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  • benjaminnewman01

Mod. 2.2 - Leaders Q&A

Assume you are in a leadership role and want to share what you are learning with the people that you lead. How would you answer the questions listed below if they asked them?

  • What are the main causes that environmental sustainability impacts?

  • What are the intersections between environmental and social sustainability?

  • What are some sustainability frameworks, metrics, and solutions that you might use when leading for regenerative sustainability?


Hello everyone, I am so glad to have you all gathered here today to look at the future of arts organizations in the United States. As many of you know, our business models are not sustainable with the consistent increases in the costs of presenting art, our reliance on older, wealthy donors, and the impact of our limited resources contributing to a wider phenomenon of lower audience attendance and appreciation for our work. In order to address these challenges and questions, I’d like to do something a bit different if you’ll allow me. Rather than create an echo chamber in which we look at one-off case studies of examples of success outside of the norm of most companies, I’d like us to approach the conversation from a completely different framework.

The United Nations’ Department of Social and Economic Affairs has an office of Sustainable Development. While their work is focused on the challenges of economic growth presented by the climate crisis, I realized after reviewing their website recently that they ask many of the same questions around sustainable economic development that we are asking ourselves here today. Their office has outlined 17 SDG’s or Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are one of the benchmarks by which they gauge success and also share the results of their work with the public around the world. I’d like for us to consider each of these 17 SDG’s and where they may or may not align with our work here today. First, I’ll outline what the 17 SDG’s are. Second, we will clarify and define each one’s meaning and decide which ones seem the most pertinent to our work today. Third, we will separate into different groups and each group will be assigned to look at one or two of the SDG’s and how they might have application in the performing arts.

No Poverty

Affordable & Clean energy

Climate Action

Zero Hunger

Decent Work & Economic Growth

Life Below Water

Good Health & Well-being

Industry, Innovation, & Infrastructure

Life On Land

Quality Education

​Reduced Inequalities

Peace, Justice, & Strong Institutions

Gender Equality

Sustainable Cities & Communities

Partnerships for The Goals

Clean Water & Sanitation

Responsible Consumption & Production

While some of these won’t have any connection to our work, (I have to admit I am certainly tempted to take advantage of the immense amount of expertise and knowledge in this room to create an underwater aquatic performing arts center) I want to encourage you to consider broad definitions for each of these goals in order to see if any unexpected or surprising ideas emerge. While we certainly are not experts on eliminating hunger, we might consider which of our local communities are hungry for beautiful art and how we might look at some of the tools hunger experts have used to provide access to food for different groups and whether or not some of those tools could be applied in our sector. You’ll also notice there is some overlap between some of the goals as well. Rather than assume the overlap in zero hunger and reduced inequalities are simply a matter of greater access to food resources, take some time to review each goal individually to see if anything new emerges. After each group has had a chance to review their respective SDGs, we will come back together to discuss each groups’ findings. Once each group has had a chance to share, we will divide back into the same groups as before, and consider where the other groups' findings add value to the initial findings.

For the sake of transparency, I will admit that I have a dual-purpose in having you go through these exercises. I like this exercise because it gets us out of our comfort zone and challenges us to think differently about our work in the cultural sector. But my ulterior motive and hope is that each of you might also see where you have a role to play in helping the United Nations and frankly the world to accomplish the 17 SDGs. If we consider questions such as “What are the main causes that environmental sustainability impacts?”, or “What are the intersections between environmental and social sustainability?” or “What are some sustainability frameworks, metrics, and solutions that you might use when leading for regenerative sustainability?” you might see that our two groups' respective goals are actually much more closely aligned than they first appear.

In my own studies, I’ve seen how the main causes that environmental sustainability impacts intersect with all of our work. For example, the reduction of fossil fuels is a major cause of environmental sustainability. What if we were to look at the area codes where our respective companies have high concentrations of patrons and create a program where they can receive discounts on tickets if they carpool to and from performances. If you have a hall that seats 2,000 people and 600 patrons from the same area code all attend on the same night, the number of cars driving to and from the venue could be cut in half. Arts orgs could even use resources like The Carbon Disclosure Project to begin to measure how they are supporting carbon reduction through initiatives such as carpooling to performances. What I really like about ideas like these is that they demonstrate the ways each of us in our individual companies can generate innovative solutions to our industry challenges by looking at the intersection of environmental and social sustainability. By incentivizing our patrons to carpool to performances, we not only reduce the amount of fossil fuels used, we also foster relationship building among our patrons that can build deeper relationships that we help to initiate and can leverage to build deeper support for each of our organizations. I heard an example recently in which a younger woman happened to live near an older donor, and they randomly struck up a conversation in the ladies room at a performance in which they realized how close to each other they lived. The young woman offered to drive the older patron to the next performance and she was so grateful that she didn’t have to worry about driving late at night and it meant she could attend more performances. Eventually, the older patron and the young woman had developed such a nice friendship that they both started attending more performances and both became donors to the company. While this example shouldn’t be considered a replicable model, I think it is a beautiful example of how an unexpected positive outcome can emerge from encouraging environmentally sustainable practices.

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