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Creating the Sustainable Economy and Sustaining the Creative Economy

Posted on 06/11/2016

Creative industries have an innate understanding of desirability, usability audience behaviour and can help to drive more sustainable approaches and change consumer attitudes.

How creative practices can support and grow the sustainable economy.

The importance of creative enterprise is well recognised, both in terms of the size of the sector itself but also its capacity for innovating across the economy. Creative practices such as design, visualisation, craftsmanship and communications are seen as an essential part of product development, creative firms have become embedded in the supply chains of industries and in the delivery of public services.

But what can they do for the greatest challenge of our age? The historic agreement secured at COP21 in Paris last year has provided a target and framework for government and business to de-carbonise the economy and prevent global warming from reaching catastrophic levels. The creative industries, which have already demonstrated strong leadership on the issue, will need to play their part, and there are many good reasons for doing so. As Alison Tickell, the Chief Executive of industry organisation Julie’s Bicycle has said: “environmental sustainability isn’t just a regulatory imperative, it is a major opportunity for creative businesses.”


Creativity has long been deployed to build brands, enhance desirability and increase consumption. But it has also done this for sustainable products and helped to positively change consumer behaviour. Through systems design, it has helped to reduce the waste and energy emissions associated with industrial processes and distribution. More fundamentally, creativity is integral to expressing ideas, widening imaginations and promoting understanding. It is through storytelling, film, literature, graphic design and performance that many people comprehend the threat, reflect on the issues and act accordingly. The potential benefits for those creative businesses which successfully do this are considerable: the UK market for low-carbon and environmental goods and services, otherwise known as the ‘green economy’, is now worth in excess of £120bn.

In recent years, KTN and Innovate UK have run a number of activities to support sustainable innovation. Where the creative industries have engaged, the results have been encouraging – whether promoting circular economy design through the Great Recovery Programme, improving efficiencies in fashion and textiles production, or helping music festivals to tackle the problem of campsite waste. But much more needs to be done. Meeting the challenge of climate change will require governments and policy makers, academic researchers, scientists and technologists and corporate leaders. But if they are to succeed, then creative businesses need to be at the heart of this, and reaping the social, environmental and commercial rewards.


Tom Campbell – Specialist, Creative Industries