Working life | ‘Devoting a full-time role to sustainability enables conversations to happen’ - Museums Association

Working life | ‘Devoting a full-time role to sustainability enables conversations to happen’

Feimatta Conteh on her position as environmental sustainability manager for Manchester International Festival
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Feimattah Conteh is the sustainability manager at Manchester International Festival
Feimattah Conteh is the sustainability manager at Manchester International Festival Rebecca Lupton

Manchester International Festival (MIF) is transitioning from a biennial event to a year-round programme in a purpose-built venue called the Factory – Feimatta Conteh discusses the challenges of making a sustainability plan for this arts organisation.

What was first on the sustainability agenda when you started in 2020?

The first thing I did was develop an environmental sustainability policy. I went through a rigorous process to set it – aligning our ambitions with global, national, regional and local targets. Our ambitions align with the Paris Accords, as well as with UN Sustainable Development Goals, because I think it’s important that sustainability is not just about the environment, but also about finance and our society.

Our policy goals cover all of that. It’s really helpful to have an overarching strategic framework to feed our action plan. To help us progress, I lead a sustainability working group with representatives from all departments to embed environmental sustainability into all areas of our work, from engagement to touring and producing.

How has your role changed?

Devoting a full-time role to sustainability demonstrates MIF’s commitment, and it also enables more conversations to happen around sustainability. It really has manifested itself more in people’s minds. Recently, a festival volunteer asked me what suppliers we used for our lanyards. Now that people know there’s a person dedicated to sustainability here, they have questions to ask.

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How did you make MIF21 more sustainable?

As many creative decisions for the festival had already been made when I started, I focused on materials. I had a trainee working with me for six months, so we worked out where we could acquire and donate items, where to source them from and, most importantly, what to do with them afterwards. We reused and recycled almost everything, including 95% of our sets and props, and procured locally-manufactured Covid face masks that were 100% compostable.

Was there a stand-out sustainable artwork?

One of the artworks was Big Ben Lying Down with Political Books, by the Argentinian artist Marta Minujín. It was a half-scale model of Big Ben lying on its side created from 20,000 donated books installed in one of the biggest public spaces in Manchester. We worked with a manufacturer to use a recycled polymer for wrapping that had a 30% recycled content, and they recycled it afterwards too.

How are you preparing for the transition to a year-round venue?

We’ve set a business plan objective for the Factory, which is to make it “an extraordinary building for environmental sustainability, and communicate that to audiences in a way that inspires them to think more sustainably”. That’s the goal, but logistically the first thing we’ll need to do when we move is to measure our operational carbon footprint. And then plot a realistic path to net zero, with an ambition to get there by 2030.

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