Development and Incorporation of Sustainability Guidelines

Sustainability Perspectives in Contemporary Music

1. August 2023

©Andreas Kretschmer

How can sustainability guidelines and mission statements establish a strong foundation for sustainability, cultural diversity, and climate protection? This text aims to provide insights on how music-makers and organisations in contemporary music can incorporate these essential topics into their work to drive positive change in the sector and society. The text introduces various frameworks and guidelines for cultural and non-cultural organisations. Readers will be familiarised with position papers by various organisations, initiatives, and artists in the music sector. Based on the sustainability declaration for the cultural sector, the seminar enables participants to shape their own understanding of sustainability and develop specific sustainability guidelines.

A Text by Selina Kahle (2N2K Deutschland e.V.)


Interest in sustainable development and its many interwoven ecological, social, and economic dimensions has increased significantly in the cultural sector in recent years. The topic is also becoming more relevant in cultural funding, and applicants are often encouraged to consider sustainable and climate-friendly approaches when implementing projects.

To ensure that funding recipients are not left to deal with these additional demands on their own, the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, Goethe-Institut, Impuls neue Musik, inm / field notes, Musikfonds and ON Cologne, in cooperation with (2N2K Deutschland e.V.), are offering a series of workshops to develop skills in the field of sustainable development. The collaboration of funding bodies for this joint series goes back to an initiative from the conference »Time to Listen - Sustainability in Contemporary Music« by the Akademie der Künste and the inm / field notes in October 2022. 

The following text is a written documentation of the second workshop »Development and Incorporation of Sustainability Guidelines« as part of the workshop series »Sustainability Perspectives in Contemporary Music«. The workshop was led by Selina Kahle from 2N2K Deutschland e.V..


  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Framework, Guidelines and Position Papers   
        a. Declarations   
        b. Guide
  • 3. The Mission
  • 4. Step-By-Step Guidance
        Step 1: Define Your Organization's Purpose    
        Step 2: Identify Your Organization's Values    
        Step 3: Determine Your Organization's Audience    
        Step 4: Define Your Organization's Sustainability Goals    
        Step 5: Draft Your Sustainability Mission Statement
  • 5. Sustainability declaration for the cultural sector
  • 6. Reference
  • 7. Further Links    

1. Introduction

The Brundtland Report (1987) from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development builds a very strong foundation for concepts of sustainability and sustainable development. Brundtland Report defined sustainable development as follows:

Sustainable development addresses the needs of the present moment without compromising current and future generations.”

Sustainable development is based on three fundamental pillars: social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Up until now, this model is one of the main strong frameworks and guidelines when defining sustainable development or sustainability within governments, organizations, and businesses. 

Back in the 2000 and 2001, a strong group including cultural organizations and cultural policymakers argued to expand this model to culture. Culture could either be introduced as a fourth pillar or as an underlying or overlying pillar which holds everything

One of the biggest frameworks for sustainable development of the past 20 years is the UN Agenda 2030 with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was unanimously adopted by all 193 member states in 2015. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined in Agenda 2030 encompass the ecological, social, and economic dimensions (Brundtland, 1989). These goals incorporate various aspects of sustainable development, including the crucial target of climate action (SDG 13). By providing a well-defined framework, the SDGs offer countries and organizations a comprehensive set of quantifiable objectives to strive for (United Nations, 2015). However, it is important to note that the explicit inclusion of the cultural dimension is once again missing.

Considering that the agenda was adopted nearly ten years ago the results until this day fall short of expectations. However, the interest in sustainable development has veritably gathered momentum in most recent years, not least because of Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future Movement starting in 2018/2019. The movement has made a significant impact on putting sustainability and climate protection on the public agenda and to build up some pressure on governments and policy makers. 

The awareness of the urgency to act permeates slowly all sectors of society, and the cultural sector is not exempt from this development. As Ralf Weiß stressed in his Seminar “Climate responsibility in the cultural sector” for field notes College in March 2023 (see the documentation), there are no binding climate protection goals for the cultural sector for the time being. However, there are emerging framework in cultural policy and cultural funding as well as a climate responsibility that also applies for the cultural sector. This responsibility is threefold: Operational (obligation), discursive (responsibility), and strategic climate responsibility (responsiveness).

2. Framework, Guidelines and Position Papers

a. Declarations

One of the most important declarations in Germany was the Declaration of the Many (Die Erklärung der Vielen) from 2018. Under the label “We are many” many institutions and individual artists have joined forces to oppose threads to a pluralistic society. 

The Jena Declaration from 2021 delineates a new cultural approach through which the Sustainability Goals set by the United Nations can still be reached. The declaration calls upon all relevant political and scientific institutions, including funding agencies, to use the UN “Decade of Action” as a time to ensure that the cultural dimension is at the core of sustainability program.

Music Declares Emergency is a group of artists, music industry professionals and organisations that stand together to declare a climate and ecological emergency and call for an immediate governmental response to protect all life on Earth. There are different working groups in various countries including Germany. It's very easy to sign in and to get involved. 

b. Guides

Today, there is a vast number of guides and handbooks available that can help you to integrate sustainability standards in your organisations and individual work. 

The British cultural sector was very much at the forefront to tackle climate issues. Already in 2009 and 2012, they developed and published strategy papers, guidelines, innovative ideas on how to transform the cultural sector and more specifically the music sector in terms of ecological sustainability. Julie’s Bicycle or the association of British Orchestras had already implemented actions in the UK and are giving out resources for free. 

The Shift Culture Group is part of the European Music Council and published a guideline that can serve as a reference document for network-organisations that aim to minimise their footprint, optimise environmentally sustainable practices, and act as an example of good practice for their members and other networks. Their guideline focuses on five major topics in terms of management and policy:

  • management and policy
  • communication and awareness raising
  • travel 
  • events
  • office and home office

In Germany, Unisono – Deutsche Musik- und Orchestervereinigung published a paper on sustainability in orchestra and concert operations in 2021 which can serve as a guideline for professional orchestras, choirs, radio sound bodies, ensembles, as well as freelance professional musicians. 

The Orchester des Wandels also published a guideline with the goal for cultural producers to reduce the emissions of cultural operations and to integrate environmental protection as an essential factor into cultural operations. They focus on three different groups: The individual, the collective in terms of audience and public as well as the management which needs to incorporate these things.

The Green Touring network's mission is to help artists and bands make their music creation and marketing activities more environmentally friendly. An important part of their work is to provide knowledge, access to information and help to promote environmental sustainability. The network also facilitates exchange, develops innovative ideas and processes and actively works together with other partners.

These are just a few examples. field notes reviewed numerous resources and guides and checked them for their relevance for the (independent) contemporary music scene in particular. You can find the overview here.

3. The Mission

A Mission Statement is a brief statement that communicates an organization's purpose and values. One reason why a mission statement is essential for working towards sustainability is that it provides a clear and unified direction. A mission statement acts as a guiding principle that outlines the purpose, values, and goals of an organization or initiative. By having a well-defined mission statement, all stakeholders involved can align their efforts and resources towards a common vision. This clarity helps to avoid misinterpretation, confusion, and conflicting priorities, fostering a cohesive and coordinated approach towards achieving sustainable outcomes. It can be developed by individual artists or organisations. A good mission statement should include the following aspects: 

  • goals 
  • self-image
  • interests 
  • reflection of different audiences and stakeholder

With a mission statement, you can communicate your purpose and values internally to your employees as well as externally to your audiences and stakeholders. The development of such mission statement includes a process of defining goals for your organisation. This can either be done individually or in bigger groups if you are an organization.

If your organisation already has a mission statement, a guiding principle, or a vision, you can update it and incorporate the topic of sustainability based on your own understanding and definition of sustainability. 

A mission statement has several benefits:

  • Demonstrates organizational commitment to sustainability (to stakeholders)
  • Serves as a guide for decision-making
  • Inspires and motivates to act (employees, audience, partners) 
  • Aligns sustainability efforts with organizational goals
  • Helps to incorporate these essential topics into own work in order to drive positive change in the sector and society. 
  • First step on the way to develop a sustainability strategy, which can help with funding, especially funding applications. Sustainable criteria are increasingly playing a role in the allocation of funding and will continue to do so in the future.

Make sure to be honest and transparent in your statement and not to fall into the trap of greenwashing. Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound. Greenwashing involves making an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly or have a greater positive environmental impact than they actually do.

The British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC), including its many musical bodies, e.g. BBC Symphony Orchestra put it very simply in their mission statement »to enrich people's life with programs and services that inform, educate and entertain.«

The idea of education and entertainment is very much part of the cultural sector. Musicians are not only somebody who plays, make or distributes music. They actually educate with every note they are playing. So it's great to see that when you get the mission statement right, you can inspire and deliver core values of your organization or your own work as an individual artist or musician.

Another good examples for a mission statement, which also incorporates working locally and addressing the audience as a musician is by the german association of Orchestras (unisono e.V.):


»Due to our values, we feel responsible for considering the principles of sustainable development in our work. We want to contribute to the sustainable development of the region and strengthen the social responsibility of our orchestra. This improves our impact on the region and its inhabitants while minimizing negative effects on the environment.«

Glyndebourne Opera in Sussex (UK) is addressing their sustainability action in coherence with their whole operations:

"At Glyndebourne we are committed to being industry leaders in minimizing both our direct and indirect impact on the environment, and encouraging everyone we engage with to do the same." 

In 2021, in conjunction with COP26, Glyndebourne joined the global Race to Zero and committed to halving direct carbon emissions (from a 2019 baseline) by 2030, reaching net zero by 2050 and reporting annually on progress. The biggest step we’ve taken so far was the installation of a 67-metre wind turbine a short distance from the opera house in 2012, which already halved their emissions by 50% in 10 years. 

Clubtopia devotes itself to sustainability and climate issues within the Berlin club scene, addressing clubs, event organizers, as well as club guests. The goal is to raise awareness and change behaviour for a brighter and climate friendly future. We believe that Berlins nightlife has the potential to find creative solutions to become more sustainable. At the same time, clubs, venues, and parties can positively influence their audience by being a lighthouse of green clubbing. 

"We believe that culture, especially the club scene, is a crucial driving force for sustainable change in Berlin. As a creative pioneer, it should and can develop itself in a more environmentally and climate-friendly manner, while also inspiring a shift in thinking in other areas. For this reason, we have created Clubtopia."

4. Step-By-Step Guidance

Step 1: Define Your Organization's Purpose

  • What is your organization's main goal?
  • How does sustainability fit into your organization's purpose?
  • What are your organization's environmental and social responsibilities?
  • Define your organization's main goal (e.g., profit, social impact, environmental impact)
  • Discuss how sustainability fits into your organization's purpose? (e.g., creating positive environmental and social impacts while achieving financial success)

It is helpful to come back to the three-pillar module of social impact, environment and economics, in terms of the financial success as well as funding. You can go through each of these three pillars and ask yourself what you are already contributing and what you would like to contribute in the future.

Step 2: Identify Your Organization's Values

  • What are the core values of your organization?
  • How do these values align with sustainability?
  • How do these values guide your organization's decisions and actions related to sustainability?
  • identify the core values of your organization (e.g., honesty, integrity, transparency, etc.) 
  • Discuss how these values align with sustainability (e.g., creating a more just and sustainable world)

Once the core goals are defined, you can approach the core values. Which values already guide your everyday work now and which would you like to consider more in the future? Those could include honesty, integrity, transparency, or different ways of trying to educate and spread your enthusiasm through the medium of contemporary music.

Step 3: Determine Your Organization's Audience

  • Who is your organization's target audience?
  • Why is it important to know your audience when it comes to sustainability?
  • How does your organization engage with and educate its audience on sustainability issues?
  • Determine who your organization's target audience is (e.g., audiences, customers, partners, employees, etc.)
  • Discuss why it's important to know your audience when it comes to sustainability (e.g., to tailor messaging and engagement efforts to their interests and concerns)

Not all organisations have detailed information about their audience groups and their interests. On the field notes Website you can find information on how even smaller organisations can compile information about existing and potential audiences with comparably little effort.

Even without a major survey on audience interests it's also about the question what you can do for your audience in terms of reaching them and taking your core values and your goals and sustainability altogether and transporting them and educating your audiences. 

The Orchester des Wandels, for instance, has a very clear mission. They work together with the Stiftung NaturTon to commission new orchestra and concert pieces, which play on the topic of sustainability and climate change, therefore transport these messages in their concerts. Besides the concerts, the orchestra offers workshops or discussion panels on the topics of sustainability and climate protection. They also fund projects in Madagascar to tackle deforestation and give perspectives to rural communities on the island. 

Step 4: Define Your Organization's Sustainability Goals

  • What are your organization's environmental and social sustainability goals?
  • How will your organization measure and track progress towards these goals?
  • Define your organization's environmental sustainability goals (e.g., reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving resources, travel policy) 
  • Define your organization's social sustainability goals (e.g., promoting diversity and inclusion, protecting human rights, etc.)
  • Discuss how your organization will measure and track progress towards these goals (e.g., through sustainability reporting, stakeholder engagement, etc.)

Having in mind that cultural organisations have a threefold responsibility in terms of climate protection as mentioned above, this fourth step is about defining the scope of agency of your organization. This applies to the reduction of emissions on the one hand and making a positive impact through education and conveying knowledge and values on the other.

Step 5: Draft Your Sustainability Mission Statement

  • It is a team effort and process – do a workshop, meeting or more than one. 
  • Get everyone involved if you can (it is a shared mission) bottom-up and top-down
  • Collect examples of well-crafted sustainability mission statements
  • Discuss how to create a concise and inspiring sustainability mission statement (e.g., use clear and simple language, focus on the organization's unique contributions to sustainability)
  • In the end: ensure it aligns with organizational values and goals

Creating a mission statement is a team effort. The first impulse can come from different angles. Sometimes it is a group of employees that has a certain mindset and the willingness to change the organisation and other times it the head of the organisation that puts the topic on the agenda. To achieve fundamental change, is important that all parties get involved in the process. If the management is not on board yet you can start with a working group and try to involve more and more people who have responsibility. Don’t expect it to be a fast process, especially if you are a bigger organization. Try to organise little workshops for brainstorming. It could be one, two or even more meetings. The topic might seem very abstract for certain people in the beginning, but once they get deeper involved in the process, they start to relate to it more and to apply the discussion to their scope of work. 

5. Sustainability declaration for the cultural sector

The Sustainability Declaration specifies the internationally shared framework of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and its far-reaching understanding of sustainability, for the cultural sector. This includes both the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions and the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees as far as possible.

The Sustainability Declaration bundles the ideas, capabilities, and concerns of
the cultural sector to make specific and relevant contributions to sustainable
development. A total of 91 national and international declarations were included in the development of this Sustainability Declaration for the Cultural Sector. The development was accompanied by 14 pilot institutions and an advisory board consisting of 14 representatives from cultural and environmental foundations of the federal and state governments, heads of cultural associations and municipal cultural administrations as well as sustainability actors from funding institutions, universities, and networks. The sustainability declaration was developed by 2N2K Deutschland e.V., within the Culture4Climate initiative and it was published in September 2022 with 42 initial signatories.

  • Sustainability: Specification of the understanding of sustainability for the cultural sector
  • Guidance: 5 principles
  • Action: 5 guiding objectives: 
  • Accountability: Self-commitment to anchor cultural diversity, global climate, and sustainability goals.
  • The sustainability declaration for the cultural sector enables art and cultural institutions, cultural administrations, cultural associations, and cultural actors from all cultural sectors to make a self-commitment to global climate and sustainability goals.
  • Institutions and actors in the cultural sector create a foundation for themselves to anchor sustainability, cultural diversity, and climate protection in their organization.

By signing the Sustainability Declaration, institutions and practitioners from the cultural sector join a global movement for the future and create a binding foundation for anchoring sustainability, cultural diversity, and climate protection in their organization.

More information on the declaration, how to become a signatory and the initiative Culture4Climate can be found on the website.