Accelerating Sustainability in the Creative Economy and Creative Industries

Online: 24th International Conference
20th - 26th March 2023
Business School for the Creative Industries
University for the Creative Arts

Insights from Sustainable Innovation 2023

Professor Martin Charter, The Centre for Sustainable Design ®, UCA   

Summary of Insights

  1. Creative industries are a major global industry but the environmental impact of the sector is not well understood; there is a need for improved data and baselines to increase understanding of the impact of sustainability and improve performance.
  2. Achieving sustainability in the creative industries requires systemic change.
  3. The context of the creative industries has been transformed by climate change, and unlocking value requires digital and social transformation.
  4. Increasing awareness and climate anxiety is changing customer behaviour, particularly among young people; Gen Z, are likely to drive sustainability in the creative industries and demand new solutions.
  5. Cross-sector cooperation and sharing of learnings and tools is essential to drive sustainability in fragmented creative industries; promoting sustainability requires collective action and community engagement physically and online.
  6. Industry leadership and bodies must work with the government to address significant sustainability impacts in the creative industries.
  7. Design plays a critical role in sustainability, with 80% of a product’s impact determined during the design stage.
  8. Embracing innovation and fostering sustainable entrepreneurship can drive change and accelerate sustainability in the creative industries.
  9. Communication related to sustainable behaviour should avoid causing cognitive dissonance: storytelling can raise awareness, create narratives around sustainability issues, and promote pro-environmental behaviour.
  10. Fictional characters and positive role models can encourage sustainable behaviour, while short stories with solutions-focused narratives can address eco-anxiety.

Insight No.1: Strategic Overview I (Day 1)

  1. The creative industries contribute significantly to the economy but lack clear benchmarking data and baselines.
  2. System change is necessary to achieve sustainability in the creative industries.
  3. Climate change has changed the context in the creative industries, and digital and social transformation is needed to unlock value.
  4. Eco-anxiety and customer behaviour, particularly from Gen Z, are drivers for sustainability in the creative industries.
  5. Fragmentation needs to be addressed through cross-sector coordination.
  6. Sustainability tools and learnings have been developed for segments of the creative industries, but these are not being transferred: for tools and learnings to be used they need to be in the ‘language’ and ‘culture’ of the segment.
  7. Service-based creative industries’ digital footprint, such as in gaming and broadcasting, has a significant impact on climate change.
  8. Design plays a critical role in sustainability, with 80% of a product’s impact determined at the design stage.
  9. Leadership and industry bodies need to work together with government to address significant impacts on sustainability in the creative industries.
  10. Innovation is critical to achieving sustainability in the creative industries.

Insight No.2: Strategic Overview II (Day 2)

  1. Large companies hold significant power in advancing sustainability in industry generally and specifically in the creative industries and they should be more engaged and involved in promoting sustainability.
  2. Government policies play a crucial role in advancing sustainability in the creative industries, and stronger policies are needed to address sustainability issues effectively.
  3. Technology is increasingly driving the creative industries but there is a lack of data on the environmental impact of online delivery and ‘the world behind the screen’.
  4. Facing the climate change reality is essential, and storytelling can be a powerful tool to raise awareness and create a narrative around sustainability issues.
  5. Procrastination and fragmentation are common barriers to sustainability in the creative industries
  6. Communicating/working across the creative industries is necessary to overcome silos and increased collaboration is essential to advance sustainability int the sector: pooling learning and solutions is essential to tackle the industry’s sustainability challenges.
  7. The younger generation is more concerned and focused on sustainability issues, and needs to be engaged in the dialogue
  8. Cutting through the noise of information is necessary to address sustainability issues in the creative industries.
  9. Integrating green nudges, such as in gaming, has the potential to positively influence consumer behaviour towards sustainability.
  10. Better communication and storytelling are essential for promoting sustainability in the creative industries.

Insight No.3: Consumers, Education and Advertising (Day 3)

  1. Recognising and tackling unsustainable practices is crucial for accelerating sustainability in the creative industries.
  2. Lack of knowledge and eco-anxiety can prevent individuals from acting on sustainability.
  3. Young people should be involved in shaping sustainability initiatives.
  4. Promoting sustainable behaviour should be communicated in a way that avoids cognitive dissonance.
  5. Advertising can perpetuate high-carbon lifestyles and contribute to climate change.
  6. Fashion has a significant environmental and social impacts and needs to be addressed by industry, policy and civil society.
  7. Theatres and galleries can use immersive environments to communicate sustainability issues.
  8. Non-fiction and fiction delivered through the creative industries can be used to promote pro-environmental behaviours, but fear-based messages may not be effective.
  9. Fictional characters and positive role models can promote sustainable behaviours; and short stories with solutions-focused narratives can help address climate anxiety.
  10. Collective action and community engagement – both physically and online – are essential for promoting sustainability.

Insight No.4: Games, Music, Film, Theatres and Museums (Day 4)

  1. Communication between the segments of the creative industries must improve.
  2. Engaging all stakeholders and being specific to the segment can lead to successful sustainability initiatives e.g. Green Book in theatre.
  3. Theatres are community spaces and must reflect sustainability values.
  4. The shift to sustainable theatre is audience driven.
  5. There is a lack of understanding and awareness about sustainability among producers and crew in theatres and film.
  6. Incorporating green nudges in gaming can be a positive strategy to stimulate pro-environmental behaviour amongst young people e.g. Playing for the Planet.
  7. The music sector is becoming increasingly aware of the need to address sustainability but lacks concrete examples such as Evolution Music’s bio-polymer LP records.
  8. There is high demand for sustainability among music students e.g. at Leeds Conservatoire.
  9. Networks such as the Green Stories network highlight the importance of storytelling in sustainability and help promote positive stories and disrupt high carbon lifestyles.
  10. Funders are beginning to ask more sustainability-related questions.

Insight No.5: Fashion, Clothing & Textiles (Day 5)

  1. Policy makers in Europe are starting to recognise the significant environmental and social impact of the fashion sector
  2. Young people are increasingly aware of clothing production and sustainability issues.
  3. There is a trend of people not valuing their clothes as much as before.
  4. Conscious consumption can lead to the development of start-ups and scale-ups focused on upcycled garments.
  5. The preowned luxury market is growing, and attitudes towards second-hand clothes are changing, resulting in the emergence of new players and platforms in the re-sale market.
  6. Second-hand clothing consumption is becoming more mainstream and accepted, which can contribute to sustainability in the fashion industry.
  7. Transparency is important in the second-life product market.
  8. Dumping second-hand clothes in countries like Ghana causes significant environmental and social problems and damages the global supply chain.
  9. Different mindsets are needed amongst stakeholders in the fashion value chain to accelerate sustainability in the sector.
  10. Business plans and entrepreneurship are essential to drive sustainability in fashion.

Insight No.6: Design & Materials (Day 6)

  1. Crisis can lead and drive innovation and invention.
  2. There is still a need for pressure on politicians and policymakers on sustainability issues.
  3. Product thinking with a focus on sustainability started in the 90s.
  4. Designers have limited power and generally do not want to be sustainability experts.
  5. Systems and lifecycle thinking are essential to understand sustainability at a product level.
  6. Sustainable design requires careful consideration of trade-offs.
  7. Choices must be made when designing sustainably.
  8. Bio-based materials and circularity enabling infrastructure e.g. industrial composting, pose opportunities and challenges.
  9. Repairability and maintenance will need to be factored into future product life extension strategies.
  10. Data-driven approaches, such as AI, can help prolong product lifecycles and drive increased productivity.

Insight No.7: Case Studies (Day 7)

  1. Communities are crucial for accelerating sustainability in the creative industries.
  2. Communities (online/physical/hybrid) that bring together different people, ideas and ‘communities of practice’ from different parts of the creative industries can foster innovation and sustainability.
  3. The use of technology in the creative industries must be ethical and consider the impact on society and the environment.
  4. Digital ethics and data ownership are important issues to consider, as avatars and digital models become more prevalent in the fashion industry.
  5. Re-defining ownership and consumption patterns can lead to greater sustainability e.g. sharing, reuse, repair and refurbishment.
  6. Textile waste is a significant problem in the fashion industry and there is a need for new policy, initiatives and practice to drive increased circularity.
  7. The tension between western culture and craftsmanship pose cultural and economic challenges.
  8. Collaboration with indigenous people can help recover lost culture, wisdom, and techniques.
  9. Designers should connect, collaborate and co-create with indigenous communities, so knowledge is not lost and diversity is celebrated – new forms of education, networking and training are needed
  10. Circularity in the jewellery industry is important to help create resilience, as precious materials have a long-lasting value and should be repurposed rather than discarded; there is a need for increased transparency in sourcing.


For more information on Sustainable Innovation 2023, please contact:

Professor Martin Charter
The Centre for Sustainable Design ®
University for the Creative Arts
Tel: + 44 (0) 1252 892878

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