A Conversation With Heath Lowndes, Gallery Climate Coalition

Industry expertise

Heath Lowndes

From flying across the world to view a painting for thirty minutes to bespoke crates for artworks that are often only used once, the art world has a notoriously terrible carbon footprint. Finally, in October 2020, the Gallery Climate Coalition was formed by a group of gallerists, journalists, fair organisers and others. With a mission to educate this sector and move towards a reduction of carbon emissions by 50% (in line with the Paris accords), the GCC is helpfully providing the tools and the expertise to the art world – and other industries – to achieve this goal.

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Heath Lowndes of Gallery Climate Coalition

The Gallery Climate Coalition

It’s easiest to begin with the seemingly simplest question: why is the Gallery Climate Coalition relevant?

It’s clear that the climate crisis is the single biggest threat facing humanity. As time moves forward, it’s becoming increasingly urgent that industries take accountability for their carbon emissions. We don’t have the time to wait for governments or technology to come to the rescue.

The GCC was set up because of a joint concern across the commercial art sector that industry-specific change was needed. The aim is to provide guidelines and the necessary resources so that we can collectively reduce our carbon footprint by 50% by 2030 (in line with the Paris agreement), as well as promoting near zero-waste practices. As a charity and a membership organisation, we’ve recruited 300 members across the international visual arts sector. Our members have direct engagement with the GCC via various subcommittees.

The GCC’s resources are free for anyone via our website. The tools and research are science-based but without the jargon. The focus is on simple, practical actions. Our guidelines are easy to read and, most importantly, easy to implement.

Breakdown of UK Energy Production

Tackling The Art World’s Environmental Impact

The goal of the GCC is for the sector as a whole to reduce its carbon emissions by 2030. Do you think this is a realistic goal for all individual businesses to achieve in this time-frame?

It isn’t just realistic, it’s essential.

We already possess many of the tools we need to reach these targets. The role of the GCC is to communicate these solutions and to work together with members to implement effective actions. Working together as a community and a sector rather than individually increases the likelihood of reaching the targets.

As the targets of the Paris climate agreement are legally binding, we suspect that governments will make these targets mandatory in the coming years. In a way, we are just getting a head start. A great example of how seemingly simple changes can make a big impact is Frieze’s switch to using bio-fuel at Frieze London in 2019, which resulted in a 67% reduction in emissions. If every business could make changes like this we would easily meet, and exceed, this target!

London Car vs Bike Courier Comparison

‘The No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change’ by Danny Chivers

As an interior design studio, Designed by Woulfe, is consistently faced with concerns surrounding ethical luxury and re-purposing. How does the Gallery Climate Coalition fit into that discussion and what advice can it give to other sectors who have similar concerns and philosophies as those you are promoting?

The GCC’s carbon footprint specialist, Danny Chivers, writes in his book, The No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change, “Build a movement. We need as many people as possible to get involved, clued up and active. Think about what you can do to spread the word. Could you arrange a meeting or event at your workplace or in your community?”

It’s becoming increasingly urgent that sectors begin communicating and working collectively to find sector specific solutions. Accountability is an important part of this too – it isn’t about blaming one another, as we all share the same goal. Working collaboratively as a sector means it will be easier to align on targets and commitments and make it possible to collectively pressure suppliers to provide greener products and services.

The environmental crisis we face is an enormous challenge and that can be overwhelming and confusing, thereby leading to inaction. By breaking the issues down to what we, as individuals, are directly capable of changing the challenge seems less daunting. If you scale that up to a whole industry then an even greater change suddenly feels possible.

Flight class & emissions comparison - London Heathrow to New York JFK

Using Sustainability Tools Such As Carbon Calculators

Furthermore, how can other sectors aside from the art industry, such as interior design, get involved in the initiatives that you are programming?

Although our resources are created with the commercial art sector in mind, some of the GCC research and resources are more general and can be relevant for other sectors. For example, our information on areas like shipping, carbon-offsetting and recycling are all activities that cross over into other industries as well. The GCC calculator is free for anyone to use. It is based on art sector-specific criteria, but, equally, these will be relevant to many organisations and individuals in other sectors, who also fly regularly for business, ship goods and products, and use energy to power office spaces, studios or workrooms.

In the coming years, the GCC will use its potential lobbying power to instigate systemic change within the sector. Support from like-minded organisations in other industries would be very welcome.

The most interesting and useful tools that the Gallery Climate Coalition has on their website is the Carbon Calculator. Can you elaborate on how you want users to be applying the information gleaned from this tool into their everyday practices?

The GCC Carbon Calculator, built by Artlogic with the input of environmental consultants Danny Chivers and Harris Kuemmerle, is a free-to-use tool, designed to help estimate the carbon footprint of your business based on metrics common to most art galleries. By determining what aspects of your activity are having the biggest environmental impact, it will help to guide more decisive and effective long-term actions. Calculating CO2 emissions is the first step towards reduction. By better understanding the sources of carbon our users will be able to identify areas in which they can make positive change.

Light Bulbs - Cost & Efficiency Comparison

A Collective Response To The Climate Crisis

Who is your ideal member?

The GCC is open to everyone. Our ideal member is anyone who is concerned about the threat to the planet, driven to understand the complexities of the issues we face and determined to implement effective and systemic change, whether as an individual, organisation or business.

Guest Interviewer

Tova Ossad

Designed By Woulfe has invited Tova Ossad of Ossad Art Management to interview a range of art world personalities. Her fifteen years’ experience working in this sphere has exposed her to many artists, auction specialists, art advisors, conservators, and gallerists, thereby giving the Design Journal fresh insight into the fundamentals of art. This series will explore buying, selling, appreciating, and everything in between.

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Tova Ossad of Ossad Art Management

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