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Environmentally friendly Culture – Utopia or Already Happening? Opinion piece by Triin Pikk

Sustainability is often seen as a binary concept – you either live a completely “green” lifestyle or you don’t. At first glance it might seem that the only way to be utterly sustainable is to live a very modest life which involves eating only the local foods, never driving a car, having very few clothes and other items, etc. But would this kind of thinking also mean that participating in culture is a vanity that uses earth’s resources irresponsibly? European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024 is creating an example of how sustainable culture management can be done.

Triin Pikk poses in nature.
11. Apr kroot.filippov

Luckily the world isn’t black and white, and one can be sustainable without sacrificing joy and fulfilment. Moreover, the corona-virus pandemic has shown us that we need meaningful connections and culture to carry us through the hardships to function. So, there is a clear need for culture management that considers the needs of the planet as well as the needs of the audience.

To set the course, we have already created a guide to environmentally friendly cultural management, which is followed by all of the events included in the official European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024 programme. This means that we are doing something unprecedented in Estonia – in 2024, a quarter of Estonia will organise hundreds of events on the same sustainable principles.

Setting a course from dream to reality

The need for change is urgent and there is no time to wait. The cultural sector has the opportunity to achieve a lot together. We can change the world through environmentally friendly cultural management. The contribution of each sector to mitigating and curbing climate change is of the utmost importance. In the cultural sector, this means reviewing and updating cultural policy strategies, support systems and changing cultural management practices.

No-one can make a huge impact on their own. To make something sustainable the aim needs to be clear on every level: societal, political and individual level. The society sets the expectations and standards, the political level shapes these expectations into rules and laws. It is crucial that the political level understands its role in shaping sustainable practices and habits and takes bold steps to fight climate change. Communities and individuals need to accept the new rules, but they also need help with implementing them.


The Tartu 2024 team isn’t the first one to ever think that our cultural management or events can be more sustainable. There are already many trailblazers who organise festivals and concerts in sustainable ways or create art from what others see as trash. In order to learn from them we are organising Kultuurikompass – a forum where cultural managers can learn from each other, share their inspiration and outcomes.

The speakers at Kultuurikompass are innovators of this topic. The list includes European experts, who have brought sustainable practices to music, theatre or large-scale festivals, like Artur Mendes, who organises Boom festival in Portugal. Boom has been working on being environmentally self-sustainable since 2004 and has received many awards for their actions. Moreover, Jonas Skielboe the founder of VeloConcerts, a mobile, ecologically friendly alternative to conventional stage setups and Kiira Kivisaari the environmental coordinator for contemporary art event Helsinki Biennial will share their experiences. These are only a few examples of inspiring people, who can definitely motivate other cultural managers to find sustainable solutions as well.

More about Kultuurikompass.

Sign up here.