Blog: Towards more sustainable exhibition practices at the Venice Art Biennale

Wooden box in front of a dark blue wooden wall.

The Venice Biennale organisation encourages its collaborators and participants to take ecological sustainability into account in their productions. However, the means and measures are left for each national pavilion to decide. Project Manager Ellinor Zetterberg writes in Frame’s blog, about how Frame advocates and implements sustainable exhibition practices in the Pavilion of Finland.

Over the years, the Venice Biennale has served as a platform to raise awareness about ecological and environmental issues through various exhibitions and events. However, it is only fairly recently that these concerns have been considered from the perspective of exhibition production. Although ecological sustainability has been gradually incorporated into the Biennale organisation’s infrastructures, there is still no official pledge or plan for the commissioning countries to follow in their national participation. This leaves the responsibility of following and ensuring sustainable exhibition practices for each pavilion to decide.

In the Fall of 2023, I participated in a sustainability workshop in Venice called Towards the Green Lion – a concept initiated by the national pavilions participating in the Venice Art and Architecture Biennales. The first gathering and workshop was organized in 2022 to share information and good practices – and create a common ground for sustainable exhibition-making among the commissioning countries. The workshop in 2023 continued this by showcasing examples of Co2-calculations, impactful actions, and critical discussion. The outcome, despite the good intentions and inspiring conversations, made the struggles of implementation uncomfortably visible. It raised questions of what are the responsibilities that we as commissioners share towards not only our organisations, but the city of Venice and the local community, and how do we communicate about them?

The Biennale organization proudly proclaims carbon neutrality in all its events since 2022 – a goal achieved through compensation and actions to reduce the harmful environmental impact. The Biennale encourages its collaborators and participants to take ecological sustainability into account in their productions, however, the means and measures are left for each national pavilion to decide. 

Bearing in mind the geographical, socio-economical, and political starting point of each partaking country, not to mention the versatility and scale of each project, no simple solution or rule applies to everyone. A common set of sustainability guidelines would nevertheless be a good starting point for everyone to follow, something that the Green Lion initiative is working on.

One of the challenges, especially for smaller organizations, is that sustainability and economy are still often counterparts when it comes to affordability. For many commissioners, the resources at hand dictate the framework for the production. Less means equals fewer alternatives which in turn might prolong the change towards more sustainable choices. This is part of a larger global shift toward sustainable production cycles, with environmentally sustainable options becoming the new norm and more affordable in the future.

Frame has been calculating the carbon footprint of its exhibition projects in the Art Biennale since 2019, and not unexpectedly, the largest part of the emissions comes from traveling. 84% of the Co2 emissions for Finland’s participation in the Venice Biennale 2019 were caused by travel (excluding audience travel). The Co2 calculations do not eliminate the impact an art event of this scale has on its environment, but help in identifying areas of improvement and generating comparable data for evaluation and development.

Smaller organisations, such as Frame, cannot use our limited resources to compensate for emissions, instead, we need to rely on adequate planning wise choices and prioritization. Frame has an environmental-pledge that we follow and implement in all our projects. For the upcoming Venice Biennale 2024 the ecological aspect was emphasized from the very beginning and a project-specific action plan was established for the first time. Sustainability was brought up with the entire creative team including artists, curators, and exhibition architect, already at the beginning of the project. The main focus is however not on the artworks, but rather on the production as a whole.

The concrete actions range from avoiding unnecessary travel to choices of exhibition materials and prioritizing local services in Venice. In the accreditation process, we encourage the audience to be mindful when traveling and consider options by land if possible – an alternative we also offer to our production and artistic teams. Achieving these goals requires prioritization, resources, and good planning. The entire action plan can be found at the end of this blog text.

As commissioners in a delicate city like Venice, we have a significant impact not only on environmental sustainability but also on social responsibility. We must recognize that as employers, we play a crucial role in the community. Instead of viewing ourselves as seasonal workers, we should take responsibility and engage actively in the Venetian community. We need to be mindful of our actions and contribute positively to the city’s well-being.

As we anticipate the release of unified sustainability guidelines from either the Green Lion or the Biennale organization, Frame remains committed to making progress towards more eco-friendly exhibition practices in Venice.

Pavilion of Finland at the Venice Art Biennale
Sustainability action plan


  1. Create sustainability standards with concrete actions for current and upcoming Venice productions  
  2. Gather data and identify areas of work where carbon emissions can be reduced
  3. Make sustainability a selection criteria alongside the budget 
  4. Advocate results and effective actions to peers and collaborators


  • determine parameters and scope of the process (i.e. entire production excl. Biennale audience)
  • sustainability aspect mentioned in the open calls and selection process
  • sustainability aspect discussed and mentioned in contracts with artist(s), curator(s) & exhibition architect(s) (e.g. avoid unnecessary traveling, and keep sustainability in mind when it comes to the choice of materials, circular economy, etc.)
  • update all data sheets and calculators for the current project 


  • when contacting collaborators and subcontractors include Frame’s *Eco-disclaimer
  • whenever possible prioritize local production and services 
  • prioritize sustainability alongside budget as a selection criteria
  • project manager and/or project coordinator gathers and fills in at least once a month the internal Venice Biennale emission database for the entire production including;
    • Travels and accommodation
    • artwork production and materials 
    • exhibition production and architectural elements
    • purchased services
    • meetings and events


  • reflect upon the process and outcome
  • identify and list areas of improvement 
  • consider redistributing the allocation of funds when budgeting upcoming editions; are there improvements that need more assets to be achievable?

– Ellinor Zetterberg

Project Manager, The Pavilion of Finland at the Venice Biennale

This blog is a platform for reflecting work, current issues and discussions in arts by Frame staff members and other contributors. This blogpost was published in English and Finnish.