World Environment Day: Travel, Access and Sustainability

A woman in a purple dress and red strapped bag walks over stepping stones on a shallow lake. In her right hand she holds a guide book.
Senior Producer Jo Verrent in Japan

Unlimited is a programme with expanding international ambitions – so how do we square our expanding geographic reach with a desire (and need) to be more environmentally sustainable? To kick off the first Unlimited Green Blog, on World Environment Day, Fiona Slater looks at travel, access and sustainability, chatting to one of the team’s more intrepid members, Senior Producer Jo Verrent, and the newest member to the team, Assistant Producer Sarah Howard.

FS – Jo, it’s fair to say that travel is a fairly big part of your job. Where does sustainability feature within the planning and booking of travel?

JV – For me, travel has an impact on my wellbeing. I have a fatigue-related condition so 5-6 hours on a train compared to a 1 hour flight can mean less time to recoup energy before an event. Or, I can plan in a day to recover after long distance travel before an event but then it impacts on my workload.

We need to ask ourselves, ‘what works for me in relation to my access needs, in relation to the opportunity available, and in relation to sustainability?’ There isn’t always a simple solution – it’s more of a series of complex questions with complex answers!

FS – Sarah, as someone who frequently drives – what has your experience been of trying to negotiate accessible motor schemes and green fuel? 

SH – I’m just about to receive my sixth motability vehicle and I’ve recently become more aware of the issues relating to the use of diesel and the environment. As a wheelchair user who drives from her chair, there really is no choice in what vehicle I am given; what concerns me most is the fact that all WAVs (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles) tend to be diesel and we have no say in this matter – trust me, I’ve tried! Having said that, I’m glad to see that the new motability vehicles do include Adblue fuel systems, which is now used to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

FS – So, when many greener travel options are often less accessible, how can we ensure we don’t exclude disabled people from the environmental conversation?   

SH – Many elements surrounding disability and access go against some of the recommendations for green travel: many of us don’t travel light with our wheelchairs, hoists and any other access equipment that is a daily necessity. Many of us also travel with a personal assistant, so that’s two people making a journey instead of one.

Walking or cycling may be a no-no, and public transport still has a way to go on reliability and accessibility, so Motability vehicle numbers continue to rise.

Having said all that, we shouldn’t be or feel exempt from the ‘green’ conversation, as there are always small changes that we can make to make a difference, and as the world provides a much higher standard of accessible transport and facilities, more of us may be able to travel independently and ditch some of that bulky equipment.

FS – Jo, How has Unlimited’s approach to sustainability changed over the course of the programme?

JV – There has there been a shift but we are at the start of that shift. There are some things we have done for a long time, like recycling and reducing print, but travel has, I’m embarrassed to say, not been a huge part of that thinking previously. I think we’ve been single-issue-focussed but now, like everyone, we have to look at multiple issues and multiple solutions.

There has been a wider sectorial shift and I think working in partnership with our Unlimited allies and key delivery partners Artsadmin have been a big influence in developing our thinking – and practice.

Check out Artsadmin’s festival 2 Degrees, and Julie’s Bicycle’s The Season, aimed at provoking action on climate change in the cultural sector.

FS – Do you think the arts sector – and specifically disabled artists – have something to add to the ‘green’ debate?

JV – I think we are used to finding unique solutions to complex issues. We can bring a curiosity and inventiveness.

A lot of the tools we use for access reasons – and because we are a team working across multiple locations – also have green credentials. I frequently use Skype and Slack to communicate with people which reduces my travel substantially.

When I’m travelling I can’t carry piles of print material so often take information on USB sticks. This is also a great way of being able to tailor and target the information.

We are also starting to have a conversation with the artists we work with around these issues – adding a line into the Unlimited Core Values and Guidelines document which highlights our position on sustainability and asks artists to let us know how and when they consider the environment in the creation of their work.

We have been looking at how we can use livestreaming to showcase work, again as an access tool, for artists and audiences who can’t travel to see work but realise this also has huge benefits in terms of reducing travel.

We haven’t ‘cracked it’ yet and there are still considerations around how you get a parity of experience but it’s certainly something we are looking at closely.

Basically, we need to do more – we’ve begun looking more closely at our working practices and internally monitoring team travel. By building our awareness of how this travel impacts on the environment we hope to make more informed, ‘green’ choices that also have access at their core.

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