Theatres committing to going green

16th June 2021

Climate change and sustainability is at the forefront of most of our minds, particularly after the G7 Summit over the weekend; but it has been a topic of conversation within the theatre industry for some time. 

Theatres have a huge impact on the environment – from the sound and lighting, staging, costumes, paperwork, touring productions and more. Everyone who manages a theatre and those who work in them, need to play their part in reducing the carbon footprint and create a sustainable future for our industry. 

An initiative that was instigated during lockdown by Theatres Trust, Buro Happold and the Association of British Theatre Technicians, is The Theatre Green Book.

The Green Book is the result of a number of theatre-makers and sustainability experts coming together to create a common standard that makes sustainability a priority within theatre.

Already backed by several leading theatres, including the National theatres (London, Scotland and Wales), Royal Opera House, London’s Old Vic and Royal Court in London, the Green Book has them adopting its policies and standards for all forthcoming productions. 

NT joint chief executive Lisa Burger said in The Stage recently: "The National Theatre is continuing to make its work as sustainable as possible by committing to adopting the baseline principles of the Theatre Green Book for all productions over the next 12 months".

All theatre-makers are encouraged to start working with the Green Book as they plan re-opening shows later this year.

There will be three volumes to the Green Book:
  1. Sustainable Productions
  2. Sustainable Theatre Buildings
  3. Sustainable Operations (e.g. catering and front of house)

Only volume one is currently available. Volume two will be available this summer and Volume three will be available in the autumn. So, keep your eyes peeled. 

Other arts and culture sustainability initiatives have been running for many years, such as Julie’s Bicycle and Staging Change. Both of which have had a great deal of input into The Theatre Green Book.

Founded in 2007 by the music industry, Julie’s Bicycle soon found traction when they joined forces with Arts Council England in 2012 and pioneered a policy intervention, which led to the Arts Council becoming ‘the first cultural body to make environmental reporting and policy part of funding agreements for National Portfolio organisations.’ Through this policy, in just nine years these businesses have ‘reduced energy consumption by 23% and made savings of £16.5 million.’ Wow!

Staging Change was set up in 2019 by actor and sound designer Alice Boyd, and it is a network of over 250 artists, theatres and shows who are passionate about reducing the impact of our industry and responding to the climate crisis together. Its mission is ‘Creating an industry with a small footprint, but a big impact.’

There are some great projects and schemes taking shape within our industry and it is incredible to see so many theatres coming on board. 

Already a trailblazer in sustainability projects and aiming to be the ‘world’s first carbon neutral theatre’, the Arcola Theatre in East London has reduced their carbon footprint by 25% over the last 11 years. They have set up Arcola Energy, which specialises in zero-emission solutions for vehicles, plus at the theatre they have installed solar panels and LED lighting, 90% of their bar products come from within a 4-mile radius of the theatre, and they encourage their audience to walk to the venue or use public transport. Find out more here.

Other ways that theatres are already responding to the climate emergency, include:

Local theatre, Oxford Playhouse has signed up to The Theatre Green Book and is beta testing Volume 2 (sustainable productions) and working with Buro Happold, sustainability experts, to develop a five-year plan to “de-carbonise our building and trial recommendations.”

The Bush Theatre has installed solar panels, LED lighting, new insulation and more, and between 2015/16 and 2018/19 energy usage decreased by 54%.  Read more here!

See, it can be done. We’re not all going to get it right first time, but these policies and procedures will help us make the step in the right direction. We need to make sure we all have sustainability at the heart of all we do.  If we work together, we can set about radically reforming the industry. It is the responsibility of us all and it’s time to start doing something about it. It is time for change.