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How to green your theatre

Where to start when deciding to make a theatre environmentally conscious? There are plenty of places on the web to get help. Kellie Gutman investigates.

'Arts Energy' was an initiative of John Hartley when he was at the Arts Council England, and taken over now by Julie's Bicycle.

Arts Energy offers a toolkit to arts' groups to help them self-assess energy usage and manage their practices. It also allows groups to track their energy usage over time, identify energy reduction measures and develop action plans.

Gideon Banner’s website Green Theaters Initiative, has a large number of articles on what is happening in the green theatre world. The ‘steps to take’ piece has ideas from hanging laundry to dry – to new ‘building green’ construction.
'Were I to run a theatre,' writes our associate editor Kellie Gutman, 'here's how I'd go about greening it up':

I'd start by reading Greening up Our Houses: A Guide to a More Ecologically Sound Theatre by Larry K. Fried and Theresa May, followed by Easy Eco Auditing by Donnachadh McCarthy. With those under my belt, I'd calculate my carbon footprint here.

Next, I'd check out the Sustrans website to find guidebooks and route maps on how to cycle or walk to work. If the theatre was in London, I'd go to the Transport for London website to plan my journey and order free London Cycle Guides. I'd encourage all staff, actors and theatre goers to do the same. If no safe route existed, I'd ask them to use public transportation instead.

The office would be as paper-free as possible, including doing all billing through emails; all payments through online banking services or wire transfers, all staff notices through email and asking recipients not to print out messages unless necessary. Paper used in the office, and for programs, would be sourced from companies providing the highest percentage of recycled content.

Office equipment that was no longer in use - monitors, photocopiers, TVs - as well as toner cartridges would go to New Leaf Recycling. For my office paper recycling I'd use The Laundry; for metals, plastic and cardboard I'd use Loop Recycling. My fluorescent lights would be recycled through Lampcare. My batteries through G & P Recycling.

In the office, large cathode ray computer monitors would be switched to more-efficient flat screens, computers would be turned off at night, and set to sleep during the day when not in use; all other office equipment would be switched off at night, as well as all lights. During the day, room lights would remain off when no one was present.

Electrical use would be reduced by replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, and stage lighting would be changed to try to use as little wattage as possible. I'd check out the Arcola Energy Blog for help in working out the lighting issues.

Should space and orientation permit it, solar panels would be installed for electricity and hot water. Again, if in London, I'd consult the Mayor of London's solar initiative website Solar for London. I would also look at the Urban Wind Energy website to see if a wind energy solution was viable for my urban setting. Tap water, not bottled water, would be available for drinking, and all staff would have their own washable, reusable glasses, mugs, or bottles to drink from.

Sets would be sourced for sustainable materials; they'd be re-used as much as possible, or donated to other theatre groups. Costumes would also be recycled into future productions or made from recycled materials with the help of Lawrence Barry & Company. In some instances, instead of making costumes and buying props, we'd rent them from the National Theatre's Hire Shop.

In the cleaning department, clothes-lines would replace the clothes dryer as often as possible. On-site showers would have low-flow showerheads installed. All toilets would be ultra-low water flow rated. I'd go to the Green Consumer Guide website to learn about environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and paints, office supplies and other green office issues.

And to cap it off, I'd hire writers to write new works about green issues, which would be produced and staged in this greenest of theatres.

There are tips here that any theatre could introduce to lessen their energy use. He also includes an essay entitled ‘Why Go Green?'.

The Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company, based in California, lists the ways they intend to go green at Green Mo`olelo. Their categories are: the 3 R’s – recycling, reuse and reduce, transportation, energy efficiency, waste management, water efficiency, and community awareness.

Mo`olelo publish a Green Theatre Choices Toolkit, with information to help the theatre industry make choices that will cause less long-term environmental damage.

The pdf of the report, listing the pros and cons of materials used in theatre production, is downloadable here.

Over at Mike Lawler's EcoTheater he writes about what is going on in green theatre productions, companies and buildings.

A very informative site for everything that has to do with sustainability is Ian Garrett's Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts. This online resource center, located in Southern California, gathers articles and news from many websites (including the Ashden Directory) in order to spread the word to the broadest audience possible.

For an online calculator to assess carbon emissions, go to the Carbon Me website. This organization helps businesses to be more environmentally friendly and it offers carbon offsets in the form of tree plantings.

The Centre for Alternative Technology offers practical solutions to environmental problems. Their website features a free information service with dozens of information sheets on such topics as environmental building, reducing our transport impact, swap shops or freecycling, green electricity through the grid, 'is zero waste really possible?', and sheep’s wool insulation. If you can’t find the answers you are looking for, they offer an online query form.

The Carbon Trust is a private company set up by the government in 2001. It has as its mission “to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy.” They do so by working with organisations to help them reduce their carbon emissions. They also work with businesses to help develop commercial low carbon technologies. Theatres can go online to use their carbon footprint calculators. Larger organisations, with annual energy bills of £50,000 or more can register online to get a free onsite carbon survey.

Some theatres have integrated solar and wind energy technologies into their physical plants. A good description of these and other technologies can be found on the Ashden Awards site in their ‘sustainable energy knowledge centre’.

Greening a theatre can be accomplished. There are a host of ideas and resources available to learn how to do it, and not all of them require additional funding. Some of them may even save money. It is up to each theatre to decide what steps it wants to take.

published in 2008

Greening-up suggestions

Green Theaters Initiative

Green Mo`olelo


Help with green audits

Friends of the Earth Isle of Man

English Tourism Council

Carbon Me emissions calculator


Alternative energy information

The Center for Alternative Technology

The Carbon Trust

The Ashden Awards


Books to get you started

Greening up Our Houses: A Guide to a More Ecologically Sound Theatre

Easy Eco Auditing

Saving the Planet Without Costing the Earth

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