"We want a creative green future for all, and we’ve got a responsibility to act"

Posted on February 14, 2020

During the ongoing climate and biodiversity emergencies, cinemas can lead by example by operating responsibly and raising awareness in their communities. Alongside the launch of our Green Cinema toolkit and two upcoming sustainability workshops for cinema exhibitors created in partnership with Julie’s Bicycle, the  global charity working at the intersection between culture and environmental sustainability, we spoke to Alison Criddle, Sustainability and Projects Co-ordinator at HOME in Manchester about their leadership in this area and their tips for other exhibitors.

HOME’s purpose-built multi-arts venue in Manchester city centre

Sustainability at HOME

Can you describe your role as Sustainability and Projects Co-ordinator at HOME?

Initially I was employed part-time to establish honeybee hives on HOME’s roof, but over the past three years my role has expanded to a full-time position, covering all aspects of sustainability as well as strategic projects and reporting. There’s no typical day – the role includes everything from a hive inspection to delivering Carbon Literacy training to HOME staff or external organisations, to working with suppliers to source alternative products, to meeting with sector neighbours to align with the city’s carbon emission targets, to hosting Q&As after green-themed film screenings.

I work with Debbie Bell, HOME’s Building & Environmental Manager and its environmental lead for over a decade. She’s overseen the introduction of recycling processes, secured travel grants for pool bikes and cycle facilities, and switched us to zero-to-landfill in 2011, all whilst delivering the move into a new building (working with contractors, controlling new energy-reduction kit including building management systems and a CHP and everything in between)! She’s instrumental behind the changes in policy, practice and operations that have embedded sustainability across the organisation.

How did HOME become a leader in this area?

HOME’s sustainable journey began well over 10 years ago. We committed early on to understanding our carbon consumption so we could make informed and impactful changes. In 2012, Arts Council England became the world’s first funding body to make environmental reporting a funding requirement. The Creative Green Tools include carbon calculating software that gauges usage across all our activities.

We are also committed to best sustainable policy and practice. Working hard to reduce our environmental impacts, we continually monitor and report on our activities in order to better understand and improve our performance. Through training and knowledge-sharing we enable our staff to support and inspire our communities, audiences, partners and stakeholders through action and engagement.

To us it goes without saying that we should have our own house in order to be able to understand and enact meaningful change. We have to practice what we preach; be accountable, share our learning and collaborate to act. We declared cultural emergency back in April 2019 and it’s been amazing to see other venues and sectors doing the same. The language is urgent because the need to act has never been greater.

What are your key achievements to date?

During the first years at HOME whilst we were working through new-build teething problems, we looked to embed learning across the team to make a shift in sustainable policy and practices. Piloting Carbon Literacy training for MAST (more about them later) saw us develop a sector-specific learning package. Debbie and I became trainers and in 2017 HOME became the first arts venue in the world to train 100% staff in Carbon Literacy. Now we’re a Carbon Literate Training Organisation and have trained almost 300 people from over 50 different organisations and six different nations with our unique training offers.

We established two honeybee hive colonies in 2018, have four trained staff beekeepers and harvested our first jars of honey in autumn 2019. This was all made possible through a staff fundraising effort and a commitment to supporting biodiversity within Manchester city centre. It’s incredible to be responsible for these amazing creatures and, if you’ll pardon the pun, it really does bring a buzz to the office and to our audiences too – we have a live webcam so you can watch us do our morning inspections in the warmer months!

HOME’s apiarists and their honey for sale!

We were awarded Best Multi-Arts Venue at the Creative Green Awards in 2019 and received the accolade for the Promotion of Environmental Sustainability Awards 2019. These awards are fantastic markers of success but I think our biggest achievements are the continued and progressive embedding of sustainability across everything we do, and seeing where we can positively influence others.

What benefits have you found as an organisation in operating more sustainably?

  • Staff motivation and momentum – better understanding the work of the teams across the organisation and collaborating on change and celebrating our commitments.
  • Co-benefits – improving environmental sustainability often aligns with a range of other organisational benefits; ranging from staff health and wellbeing to learning and engagement, to travel and audience development and funder reporting, to simple cost savings.
  • Collaboration both internally and across the sector both nationwide and internationally, and collaboration across the city region with policy makers and carbon reduction pioneer groups.
  • New audiences engaging with our green programme and activities. Existing audiences being advocates for HOME’s green practices and looking to us as change-drivers.
  • Policy has become habit – this is culture change in action.

Training & staff culture

What does carbon literacy training entail?

The training package entails watching a film – we are a cinema after all! – before a half-day workshop. The film explores the global impacts of climate change, and the workshop covers the skills and knowledge needed to act. At the end of the workshop, each participant identifies two actions they will be directly responsible for. At HOME we then collate these actions, creating a plan that clarifies their urgency, the resources required to deliver them and the individual(s) or team(s) responsible. This means the action plan is always live and continually being updated. We also align it with our business and overall environmental action plans, so the actions are embedded across the organisation.

Debbie Bell (R) & Alison Criddle (L) delivering Carbon Literacy training to Film Hub North FAN members (image courtesy Film Hub North)

What specific personal actions do you encourage your staff to take?

We work with Transport for Greater Manchester to support low carbon staff travel. During our environmental inductions, we make staff aware of the range of travel options available to them, and why low carbon travel is essential to reducing our individual and collective footprints. We conduct regular travel surveys, offer a cycle scheme and support staff to find the best value season passes for public transport.

We also have showers, lockers, secure cycle parking and a bike maintenance station on-site to support staff members who cycle; plus lockers and showers for those run or walk to work. We have a pool of bikes that staff can use to get to meetings around the city and a sustainable travel policy that features no domestic flights and a no-taxi rule. We’ve been a host for Manchester Walking Festival as well as holding bike maintenance and cycle-confidence sessions to encourage staff to make the switch.

Audience travel makes up over 40% of our carbon footprint, so we try and encourage audiences to make more sustainable choices. Our website’s ‘Visit’ page prioritises sustainable travel and offers ‘way-finding’ videos from the closest tram and train stations. We display live tram and train departure times on our digital signage, and we’ve used our pre-trailer slots before films to engage audiences to have their say in public transport consultations.

Have you changed the products and services you use?

We’ve collaborated with some of our long-term suppliers to innovate new products and practices. We developed a sustainable procurement supplier questionnaire with Business Growth Hub and invited existing and prospective suppliers to respond. Read more here.

We’ve committed to becoming a ‘no single-use plastic’ organisation by end 2020. This has required an all-staff effort; firstly, to identify the single-use items we use and to secondly, to work together and with suppliers to find alternative solutions, rather than using ‘greenwashing’ products that attempt to gloss over their own detrimental impacts.

We’ve switched to a PVC-free vinyl (for marketing displays and signage around the building) that is repurposed after use and moved to a planet-positive printing company for in-house print, including our bi-monthly film guides. Our Cleaning team has sourced a new refillable cleaning product system that allows us to create our cleaning solution in-house. These switches have been made possible due to conversation and collaboration with new and existing suppliers – we’re all on the journey together!

What other changes have you made?

All staff members receive an environmental induction. Sustainability is emphasised in job packs and appraisals, and all permanent staff undertake Carbon Literacy within six months of joining.

We’re on a four-year energy reduction programme with Julie’s Bicycle called Spotlight. As part of this we’re continually learning about our energy consumption and identifying ways to reduce, whilst still producing amazing programming for our audiences and communities.

As part of our awareness-raising efforts, we include environmental programming and storytelling across everything that we do – cinema, theatre, visual art and learning and engagement. Future 20 is our year-long project with 18-25 year-olds, who will present a building takeover and exhibition/intervention this summer. We’ve trained them in Carbon Literacy and they’ve decided collectively that their theme will be climate crisis, change and community. We can’t wait to support them and see where it leads.

How do you communicate this ethos internally?

Communication is key, it keeps sustainability on everyone’s radar, gives teams the opportunity to contribute, and celebrates our efforts and successes. We have a weekly internal staff newsletter that we contribute environmental notices to. We also use a repurposed TV screen for updates in our main office and noticeboards in our office and green room. Our Environmental & Sustainability Group meet bi-monthly with contributions from each HOME team. We also produce twice-yearly Green Newsletters that we share with staff, volunteers, stakeholders, partners – you can find these on our website. We also contribute to staff training days – most recently we updated on our ‘no single-use plastic 2020’ progress – and hold swap shops and plant-based staff lunches.

Now, policy has become culture. HOME team members stop by our desk or drop us emails to share details of new initiatives they’ve come across. Our focus on sustainability has become habitual; it’s simply part of our everyday language and practices now. It’s fantastic when staff tell us about events or programming and activities that they’re planning themselves – environmental action is being driven by the whole team.

Last year HOME introduced re-usable plastic cups for refreshments

Cinema, programming & audiences

How do you communicate HOME’s sustainability drive to cinema audiences?

There are a few strands to this, firstly within our cinema programme itself. Our Head of Film, Rachel Hayward and the team endeavour to seek out and include an environmentally-themed film within all seasons (recent examples include our Not Just Bollywood, VIVA and Chinese Film Forum seasons). This enables us to approach sustainable topics from new angles, drawing attention to wider-reaching, often unseen global impacts of carbon consumption.

Our bi-monthly film guides signpost the environmental films, and our Communications and Digital teams work hard to ensure the message is shared.

In addition, we hold accompanying introductions, Q&As and discussions, often led by Debbie or myself. These help us to communicate our sustainable initiatives to our audience, learn from them what actions they’re taking and what they’d like to see more of, and build new links between our communities and our programme.

We also use the adverts slot before films to communicate our efforts – last year we introduced re-usable plastic cups for refreshments and used a slide to tell our audiences why we’d made the switch and how they could help. Because all HOME staff go through Carbon Literacy training, they’re able to discuss changes with audiences when we introduce them.

Finally, our ground floor Green Wall utilises a repurposed screen to communicate HOME’s efforts and initiatives and displays our certificates and commitments.

Tell us a bit about your annual green film season.

In 2019 we held ‘Green June’, a green film season programmed in between World Environment Day and Clean Air Day, whilst running a strategic social media #SustainableHOME takeover and hosting a series of events. Activities included introducing audiences to elements of Carbon Literacy training, the HOME apiarists taking audiences ‘behind the scenes’ on Instagram and telling our sustainable journey across HOME’s windows with creative artwork.

The responses were amazing – interaction with the Carbon Literacy activities saw the highest impressions on Instagram for the month. The takeover clearly demonstrated the impact of sharing our sustainable agenda as part of HOME’s ‘offer’ to our audiences both digitally and in-house. We’re planning to make it a regular feature of our annual programme.

HOME uses its social media to engage audiences in sustainability

Do you ask anything of audiences in return?

We ask for awareness and encourage accountability – we’re all responsible for creating a sustainable future. Through our transparency, our audiences are able to question us and want to learn more and engage with sustainable issues. Sometimes being presented with challenges helps us to remove the barriers and open up the conversation that’s needed to enact change.

A recent example would be our move to becoming a no single-use plastic organisation. We have recycling bins for cans, glasses and paper and a general waste bin. Audiences questioned why we had removed the plastic recycling and we’ve responded asking them to consider their choices before, during and after they visit by becoming conscious of the single-use items that they’re bringing into our building and disposing of after use. We’ve found that starting these conversations has a positive ripple effect, shifting behavioural habits across daily lived experience.

Raising awareness 

As well as raising awareness amongst our audiences, we also regularly present and speak about our work to the film exhibition sector at large. In 2018 we presented at This Way Up in Liverpool. There we shared a sustainability panel with Film London and Depot, Lewes and a network began to grow. We’ve delivered training to the Barbican, BFI Film Hub North FAN members and are soon to train members of Film Hub Midlands. Further afield, we have presented at London Climate Action Week for Film London, on CICAE’s Art + Cinema = Action + Management training programme in Venice, and at the Europa Cinemas Conference in 2019.

It’s really exciting to meet with different organisations to share ideas, best practice, concerns and innovation. In these strange, uncertain times, it’s amazing to see the ideas being born out of collaboration and a determination to act. There are incredible examples across our network, including some really innovative work by German cinema chain AG Kino, and it’s inspiring to see how festivals and markets are addressing environmental issues with sustainable policies, statements and riders.

In Manchester, HOME is a leading member of Manchester Arts Sustainability Team (MAST), a consortium of 30+ arts and cultural organisations from across the region who work together to understand, share, solve and scale climate action. Our influence extends beyond the region – MAST is one of six cities in the URBACT C-Change transfer network, with partners from across Europe learning from the MAST model and developing a framework for their own cities. We delivered Carbon Literacy to them in 2019. We’re also working with Manchester Climate Change Partnership to create a vision and action plan to become a zero-carbon city region by 2038 (or sooner).

Practical tips for other exhibitors

Regardless of their size and whether they are once a month village film clubs or key cultural centres, all film exhibitors can take action.

  • Calculate your carbon footprint
    Once you have some benchmark data, it gives you something to work from to commit to act to reduce your emissions
  • Accountability
    Create an environmental sustainability policy and get your Board or executives invested. This signposts to your team, your collaborators and your audiences what you stand for. Julie’s Bicycle has some great guides and resources.
  • Commit to act
    Whether it’s Culture Declares Emergency or setting sustainability as a fixed agenda item for meetings, committing to showcasing green-themed programming or developing a sustainable procurement policy for your suppliers, create a framework for action.
  • Knowledge is power
    Get all the team on board. Discuss what changes you want to see and what actions to take.
  • Collaborate
    The future of the planet is one thing we can all agree to collaborate on! Ask for help and share your learnings in return.

Everyone is responsible and everyone has the power to influence others to make positive change. More often than not the willing is there, it can simply feel challenging to know where to start. A conversation can be the start of something much bigger and will reveal shared goals and ambitions and sow the seeds for collaboration.

What resources would you recommend to other film exhibitors?

It’s particularly useful to understand what happens before a film reaches exhibition so you can start to gauge its full carbon impact. Albert and Green Shoot are good places to start this learning. Then look to your own impact. BFI have their own environmental policy, and Julie’s Bicycle have some brilliant resources from free webinars to guides and case studies. And not forgetting Carbon Literacy to get your team on board and committing to act!

Looking forward

What are HOME’s future goals?

It’s easy to feel helpless and as though your efforts can’t make a difference but hopefully our work at HOME demonstrates the scale of impact and influence that can be achieved through committed, sustained action. It also ups the ante and makes us even more determined.

Organisation-wide, we continue to roll out Carbon Literacy as a model for change and to support others to do the same. We need to keep pushing our own boundaries to sustain our leadership and to positively influence change with both our city and national policy makers. The Film team continue with their programming and working with the Environmental team to experiment, push boundaries and challenge in order to reduce carbon impact in all areas. Collectively we want to inspire our audiences to act and to continue to make practical, meaningful change through innovation and collaboration. We want a creative green future for all, and we’ve got a responsibility to act.

For more details about HOME’s leadership on sustainability, click here.

For the ICO’s Green Cinema toolkit, click here and for details of our two upcoming sustainability workshops for cinema exhibitors created in partnership with Julie’s Bicycle, click here.

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