A culture of cycles. The cultural sector as a learning environment for climate protection, resource conservation, and the circular economy

Project description

The transformation to a sustainable society requires fundamental changes in the way we use natural resources. The concept of the circular economy or circular society is a promising approach to reducing resource consumption by closing material cycles. However, its implementation is a technical, regulatory, and cultural challenge. This is because current worldviews, interpretations, perceptions, relationships, and attitudes have developed within unsustainable lifestyles and stabilize and perpetuate them. The cultural dimension is therefore a profound obstacle to the transformation to a sustainable society, but also a particularly powerful lever. The expertise of artists and cultural practitioners in shaping a new culture of sustainability is increasingly recognized as relevant. However, there is little conceptualization of what their contribution is and how the institutionalized cultural sector can dynamize cultural change in society as a whole. The research project addresses this gap and aims to contribute to harnessing the genuine creative expertise of cultural sector practitioners for cultural sustainability transformation.

Like all other social subsystems, the cultural sector is strongly characterized by unsustainable practices and has developed aesthetics based on them. These practices are currently being challenged as the cultural sector is increasingly called upon to change its resource-intensive operating processes. In Germany, for example, a CO2 standard developed specifically for the cultural sector has been in place since 2023, which is intended to serve as a guide for technical sustainability assessment. Implementing this means both an immense organizational challenge for cultural institutions and a questioning of their usual ways of producing and communicating culture. The research project analyzes this context and examines the consequences of technical sustainability assessment for the practices of artistic actors in cultural institutions and how aesthetic forms of expression are changing as a result. It will provide insights into their self-understanding and identify obstacles, drivers, and starting points for transforming established logics of action.

CO2 assessment according to the cultural standard covers the entire operational ecological spectrum. It is therefore suitable for an overall view and strategic orientation, but not for fine-grained analysis and control of specific parts of the business. In the field of exhibition design, however, there is a great need for tools to record and control material flows. There is a lack of both technical information on the environmental impact of the raw materials used and management software to monitor them. This is where the research project comes in. In collaboration with a cultural institution and in co-design with exhibition designers, it develops a set of assessment and monitoring tools that transfer the materials knowledge and evaluation methods of the circular economy into the context of exhibition design. The focus is on the specific expertise of exhibition designers in translating (raw) materials into aesthetically coherent arrangements (exhibition displays). The aim is to combine the recording and evaluation of material flows with artistic expertise in a transdisciplinary transformation experiment. The outcome will be a prototype of a tool to assist exhibition designers in realizing material reductions and developing genuine aesthetic forms of expression for sustainable cultural creation. The results of the transformation experiment should serve as a valid basis for actors in the cultural sector for their own sustainability transformation and provide a perspective on how the cultural sector can act as a learning environment for climate protection, resource conservation, and circular economy.

Administrative data

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Armin Grunwald
Advisor: Prof. Dr. Mario Schmidt (FH Pforzheim)
Doctoral students at ITAS: see Doctoral studies at ITAS


Wanda Wieczorek, M.A.
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-26058