Amateo’s Carbon Footprint
by Arts Take Part coordinator, Jim Tough

In Amateo, the European membership network for active participation in cultural activities, we value the opportunity to bring people together to learn, share and explore. With vital support from Creative Europe our Arts Take Part programme has helped us come together in venues across Europe. The opportunity for human contact, the face-to-face and personal experiences for our staff and members is at the heart of our work. But there is a price. The price of travel in Euros and in carbon emissions. Our carbon footprint is a European shoe size 47! So, inspired and challenged by the climate emergency and Extinction Rebellion activists, we decided to take the first steps towards smaller footprint.

We challenged our Arts Take Part team of 23 workers from across Europe to explore how to travel lighter to our meeting in Utrecht, Netherlands. So we thought it would be useful to share some of the personal experiences of taking on that challenge and what we learned as a result.

ATP team dinner in Utrecht

Mixing business and pleasure — in some cases taking a different means of travel meant there was time for other things. So Claire took the overnight ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam and cycled 70 km from Ijmuiden to Utrecht. The pleasure of the cycle part helped make the longer trip acceptable at a personal level. Anna-Karin built in a stay with a friend in Stockholm to help with her rail travel plans. Jan travelled by train from Ljubljana but took the opportunity to visit friends in Haarlem. My own travel from Scotland to Utrecht by train meant an additional night away in a London hotel. But I timed the travel to allow a visit to the theatre in London. 

It takes time — what became clear is that to avoid air travel there is usually a time cost. For all of us with busy working lives, that extra day or two to travel by train, ferry or bicycle can be a problem. But maybe this is part of the bigger problem of the pace and demands of modern work cultures. It’s as much about a change in how we see the world of work and the pace of life. I know I find travelling by train far less stressful and more productive. Joining Damien on the leg from Rotterdam to Utrecht we were able to add some value to the team meeting agenda in preparing a session. I find air travel can be soulless and impersonal. Travel by land may take a bit longer but we may arrive in a better state of mind.

Inflexible bureaucracies — one challenge for some our our members from different national systems is the requirements of their own financial rules. So the common sense of travelling from one meeting for a project in Frankfurt by direct train to Utrecht was not permitted because the two projects are supported from different budgets. So Katerina had to go back to Prague to restart her journey to Utrecht! The good news is that by raising this issue the rules may change. 

It can be more expensive — yes, indeed it can. But the worst of that can be minimised by good forward planning of the dates for our meetings and being thoughtful about where we meet to reduce other costs such as accommodation. Travel to and accommodation in Brussels where Creative Europe holds its briefing meetings can be very expensive and very often the dates are late in being planned and confirmed. So our friends that fund all of this good work could help by planning meetings well ahead so we can get the best value for trains and hotels. 

It makes a difference — this was a first attempt but it was encouraging. By inviting the team to try out different approaches we reduced our carbon footprint by 33%. It added about 73% in journey time (but much of that time was used well) and about 20% in cost. It reminds me of an old quote – “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”. In the current crisis we might suggest that if you think reducing your carbon footprint is expensive try a global environmental catastrophe.

ATP team meeting in Utrecht