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Sustainability in the visual arts

“The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them.” ~ Paul Hawken

The thorny issue of sustainability is of fundamental importance across the visual arts as designers, makers and artists seek to adopt more environmentally friendly practices. Discover the practical solutions and ethical approaches employed by practitioners in order to meet the challenges of creating a more sustainable, circular economy across disciplines.

American enviromental and conceptual artist Agnes Denes stands in her latest installation, a two-acre wheat field entitled 'Wheatfield--A Confrontation'

Landscape activism – the art of change

The types of activism that come to mind when considering ways to provoke action and tackle sustainability issues may not immediately include landscape art. Social, environmental and political activist pieces which use or engage with the landscape can however be some of the most powerful catalysts for inspiring critical thought and connection with the environment. Explore evocative examples of land art, and the fine line between pastiche and the profound in these works.

Earthship Brighton - an experimental, self-sufficient, low-carbon, off-grid building, Basic construction from rubbish - used car tyres

Sustainable interiors – making space for the future

How do we make best use of existing space? ‘Reduce/Reuse/Recycle’ is especially relevant to interior architecture, as the reuse of existing buildings to accommodate new use constitutes a very sustainable approach. Find out more about confronting the overall lifecycle of a building and explore fascinating examples of sustainable adaptation, reuse, and green design as well as the practical processes which underpin them.

Overhead still life of reusable and paper bags and glasses

The ‘S’ Word – beyond fabric bags!

When it comes to balancing human progress and environmental needs globally, the importance of nuanced, measurable models of sustainability cannot be underestimated. While on a more local level, the simplification of sustainability down to more digestible, single-issue concepts - such as reducing carrier bag usage - can cause individual complacency and even distract us from seeing the bigger picture. Read more about sustainable development; from the three pillars of sustainability, to why we might be overusing the ‘S’ word.

Graphic designers working in open plan office

Implementing sustainable practices and the role of the designer

Combining professional success in the design world with ethical beliefs can seem daunting when beginning your career. Breaking up the process into practical steps can be helpful for creating sustainable, low-impact practices in the workplace and within freelance work with clients. Take a closer look at frameworks and methodologies for adopting sustainable practices.


Apollo 8 view of earthrise over the moon

Landscape photography: powerful tool or aestheticization of issues?

Photography can arguably help people to visualise our changing physical landscape and understand the urgency of the environmental crisis - from the famous ‘Earthrise’ image taken from lunar orbit in 1968 which evoked Earth’s fragility, to the photographers exploring rising sea levels due to global warming. Explore photography’s potential to generate meaningful awareness but also to aestheticize the issues, so that the collective sense of urgency is eroded.

Japanese woman standing in a textile plant dye workshop, holding piece of bright yellow fabric.

The life cycle of a garment – sustainability for all seasons

Stella McCartney is known as one of the most ethically aware designers in fashion, incorporating sustainable principles into her use of materials and her business as a whole. She has also been a key figure in opening up a wider debate around sustainability in the design industry. Find out more about ways to apply sustainable strategies to each stage of a garment’s life cycle.

The featured content images on the home page show the Phoenix Earthship in Tres Piedras, Taos, New Mexico (the image on the left). Earthship structures are typically constructed using natural resources and are designed to facilitate ‘off-grid’ living with minimal use of fossil fuels and public utilities. (Photo by Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The second image to the right shows an example of a living wall on a building in São Paulo, Brazil. Alongside their benefits to the outside atmosphere, living walls also provide insulation to keep a building's inside temperature consistent (Photo by Nikada/ Getty Images)

Images above are courtesy of Getty Images.