UK Music’s Sustainability Lead Hannah McLennan Marks Earth Day

UK Music's Sustainability Lead Hannah McLennan marks Earth Day by outlining her five top tips for drawing up a robust and enduring sustainability policy for your organisation. 

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21.04.2023: UK Music’s Sustainability Lead Hannah McLennan marks Earth Day by outlining her five top tips for drawing up a robust and enduring sustainability policy for your organisation.  

With the 53rd annual Earth Day taking place on Saturday (April 22),  individuals and organisations may want to reflect on their impact on the planet. The day provides the ideal time to consider what more we all need to do to create a more sustainable future. 

Across the music industry there is so much great work going on across all parts of the sector, from climate-action specific organisations within the creative industries (Music Declares Emergency, Julie’s Bicycle, A Greener Festival, Vision: 2025 and Earth Percent, to name a few) to trade-body commitments (such as Music Climate Pact and LIVE Green).  The last few years have shown the huge appetite for the industry to go green.

The theme for Earth Day this year is Invest In Our Planet.

If you’re looking for a way to invest in our planet, then an easy place for any organisation to start, no matter its size, remit or membership, is by investing in a sustainability policy.

Sustainability policies can act as a critical tool to outline an organisation’s commitment to sustainability and the actions it will take to reduce its environmental impact. 

I’ve been working on updating UK Music’s sustainability policy after we first established it in 2020, and I’ve collected my top five tips when it comes to writing a sustainability policy for your own organisation. 

This is a photograph of 3 people speaking at a sustainability conference

Love SSega in conversation with Nick Mulvey and Laura Misch about the potential of earth as a credited songwriter at Overheated in June 2022

1. Be bold – but keep it manageable

An organisational sustainability policy should be bold and ambitious. It should set out clear policies that are designed to reduce the organisation’s impact on the environment. However, it is essential to keep in mind that the policy should be manageable and achievable. While it’s great to dream big, it is crucial to strike the right balance between ambition and realism.

To be bold, consider starting by setting clear, quantifiable goals. UK Music member PPL launched their sustainability strategy with the goal to be net-zero by 2050, in line with national and global targets. This is a bold goal, but it is also achievable with the necessary steps.

Dividing policies into sub-headings can help. Consider the main areas you have control over. For UK Music the subheadings used are monitoring and improvement, transportation, paper, energy and water, office supplies, and culture. By dividing policies into clearly defined sections, you can also give employees responsibility over certain areas, which is another way to keep things manageable.

2. Think outside the box

When it comes to sustainability, it is essential to think outside the box. Many organisations have already taken the first steps to reduce their environmental impact, such as reducing energy consumption and increasing recycling. While these are important, there are many other ways that organisations can make a positive impact on the environment and society.

It can help to consider exploring new, innovative solutions to sustainability problems. For example, could you introduce vegan food, which is better for the planet, at events you run? Could you implement a programme or competition to encourage employees to use public transport, cycle or carpool to work? Could you encourage employees to invest their pension into sustainable initiatives via organisations such as Make My Money Matter? Could you print t-shirts through sustainable brands like Teemill?

In March 2023, Brian Eno and Earth Percent launched an initiative to name the Earth as a co-writer of a forthcoming song or composition to divert a portion of music royalties towards environmental activism. Creativity is the backbone of the music sector and creative solutions could play a huge part in our fight to save the planet. Creative solutions can also help engage employees, stakeholders and customers who might otherwise not be interested in climate-change initiatives in the workplace.

Billie Eilish speaking about what the music industry needs to do to help the planet at Overheated in June 2022

3. Don’t be afraid to use the work of others

There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to writing a sustainability policy. There are many excellent resources available that can help you to develop an effective sustainability policy. ISO 14001 is an internationally recognised standard which can help create environmental management systems particularly for larger, public facing organisations. EMAS is a premium management instrument developed by the European Commission for companies and other organisations to evaluate, report, and improve their environmental performance. Both websites have a number of useful tools to help you get started.

You can also look to other organisations for inspiration and best practice. Many businesses and organisations have already implemented successful sustainability initiatives, and you can learn from their experiences. Even the UK Music sustainability policy may provide a good place to start!

If you have the resource, organisations such as Climate EQ provide industry specific courses for the music, entertainment, creative and sports sectors to move towards a low carbon future, by supporting them to make actual carbon reductions through multi-day training. 

4. Provide checkpoints and hold yourself accountable

It is essential to provide checkpoints and hold yourself accountable for your organisation’s sustainability goals. This will help ensure that you make progress towards your objectives, are continuously improving and integrating new research or ideas if you need to.

It is important to have a mechanism in place to review your sustainability policy regularly. This could be done annually or bi-annually, and should include reviewing the effectiveness of the policy, identifying areas that need improvement and updating the policy to ensure it remains relevant and up to date. Where possible, consider setting regular reporting periods to track progress against your sustainability goals, at both the individual and overall level. 

For the first time, UK Music has now started monitoring its own environmental progress. Using a sliding scale measure from 1-5 (where 1 is poor and 5 is excellent) we will now be tracking each policy and checking progress every six months, taking averages across the subheadings to see which areas need the most improvements. You can view this online here [link TBA].

It can help to have one person with set responsibility over the policy; but be careful not to let it all hang on one person. Ensure that the policy is understandable to everyone in the organisation, so policies don’t leave or fizzle out if staff members move on or are too busy.

5. Remember… Nobody’s perfect.

In climate-change policy-making perfection can often be the enemy of good. Just because you can’t get the whole office net-zero tomorrow doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking that one important step today. Sustainability policies are an ongoing process and it’s always better to do something than nothing! 

There might be challenges along the way, but it is essential to learn from these experiences and, where necessary, adapt your approach accordingly. It is also important to celebrate your achievements, no matter how small they may seem in the grand scheme of things. Even by getting people talking about sustainability in your organisation you’re making a step in the right direction.

Sustainability is not just about meeting regulatory requirements; it is about creating a better future for all of us. A well-written sustainability policy can help to drive positive change and make a real difference. By being bold, thinking outside the box, using the work of others, providing checkpoints, and holding yourself accountable, you can develop a sustainability policy that is effective and ambitious yet achievable, helping the planet and each other in the process.

You can read UK Music’s updated sustainability policy online here and here.

 You can read more about sustainability work across the music sector here.

If you have questions on writing a sustainability policy feel free to reach out to: 

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