The rationale for making environmental sustainability a strategic priority, and the resources to help do it, are all available now. It’s time to take action, says Sholeh Johnson

Photo of The Sage Gateshead

The decision by Arts Council England to require environmental policies and action plans from its National Portfolio Organisations by 2013 shows that environmental sustainability is no longer just a moral imperative or a practical consideration when making work about environmental issues, but is now recognised as a business critical issue.

Proven cost savings go hand in hand with sound environmental management. Lovebox Festival reduced its energy use by 33% in 2010, making considerable savings; the National Theatre’s switch to LED bulbs for its external teletext screen in 2009 saves 60% per year on energy costs; and the Theatre Royal Plymouth has saved £10,000 through water-saving initiatives. Many creative solutions have been found: theatre designer Donyale Werle saved over £22,000 on set and costume design materials for the New York production, ‘Peter and the Starcatcher,’ by repurposing materials from a range of sources, and UK initiatives, such as, a Freecycle website for materials and props, have the potential for similar savings on this side of the pond. Overall, organisations that worked with Julie’s Bicycle between 2008 and 2010 collectively saved more than £1m by reducing energy use, and over the next three years, the music, theatre and visual arts sectors alone could save £35m using the same efficiency measures.

So, solutions are already tested and available, and achieving wider uptake is the critical next step. A good example of ‘people power’ is at The Sage Gateshead. The music venue has been reducing its environmental impact since 2007 with a dedicated Green Team, with General Director Anthony Sargent driving the action. All staff are engaged in carbon reduction through participatory initiatives such as the ‘Switch it Off’ campaign for electrical appliances, ‘No Lift Day’ and ‘Leave the Car at Home’.

A collaborative leadership model for change, developed by Julie’s Bicycle, is bringing together industry leaders, staff and suppliers from across the subsidised and commercial arts to share knowledge, shape strategy and support a shift towards low carbon business practices across the whole supply chain. Together with over 350 music, theatre and creative organisations across the UK and internationally, we’re envisioning a low carbon arts sector fit for the future in terms of energy mix, transportation facilities, artistic output, business imperatives and societal values. Take energy mix as an example: Frieze Art Fair is now powered by 100% waste vegetable oil biodiesel generators, reducing its environmental impacts and enabling it to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels without needing to change or downsize the Fair.

Looking at industry supply chain relationships has also led to new ideas for communicating and incentivising environmental action. The Julie’s Bicycle ‘Green Rider’ has been drawn up to help artists and touring companies communicate to venues and festivals what they can do to ‘green’ their performance, such as switching off lights and equipment, providing recycling and compost bins, raising audience awareness of public transport options and catering with more locally sourced food. The concept is simple: if more artists and companies demand commitment from venues and festivals, the more environmental action we’ll see in the live sector. Likewise, many festivals have started making environmental sustainability a contractual requirement with suppliers and concession traders.

Practical tools to aid organisations are the Industry Green (IG) environmental certification; our online ‘IG Tools’ which enable venues, festivals, offices, tours and (coming soon) individual productions to measure their carbon emissions; and the top tips for environmental action on our website. The IG certification and IG Tools also provide us with invaluable data that we are using to develop industry benchmarks and track overall improvements across the creative industries over time.

Better Batteries

The Better Batteries campaign brings the music and theatre industries together in a drive to switch over to rechargeable battery systems and increase the rate of recycling for both disposable and rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable batteries have 32-times less impact on the environment than disposables throughout their lifecycle: they put less pressure on natural resources, create less pollution in the manufacturing process and less waste and lower carbon emissions from transport and distribution. Recycling batteries at the end of their life reuses finite natural resources and prevents the release of harmful chemicals such as lead, mercury or cadmium. In practical terms, the reliability of rechargeable battery systems is proven and cost savings can be made. The company of ‘Wicked’ on Broadway has been using rechargeables since 2008, and they’re saving over £2,600 per year. ‘Wicked’ at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, London, has been using rechargeable batteries since June 2011 – they’ve already saved over £500.

Better Batteries aims to get at least 100 venues and individual companies to make the switch in 2012 – find out more and sign up at

Julie’s Bicycle is able to offer free environmental support for London-based organisations through the Creative Futures Programme before March 2012. Those outside of London still have free access to online resources and the IG Tools. E w

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