ is put in a box labelled ‘eco-naggery’: saving energy, smart meters, and light bulbs, and now plastic packaging. I’m just not interested in the detail! I’d rather we spend time campaigning or fundraising to promote an international law against ecocide, to end the influence of fossil fuel companies, to end deforestation, and to encourage a ‘regenerative’ revamp of economy and society. I think that cultural organisations should support and normalise ecological education, activism and enterprise, and that they should be braver at facing the truths of the climate emergency. They should prioritise such work over reducing their own operational footprints, which they should do but only as one of many other activities.
However, I’ve been aware recently how vital it is to show daily leadership in one’s practices. Not because you expect to make a difference to the global temperature dial by turning off your kitchen light, but because your actions can affect how much people care about that temperature dial. It is better to do the right thing than not to do it, when the stakes are so great (and when the steaks are doing so much damage). This awareness has been raised by reading Peter Kalmus ‘Being the Change: Live well and spark a climate revolution‘.
Last week I led a Twitter chat on the #MuseumFreelance hashtag about being a sustainable leader in one’s freelance or sole-trading work in the museums sector. I’m not strictly a freelancer as I run a small company of 2-3 people, plus associates, but I haven’t worked as a staff member in an organisation since early 2006, so have a strong ‘freelance’ identity.
I asked these questions:
How can we reduce our impact when we run focus groups or workshops?
Freelance work can mean a lot of travel: is digital communication the best alternative?
How can we help clients and audiences have more planetary awareness? What if that’s not in your contract?
It was a lively chat and generated a lot of advice and mutual support. Some ideas included:
Christina Lister showed us her kit to minimise dependence on single use plastics:
Reducing in-person meetings after a set-up meeting, using collaborative and conferencing tools where possible, but taking care and preparing well in advance to ensure they work well. Hilary Jennings shared this guide from the Transition Network on how to work better together online.
Using digital tools like Mindmeister to share and develop ideas with clients rather than using paper, or having to meet in person.
And a great tip from Steve Slack (left).
For anyone who wanted to go a bit deeper on this, I shared:
My Possible Culture website, with tools to do change work with organisations towards being more ecocentric and resilient for a climate-changed future.
A Pinterest board of resources on green freelancing and facilitation, and more pinners are welcome.
Christina Lister summed up her takeaways from the chat: 1) start now 2) share what you’re doing with freelancers & (potential/) clients 3) question things that could be made greener 4) baby steps are better than no steps (e.g. recycled paper) 5) think all aspects of your practice. She’s also written up a post about the chat, here.
My own big takeaway came out of my third question: How to help clients have more planetary awareness, even if it’s not in the contract. One suggestion was to be more overt about sharing one’s own environmental policy, including it in the way you pitch and negotiate contracts. It was interesting how rarely we were ever asked by clients about our environmental policies. I realised that I hadn’t revisited our own company’s one since dashing one off to a boiler plate template perhaps 10 years ago on a single occasion when it was required for a tender.
So, I made a pledge to rewrite one, and will do this with colleagues as part of process of creating a new organisation: Flow Experience. This will be a more charitably-oriented company than Flow Associates, and we will gradually shift all our projects into it. It will also be a platform for Climate Museum UK. I had the realisation that instead of tagging a footprint-reduction policy at the end of a business plan, start with the big purpose of eco-social change. Environment isn’t an ‘issue’, or only about the smallest level of detail. It’s the biggest possible expanse. It’s the world that makes our existence possible, from time immemorial – but only for the time being. In writing this policy, we’ll follow our own change planning model, where we begin with ‘Discover’ – taking an expanded perspective to discover all drivers for change. Then we’ll zoom in to focus on the impact we are able to have with the assets we have access to. Then we’ll start to Design the organisation in terms of how it uses resources and generates value, thinking in a regenerative and ecocentric way throughout.
I’ve recently written and spoken about the idea of the Possible Museum, or any cultural organisation that is more eco-centric, socially just and future-facing. I outlined an ethical path for such an organisation:
It will take a ‘Possitopian’ approach, not being stuck in either wishful Utopian or despairing Dystopian positions about the future, but look imaginatively and openly at the widest cone of possibility.
By looking honestly at what is happening in the world, and imagining the future, this organisation will see that the path of relevance is an ethical one.
It will proactively work with communities to shift towards more regenerative and circular economies.
It will explore ethical and participatory forms of entrepreneurship in order to sustain itself when or where public funding dries up.
It will provide safe, inclusive spaces for envisaging possible futures, for learning from past and indigenous cultures and from the capacities of nature, and for helping communities take action for eco-social justice.
These will be the principles to underpin our thinking as we dream up Flow Experience, and build on our 12 years of work to become an organisation that services and supports others to create a Possible Culture.
Bridget McKenzie, Flow and Climate Museum UK