London Launches Ambitious and Comprehensive Green Theatre Plan

SAYING that “the power of the theater industry to set an example in the fight against climate change is immense,” the Mayor of London’s “Green Theatre: Taking Action on Climate Change” plan was launched on September 9th in partnership with industry leaders at the Professional Lighting and Sound Association (PLASA) annual conference, and represents a milestone of collaboration and innovation in providing theaters with the tools to green their planning and operations.

“Green Theatre”, an action plan for the theater industry, outlines the most practical and effective measures that can be taken to reduce energy use in buildings while also saving money on energy bills. The plan estimates that London’s theatre industry creates 50,000 tonnes (55,000 US tons) of carbon emissions per year – the equivalent of emissions from 9,000 homes. (That figure does not include carbon emissions from audience travel, which it estimates at 35,000 tonnes per year, or that from embedded carbon in materials waste.)  Given the trend of shows using more energy because of the lighting required to create ever more spectacular effects, that figure will only grow over time.  It concludes that if all actions recommended in the plan were taken, the industry could reduce carbon emissions by almost 60 per cent by 2025 – the equivalent of converting over 5,000 London homes to zero-carbon.

The Plan lists a number of benefits to going green, firstly by allowing theaters to lead the way by “showing our audiences and other theatre industries what is possible.”  It touts the energy and money that can be saved, noting that a simple step such as ensuring that stage lights are only turned on at half-hour would collectively save London theatres £100,000 a year in energy costs, and that such changes can be made “without sacrificing artistic integrity”.  Saying that “industries that get ahead of the game can not only better influence policy but reduce the pain of hasty compliance later on,” it encourages theaters to retrofit their spaces before government regulations for them to — a message that may well resonate with managers who have worked so hard to get up to speed with OSHA regulations.  Lastly, it asserts that going green will attract talent.

London Theatres Carbon FootprintMoira Sinclair, Executive Director, Arts Council England said: “We recognize the importance of this work in helping theaters to increase the efficiency of their business processes thereby reducing the industry’s carbon footprint while saving money and continuing to attract artists and audiences.  A program such as this demonstrates that the arts in England can lead internationally in responding to the pressures of climate change, moving beyond a duty of compliance with issues such as energy management, to a role of inspiration and influence much greater than that due to the industry’s size alone. That this leadership should emerge from London is of great encouragement to those artists and audiences that are drawn to this world city for its ability to innovate.”

An exhibition at the PLASA conference featured case studies of theaters that are already working to increase their sustainability, including the re-designed external lighting scheme at the National Theatre, the use of fuel-cell technology and low-energy lighting at the Arcola Theatre and the efforts being made by award-winning lighting designer Paule Constable to reconcile lighting design with carbon transparency.  It was complemented by a seminar program with speakers including Dr Ben Todd from the Arcola Theatre discussing his venue’s fuel cell, staff from the National Theatre discussing their change to ‘The Big Switch Off,’ dousing their moving light rig between shows, and a Technical Sustainability discussion forum hosted by theatre owners Ambassador Theatre Group and the Association of British Theatre Technicians.

Climate change is one of the recently-elected mayor’s key priorities, as it was with with his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, and today’s announcement builds on his commitment to reducing London’s carbon emissions by 60 percent by 2025. The Plan, compiled in close collaboration with a range of key stakeholders, offers practical advice to the industry on how emissions can be cut and includes a carbon calculator that can be used to identify areas of production that create the largest amount of emissions. Advice outlined in the plan includes identifying where changes need to be made, designating “green” responsibilities to staff, and writing “green” policies into contracts to ensure that suppliers are also helping to cut emissions.

The Plan also details a number of successful case studies such as a battery recycling scheme launched by the Mayor in partnership with WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), which helps London’s theaters start recycling their waste batteries.

Parties to the research for and creation of the plan, among others, included Arup, ETC, Martin Professional, Philips, PixelRange, White Light, British Equity, the Association of British Theatre Technicians, Ambassador Theatre Group, the Arcola Theatre, the National Theatre, LiveNation, and Selecon.

Simply put, the Plan is a wealth of resources, information, and ideas that can be used by theaters of all sizes, in all locations, of all budgets, to reduce their environmental footprints and save on energy costs.  In particular, the carbon calculator provided on the Theatres Trust website will be of use to theaters in exactly pinpointing the amount of greenhouse gases they emit, giving them the concrete knowledge of which actions or materials most affect the environment.

One of the Plan’s surprises was its calculation that only 9% of a theater’s energy usage comes from its stage lighting, compared to 35% from heating and cooling of the auditorium space and front of house and 28% from heating and cooling of rehearsal spaces.

Links:

Original press release

Stage Directions article

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