The race to net zero: How the creative industries are tackling climate change

14th November 2022

With climate change on the agenda at COP27 in Egypt, a major new report has examined the steps different sectors within the UK’s creative industries are taking to reduce carbon emissions and what more needs to be done. 

Published by Creative Industries Policy and Evidence CentreJulie’s Bicycle and BOP Consulting, the Creative Industries and the Climate Emergency study describes the the creative industries as an “economic powerhouse” which delivers £115.9bn GVA to the UK economy, accounts for 2.2m jobs, and exports more than £50bn per year.

The government’s strategy for the UK economy to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 says “everyone will need to play their part”. With the creative industries representing 6% of the GVA of the overall UK economy, the study stresses that it’s vital the sector works with the government to achieve its goals.

The sector has responded dramatically to that call to action with the report highlighting how businesses and organisations of all sizes and in all sub-sectors of the creative industries innovating in production, design and supply to reduce their impact on the environment.

Several carbon calculators have been developed for businesses to measure their carbon footprint, and industry associations are forming alliances to produce reports, campaign groups and other activities to tackle climate change.

There are extensive challenges for all sectors though, the report said, and much more action is needed including government support to encourage and more investment for applied research.

Hasan Bakhshi, director of the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, said: 

“We are calling for a change to the definitions of research and development (R&D) used by the HMRC for tax relief, which currently excludes arts, humanities and social sciences. Without this we risk under-incentivising creative industries companies who want to experiment with new production and supply methods to reduce carbon emissions.”

The call for R&D tax relief to be extended to the creative industries is also something higlighted by Bristol Creative Industries board member Gail Caig, and the issue was highlighted in Bristol Creative Industries’ recent report on creative businesses in Bristol and the wider south west region.

We found that almost half (46%) of respondents to our survey stated they have not applied for R&D tax credits because they are not eligible.

Another significant barrier is the lack of knowledge of R&D tax credits, the report found. Although these barriers are higher among freelancers, 38% of commercial business respondents believe they are ineligible for R&D tax relief, and 17% admit they lack knowledge.

The BCI report said:

“While progress is being made to strengthen the links between the tech community and the creative industries, we need to raise our game in terms of research and development across the sector. There is a major UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) cluster programme in Bristol as well as the Catapult Network in the South West, but the research shows that these initiatives are not cutting through to BCI members. The challenge is on to build even stronger connections between creative and tech, educate more businesses about R&D and ensure programmes delivered at a national level deliver more for our members.”

Alison Tickell, founder and CEO of Julie’s Bicycle, said:

“For so long we’ve asked what is needed to motivate the political, economic and social change urgently needed. This report provides an answer; culture. Not only do the arts motivate change through storytelling and the unique ability to inspire connection and empathy but on a very practical level; it is these industries that across all sub-sectors are adapting their processes and monitoring impact. We find clear evidence of a willingness to learn and change from CEOs, boards, employees and artists themselves; it is clear culture is ready to prioritise change.”

Professor Christopher Smith, executive chair, Arts and Humanities Research Council, said:

“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.”

How the creatives industries are tackling net zero

The full report is jam-packed with useful information on how the creative industries are tackling climate change, the challenges that remain and what needs to be done to solve them. We urge you to read it.

In the meantime, here are some sector-by-sector highlights from the report of net zero schemes and initiatives with links to useful resources: 


The advertising sector is largely computer-based work in offices but approximately 20% of its carbon footprint is generated through production. According to the Advertising Association, the largest footprint of a single production shoot was over 100 tonnes of CO2.

The sector also has a significant environmental impact through media distribution including tens of thousands of advertising billboards across the country and a million tonnes of leaflets, brochures and flyers.

Efforts taken by the advertising sector to reach net zero include the Advertising Association’s Ad Net Zero initiative, with several well-known brands, advertising agencies, media titles and industry bodies signing up to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030. It also launched a report with guidance for measuring and reducing emissions through advertising, including how to enable consumer behaviour change.

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising has launched its Ad Net Zero course.


Like other creative sectors, architecture has relatively low direct environmental impacts due to mostly being computer-based work undertaken in offices.

However, its role within the wider built environment is crucial to the climate agenda. Estimates suggest that the construction sector as a whole contributes as much as 40% of all global carbon emissions, with the production and use of concrete alone responsible for 8% of all emissions.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) launched the 2030 Climate Challenge to support architects to “design within a climate conscious trajectory”. It provides performance outcomes targets for architects in how they design for energy use, water use, embodied carbon etc.

With Architects Declare, RIBA also produced the Built for the Environment report which makes the case that the built environment must drastically reduce its carbon emissions to work towards net zero.

The Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) was established in 2020 as a “network of individuals within architecture and related built environment professions taking action to address the twin crises of climate and ecological breakdown”.


Small scale crafts businesses, such as designer making and jewellery, have a relatively small carbon footprint. It is the creative sub-sector with the smallest economic size according to government figures.

The Crafts Council produced a report in 2010 promoting environmental sustainability in crafts, which remains an active part of the organisation’s programme. The Crafts Council is also part of ‘Ecological Citizens’, a project with the Royal College of Arts and commercial partners such as IKEA, which explores the digital preparedness of the sub-sector for net zero including manufacturing of surplus materials and helping people digitally exchange knowledge and resources.

Research by the Crafts Council in 2020 found that almost 50% of consumers said that buying from sustainable businesses using sustainable materials and local supply chains is important.


Design is not a single creative sub-sector with a distinct value chain, but a set of creative practices and skills applied across industries and contexts. Environmental impacts depend on the type of work being undertaken. For example, graphic design and visual communications is linked to advertising, while product design is associated with engineering and manufacturing.

In 2021, the Design Council launched Design for Planet which “aims to turn policy into practice and allow us to design our way to net zero”.

The Design Council also runs the Design Value Framework, which helps designers and commissioners to identify and assess the wider social, environmental and democratic impacts of their work.

Designer fashion

The report said that designer fashion “has almost certainly the largest environmental footprint of all the creative industries”. It added:

“Due to the complexity of international supply chains, estimates can vary widely – one study by McKinsey estimated the entire fashion product life cycle is responsible for up to 4% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Such is the extent of the problem that London Fashion Week, the UK industry’s flagship event, has been specifically targeted by activists, with high-profile campaigns by Extinction Rebellion for it to be cancelled.

“At the same time, controversies about ‘greenwashing’ and potentially misleading claims from fashion businesses have led to an investigation by the UK Competition and Markets Authority.”

In 2020, the British Fashion Council helped to establish the Institute of Positive Fashion, with an ambition for the fashion industry to be “more resilient and circular through global collaboration and local action”.

There are various organisations and commitments encouraging voluntary sign-ups such as Textiles 2030. Signatories collaborate on carbon, water and circular textile targets, and contribute to discussions around policy development for textiles in the UK.

Other initiatives include the UN’s Fashion Charter for Climate Action and The Fashion Pact.

Film and television

The BFI collaborated with BAFTA albert and Arup in 2020 to measure carbon emissions from film and television. There are significant impacts, particularly for big budget productions which are estimated at 2,840 tonnes of CO2 for an average film production with a budget of over US$70m. Around half of emissions are linked to transport, 30% of which is air travel. There is also considerable onset energy consumption, with electricity and gas use accounting for 34% of emissions, while diesel generators contribute 15%.

In 2011, BAFTA launched albert, an online tool that calculates the amount of greenhouse gases as a direct result of a production. The tool has been used by more than 1,300 television production companies, with 7,500 production footprints calculated.

Other tools include the Green Book of Sustainable Buildings which has resources for cinemas, the Independent Cinema Office Green Cinema Toolkit and Green Screen, an online tool that supports environmentally friendly filming in London.


“The environmental impacts of the music industry are probably better understood than the impact of any of the UK’s other creative industries,” the study said.

A study by Julie’s Bicycle into the UK music industry found that the annual greenhouse gas emissions from artists touring in the UK and British acts touring overseas was approximately 85,000 tonnes of CO2e in 2010. Research by campaign group Powerful Thinking in 2018 found that the UK festival industry generated 25,000 tonnes of CO2e (excluding audience travel), created 26,000 tonnes of waste and used  million litres of diesel.

Spotify estimated in 2021 that it had a carbon footprint of 353,054 tonnes CO2, and that 42% of its GHG emissions come from listeners streaming.

In 2019, Music Declares Emergency was launched as a call to action backed by more than 3,000 UK music artists. It is now also a campaigning entity that issues guidance, co-produced with Julie’s Bicycle, on how artists and businesses can create change, such as pressing lighter weight 140 gramme vinyl instead of 180 gramme.

LIVE (Live music Industry Venues & Entertainment) was established in October 2020 to bring the UK trade associations under one umbrella group as a single, united voice. It launched the LIVE Green programme.

All 14 association members of LIVE have ratified its declaration to deliver measurable and targeted action on climate change, with the ultimate aim of reaching net zero emissions by 2030.

Vision: 2025 is a network of over 500 outdoor events and businesses taking climate action.

Smaller independent companies in the recorded music industry can measure their carbon footprint using a custom carbon calculator developed by IMPALA and Julie’s Bicycle.

The Music Climate Pact is a global platform, initiated by the UK’s Association of Independent Music (AIM) and record labels association the BPI, that was launched as a response to COP26 and the urgent call for collective action to combat the climate crisis.

Performing Arts

A study by the GLA and the Theatres Trust found that London’s theatre industry generates 50,000 tonnes of CO2e emissions a year, with audience travel estimated at an additional 35,000.

The Act Green report examines audience attitudes towards the role of cultural organisations in tackling the climate emergency.

The Creative Green Tools, developed by Julie’s Bicycle, underpin the Arts Council England’s environmental reporting programme for more than 800 annually funded organisations.

The Theatre Green Book outlines a new standard for environmental action in the performing arts.

Choreographer Matthew Bourne piloted the Julie’s Bicycle Creative Green Touring Certification with its 2018-19 Swan Lake tour of the UK.


The sector’s environmental impact is linked to printing and paper production. The UK produces more than 180,000 new book titles each year (more per capita than any other country), and is home to more than 10 national newspapers, hundreds of local papers and several thousand consumer and trade magazines.

The report said:

“Producing virgin paper from timber for all of these is highly energy intensive, and the print industries are thought to represent up to 4% of global energy consumption. Added to this is the large amount of water required in producing virgin paper – estimated to be 10 litres of water per A4 sheet. Pulp and paper mills, with their extensive use of bleaching agents and other chemicals, are also significant polluters.”

The Publishers Association (PA) has a Sustainability Taskforce, the Publishing Declares campaign and a carbon calculator.

The Sustainability Industry Forum was launched by six publishing organisations.

Video games

The video games design sector is almost entirely digital so the environmental concerns are mainly related to the large amounts of energy required for playing games. London software designer Space Ape calculated that 50% (or approximately 375 tonnes) of their carbon emissions are produced by the cloud servers used to operate their games.

The Playing for The Planet Alliance is a campaign group launched by the United Nations that seeks to create change within the global video games industry.

UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) partnered with Playing for The Planet to create the Green Games Guide.

Visual arts

In 2010, a report by the Greater London Authority and Julie’s Bicycle estimated that audience travel accounted for a majority share (56%) of the London visual arts sector’s CO2e emissions. A 2019 report by the Tate Gallery found that audience travel accounted for 240 million tonnes of CO2e, or 92% of the gallery’s total carbon footprint.

The Gallery Climate Coalition has grown from the London arts community to over 900 country-wide members, and an international membership of 20 countries. Its aim is to facilitate a reduction of the sector’s carbon emissions by a minimum of 50% by 2030, as well as promoting zero waste.

If you’re a Bristol Creative Industries member, let us know what you’re doing to tackle climate change by emailing Dan.

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How sustainability is going to change your (working) life

Our predictions (and hopes) for COP27


About Bristol Creative Industries

Bristol Creative Industries is the membership network that supports the region's creative sector to learn, grow and connect, driven by the common belief that we can achieve more collectively than alone. 

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