Dr Ben Twist, Director of the charity Creative Carbon Scotland, recently joined ECCI as a Visiting Researcher.
Originally from London, Ben had a successful 25-year career as a theatre director in Scotland, the UK and abroad. He completed an MSc in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh in 2010. He founded Creative Carbon Scotland in 2011 as he embarked on a PhD on creating systems change for sustainable practices.
We caught up with him in the ECCI café to talk about his work and its role in helping deliver a thriving zero carbon future.
Tell us about Creative Carbon Scotland.
I became conscious that the theatre scene wasn’t taking some of the big issues facing society seriously. And I feel strongly that artists have something new and profoundly relevant to offer.
So I did my MSc in Carbon Management in 2009/10 and in 2011, I formed Creative Carbon Scotland with support from the Federation of Scottish Theatre, the Scottish Contemporary Art Network and the Edinburgh Festivals.
We’ve gone from being a one-man band to having four full-time equivalent members of staff. We do carbon management for performing arts organisations. We provide audits and support them with mandatory carbon reporting, helping them report on their CO2 emissions and develop a carbon management plan.
We also focus on exploring the sector’s role in transforming our society to address climate change. This is a much bigger job – but a vital one, with benefits for both the arts and society as a whole.
How did your PhD fit into all this?
It was on the application of complexity theory to practice theory: is it possible to change complex social systems, such as communities or society as a whole, in order to bring about more sustainable practices as ‘emergent properties’ of those systems?
When it comes to sustainability, we often focus our effort on getting people to change their behaviour. But if you think of complex social systems, the behaviour is the outcome – it’s the result of a very long and ingrained process that individuals aren’t in a position to change. So you have to look to a higher level to change things.
It’s what informs my work on sustainability to this day.
Why have you chosen to work more closely with ECCI?
ECCI has been integral to our journey all along. We won ECCI’s Low Carbon Pioneer Award back in 2015, and we’ve always stayed in close contact around events and sharing ideas and contacts.
One of the things that both ECCI and Creative Carbon Scotland do is let people know that they are not alone in working on low carbon and sustainability. And here at ECCI you are surrounded by people with very good quality knowledge across lots of different sectors. It puts climate change on the map and provides clout.
I want Creative Carbon Scotland to be part of the academic and commercial community around climate change mitigation and adaptation.
One thing artists and cultural practitioners are very good at is collaborating - putting difficult combinations together. Increasingly, we want to put artists in touch with people in other spheres. We have things to offer and things to learn!
We are also working closely at the moment with [ECCI resident and partner] Sniffer on the project Cultural Adaptations, developing a methodology for cultural SMEs to develop their own adaptation strategies.
What can art offer in the drive to create a low carbon future?
Art expresses and reflects the current world and how we live our lives. It shapes the world – think how Hollywood exports a delectable vision of a high-carbon lifestyle across the globe! Therefore we need to use culture to change the world. And over 90 per cent of the population attend a cultural event each year. So it provides opportunities to challenge and ask questions.
The ways we are doing things at the moment to address climate change are good, but aren’t achieving sufficient lift-off. One of the things we’re offering is some different ideas. The climate changing world needs different ways of thinking and organisation. Art and artists have a number of qualities that help.
Artists are trained to think and research outside their field and to do public engagement. Being original and inventive is built in to their training and practice. They love complexity and contradiction, which are fundamental to the knotty problems in climate change
When we are short of ideas maybe asking artists is not a bad idea.”
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
The inspiration! It’s great to work with really great and interesting people, and in a fast-moving environment. I like change. And there’s an opportunity here to make a better world – I find that exciting.