Report offers the UK’s first overview of the creative industry’s path to net zero

Ahead of COP27, a landmark report shows what is needed from each sector in the creative industry – including film, games, design and publishing – to reach net zero.

7 November 2022

Creative Industries and the Climate Emergency: The path to Net Zero is a recent report collating the progress each sector in the creative industry has taken in reaching net zero, and the work that remains. Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) has carried out the undertaking with Julie’s Bicycle, a non-profit mobilising arts and culture industries to take action on the climate and ecological crisis.

Despite the size and impact of the creative industries – delivering £115.9bn GVA to the UK economy, accounting for 2.2 million jobs – a major takeaway from the report is that climate initiatives are largely self-driven in the sector, not regulated. Though this suggests a commitment to the climate crisis in creativity, Hasan Bakhshi, director of the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre says: “It’s clear the government needs to work with the Creative Industries to achieve net zero goals.” For one, the creative industry lacks financial and policy incentive to experiment with climate solutions; currently, the definitions of Research and Development (R&D) used by the HMRC for tax relief excludes arts, humanities and social sciences.

The report also looks at the issues affecting each sector individually. The findings on design, for example – here covering visual communications, graphic and product design – identify how vital the industry is to sustainability. In fact, an estimated 80 per cent of a product’s environmental impact is determined in the design stage, according to the Design Council. Though, challenges are numerous, even in this ideation process.


Creative Industries and the Climate Emergency Twitter card (Copyright © Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC))

“The client has a significant impact on whether climate is addressed within a project’s remit,” the report says. Plus, with many design businesses being small and medium sized, and employing staff on a freelance basis, they “lack capacity to systematically measure and address emissions across their activities.” Climate commitments need to be integrated into design briefs from the get-go in order for sustainable practices to become “more ‘business as usual”’, the report adds.

In game design, environmental concerns interestingly relate less to development than Scope 3 emissions; games require considerable amounts of energy to play. With dynamically generated immersive worlds and multiplayer platforms hosting increasing amounts of players, the next generation of gaming will have “heavy energy demands”, the report states. For example, according to the studio footprint of London software designer Space Ape, 50 per cent (approximately 375 tonnes) of its carbon emissions are produced by the cloud servers used to operate their games. The urgent focus for gaming going forward will be on making computing and telecommunications less dependent on electricity generated by fossil fuels.


Creative Industries and the Climate Emergency Twitter card. Artwork: Prof. Helen Storey: Dress For Our Time. Dress is created out of a decommissioned UNHCR refugee tent. Photography by David Betteridge (Copyright © Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC))

The report also highlights good practices across sectors. For example, carbon emissions in film productions are high – an average film production with a budget over $70m produces an estimated 2,840 tonnes of CO2. Yet, the report points to the film industry’s increasingly widespread use of the Albert tool, which calculates greenhouse gas emissions and allows producers to draw up a carbon action plan, as a vital step forward. The report also points to efforts in publishing, such as the Publishing Association working with the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) on a carbon calculator.

Across all findings, Julie’s Bicycle and Creative PEC concludes that “there is a strong willingness from the creative industries to lead change”, but macro-level guidelines, investment in areas such as R&D and education, and sectoral clarity in governmental policy are needed. Find more information on other sectors, including fashion and the arts, in the extensive PEC report here.

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Prof. Helen Storey: Dress For Our Time. Dress is created out of a decommissioned UNHCR refugee tent. Photography by David Betteridge (Copyright © David Betteridge)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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