Exclusive: Going green would save theatres £8m, claims report

Natalie Woolman

Savings worth £35 million can be made by theatre, music and visual arts over the next four years if the sectors reduce their energy use by 25% during that time, according to green arts organisation Julie’s Bicycle.

This includes £8 million savings in the theatre sector if it cuts its energy use by 8% to 10% year on year between 2011 and 2015. The figures are conservative estimates because they are based on today’s energy prices and do not take account of rising costs.

Sian Alexander, theatre associate director at Julie’s Bicycle, said the business case for reducing venues’ energy consumption is “compelling”.

Speaking to The Stage, she said: “It’s important that we let people know there is a compelling business case, alongside an ethical and moral one, in case that is what is holding anybody back.

“We are as interested in the health of our industry as anything else, and this is about making the industry sustainable in the future. This is one of those business-critical issues that needs to be tackled.”

Julie’s Bicycle insists that many of the savings can be achieved at little or no cost – through behavioural change within organisations and investments with short payback periods.

David Blyth, property director at the Ambassador Theatre Group – which is a member of Julie’s Bicycle UK Theatre Group – said he had seen the impact of small changes on energy expenditure when the company ran a pilot initiative at the company’s Piccadilly Theatre.

He said: “All our bars across the West End have bottle-cooling fridges which, to date, are on day and night, 24/7. Just switching them off after the show, using timers, and turning them on an hour before the next show does make an impact. We have also used things such as movement sensors within dressing rooms and backstage corridors because, with the best will in the world, performers leave dressings rooms and leave the lights on.

“We did an experiment at the Piccadilly Theatre and they did make a saving, even just carrying out those two simple things.”

The UK Theatre Group also includes the Really Useful Group, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre among its members.

Phil Brown, ATG’s group head of safety and environmental services, said Julie’s Bicycle’s work had been “invaluable” in bringing together the large theatre groups, as well as the smaller venues, to share best practice.

He said that one of the consequences of the forum might be West End theatres switching off their exterior lights earlier than they do currently.

Brown explained: “If we could get an industry agreement that we all switched our lights off at midnight, and that happened in all theatres in the West End, I think there would be huge savings. But I think one theatre company is reluctant to do it if the other theatre companies are not doing it, and that is the sort of thing that really needs joined-up thinking.”

The £35 million savings figure for the combined creative industries is based on an estimated energy spend of £370 million in theatre, music and visual arts between 2012 and 2015. This is the equivalent of 2.1 million tonnes of CO2. The research presumes that for every tonne of CO2 saved, the business will save £200.

The research is based on data provided by more than 300 companies which have been working with Julie’s Bicycle on carbon audits, the company’s Industry Green certification programme and its online tools. The figures include energy usage for buildings, festivals and touring.

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