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Building refurbishments must be prioritised for the sector to reach its net zero targets, but a lack of funding remains a major obstacle. 

Tottenham Palace Theatre
Tottenham Palace Theatre was added to Theatre Trust's Theatres at Risk list in 2019

Jim Osley

More than £1.1bn is needed to make 100 of the UK’s theatre buildings more sustainable and suitable for modern audiences.

Research commissioned by the Theatres Trust estimates the cost of making a single 600-seat theatre fully sustainable and accessible at £11m – 205 theatres across the country have between 400 and 800 seat capacity.

The study, which compares the current condition of the UK’s theatres against the price of recent refurbishments, was presented at the advisory body’s latest conference, Making Theatres Sustainable. 


Julie’s Bicycle CEO Alison Tickell said there the Government has limited the cultural sector’s ability to make sustainable progress by failing to link cultural and environmental policy.

“Culture can do so much. We are already doing so much, but we need support with resources.”

Maintenance issues are prevalent across the arts, with many organisations having inherited ageing historic buildings. A DCMS fund for museum works is £100m smaller than first pledged and massively oversubscribed, whilst 31 theatres are considered ‘at risk’ by the Theatres Trust due to their ailing condition.

The trust says investing £1.1bn across 100 theatres would save 6,500 tonnes in CO2 annually – the equivalent of 9,700 return economy-class flights from London to New York.

The estimated revenue savings total £3.3m, meaning each theatre could save an average of £33,000 through energy use reductions.

Theatre Trust Interim Chair Paddy Dillon believes the future of UK’s theatre sector depends on making its buildings environmentally fit.

“This shows the scale of the task we face in equipping our theatres for the climate emergency. It’s essential we work together to find solutions to this urgent challenge.”

Financial obstacles

Finance is the biggest barrier to improving theatres’ carbon footprint, according to consultancy firm Buro Happold. 

In a survey of 112 theatres, 96 (86%) said financial restrictions were a major obstacle, a figure that increases to 92% amongst historic theatres.

The next biggest contributing factors – listed building consent, impact on operations and a lack of knowledge – were cited by less than half of respondents.

Financial hurdles mean a quarter of theatres have not made any green improvements to their buildings in the past 15 years.

Prioritising building refurbishments over new builds will be necessary for the industry to meet net zero targets, according to architecture firm Bennetts Associates.

It found it takes at least 30 years before the carbon emissions caused by building and operating a new theatre equal less than those of existing theatres over the same period. Emissions from refurbishing an existing builing lessen after 15 years. 

The firm says its data shows that carbon created through construction needs to be addressed alongside reducing operational carbon emissions.

Green Book

Theatres must focus on wasting less energy, improving service systems and using renewable energy sources, according to the Theatres Trust.

Its Theatre Green Book offers practical guidance for increasing sustainability, generating investment for green upgrades and prioritising the most effective works. 

The new edition follows the first volume released in April, which concentrated on removing unstainable material from set designs, reusing props and eliminating waste in costuming. 

Theatres Trust Director Jon Morgan says the industry has embraced the project. More than 50 UK theatres have committed to follow the advice.

“Funding this vital work is the major hurdle, a problem that has been made even more challenging by the pandemic, but [the Green Book] will help theatres focus their resources on the most impactful works.”