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How does a music centre take environmental responsibility seriously?

By Scott Morrison

Scott Crawford Morrison - Headshot

Taking meaningful climate action is challenging. The climate crisis feels overwhelming, confusing and scary. At the same time, it can feel abstract and distant from our daily lives.

Most people agree that drastic action is needed to halt the environmental damage being done to the planet and its peoples. But cultural organisations, and their teams, are dealing with so many other pressing issues – funding, the cost-of-living crisis, rising costs, and recovering from the impact of the pandemic to name a few – that achieving meaningful change on climate issues at the same time can feel really challenging.

At Sage Gateshead, we’re on a journey to reach net zero in our direct carbon emissions by 2030. So how are we going to get there?

Here are some steps we’re taking on this journey.

  1. Tracking our carbon emissions
  2. Improving the efficiency of our building
  3. Changing how and why we travel and tour
  4. Commissioning and presenting creative work that responds to the climate crisis
  5. Using our voice to support audiences, artists and sector peers in making positive choices
  6. Contributing to local rewilding schemes

As the Environmental Lead for Sage Gateshead, I’ve found it helpful to think about our journey to net zero through a personal lens as well as an organisational one.

RNS Summerhill 080820-2

Royal Northern Sinfonia perform throughout the North East of England

Finding somewhere to begin

I was first asked to calculate a carbon footprint while in a previous job. I had no prior knowledge about environmental matters beyond curiosity and a personal concern for the planet. Luckily, these are two of the best tools we can draw on when trying to make positive environmental change.

Sage Gateshead has recorded its carbon emissions since 2012. We now have a decade of data to draw from and we use this to inform our approach to environmental responsibility.

If your organisation has yet to start measuring its carbon footprint, I encourage you to think about it. Even one year of emissions data produces valuable insights. But it’s important to know that there are impactful and immediate actions you can take before you begin tracking emissions. For example, you can reduce the number of flights you take, buy and sell less meat if you have a café, and switch to renewable energy.

As a music centre, we know what our biggest emissions sources are: emissions relating to the energy our building uses, and emissions related to business travel – including the touring of our orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia.

Our journey to net zero involves bringing emissions in these areas as low as possible by 2030. After that, we’ll make financial contributions to high-quality local rewilding projects to help offset any remaining emissions we’re responsible for.

Being net-zero by 2030 is an ambitious aim – 20 years ahead of the UK government deadline – but it’s important to act quickly in a crisis.

We’re focusing on reducing our direct emissions sources because these are things we have direct control over. But we’re also interested in better understanding the impact of our indirect emissions –the things we cannot control but want to influence.

Our indirect emissions sources include:

  • how people travel to our building to see a show or take a class
  • the goods and services we use in our supply chain

We’re looking at case studies in these areas and other emissions sources to better understand their impact and discover how we can also make positive change here.

Understanding what change looks and feels like

Climate change is also an issue of human change.

I’m really interested in the experience of making change, the texture of doing things differently – like changing my diet. Switching to a vegetarian and eventually vegan diet was part of my own journey with environmental issues.

Change can be exciting and motivational, but it also brings with it friction, discomfort, and even sacrifice.

I’ve thought a lot about the experience of sitting with discomfort, rather than shying away from it, and of finding kind ways to live with contradiction. Trying to navigate a response to the climate crisis is full of contradictions.

On a personal level, I’m balancing a love of travel and desire to explore the world as fully as I can with knowing the damage fossil-fuelled travel creates – particularly flights.

Sage Gateshead is interested in unravelling these contradictions and making change too – both internally and externally. Internally, as well as working towards net-zero carbon emissions, we’re threading our environmental values through every aspect of our organisation’s strategy. We’re creating a culture of increasing environmental awareness by providing relevant training. We discuss challenges and share insights as a team.

Working with other organisations is an essential part of our approach to environmental responsibility. This enables us to learn from others while contributing to wider change – locally in the North East, nationally within the UK, and internationally. Julie’s Bicycle, the North East of England Climate Coalition and Music Declares Emergency are some of the partners we work with.

Anna Hughes

Anna Hughes

Programming artistic content as part of our approach to the environment

Art changes our lives every day. Sometimes in small ways – the song you listen to on your way home that brightens your day. Sometimes it’s deeper. The music and ideas of American composer John Cage have deeply influenced how I experience and find beauty in the world around me.

As a music centre, we understand the power of music to bring people together, touch us at an emotional level, or change the way we think.

Art develops our capacity to observe, to make connections, to be in touch with our emotions, to be in the moment – ultimately, to be empathetic. Empathy is a key ingredient in the way art and music influence us. It’s also a key tool in responding to the climate crisis – in living, learning, and earning responsibly. At both an individual and an organisational level, taking environmental issues seriously depends upon being empathetic.

Artistic responses to the climate crisis have been and will continue to be part of Sage Gateshead’s socially aware programming. We support emerging and established music creators to create new work based on their lives, and what they care about. Increasingly, we find the climate crisis reflected in the work of artists across all genres – for example, in new work being developed by Anna Hughes, one of our Artists in Residence in 2022-23. (

One of the most important things we can do as a cultural organisation with large audiences is to share our platform. We want to present brilliant work by exceptional artists so the people who come to us feel things together – powerfully, collectively, and with empathy.

The music performed at Sage Gateshead can help start conversations that change the way people think and behave.


What next on our journey to net-zero?

We still have a lot of work to do before 2030. The efficiency of our building and equipment must continue improving. We have to find new ways to continue sharing music with people in our building, around the region and across the world, that are less harmful to the planet.

There will be moments that feel confusing, scary, abstract and complicated – but we’re consciously choosing to make environmental responsibility one of our top priorities. Our hope is that you will be able to see it in what we do with our building, what our programme looks like, and our plans for the future.

What’s your next step?

So, this is how we’re approaching our journey to net-zero – by collecting data and using that to make informed changes; by understanding what change looks and feels like; and by sharing powerful, environmentally-focused music with our audiences. What’s your next step?

The journey for each person and organisation will be different because our circumstances differ. But this is where we started.

  • How can I/we take environmental responsibility more seriously?
  • How can it inform more of our decisions?
  • What different ways of living and creating could be possible if we do?
  • Who could we invite to help us on our journey?

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