Not Costing the Earth: Theatre & Environmental Sustainability

Not Costing the Earth: Theatre & Environmental Sustainability

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Date Published: 09 February 2020

by Will Reynolds, Artistic Director of Metta Theatre.

Are our organisations Carbon Literate? We face a Climate & Ecological Crisis, and we must feel it in our hearts as well as understand it in our minds.

Last year saw unprecedented flooding in the UK, something that is only going to happen more as our planet warms and weather becomes more extreme. In 2019, new research from Climate Central highlighted to me the direct impact this could have on our industry.

"Many theatres would flood… Southbank Centre, National Theatre, The Bridge"

The pink areas on the map below show where flooding is expected to hit every year in a ‘business as usual’ emissions scenario by 2050. Many major theatres would flood. To name just a few in London alone: The Globe, Old Vic, Young Vic, Chocolate Factory, Southbank Centre, National Theatre, The Bridge… the story will be similar all over the UK.

Coastal Central 5050 - flooding prediction map of the UK in a business as usual scenario

Touring makes us incredibly vulnerable to extreme weather. Just a couple of years ago the ‘Beast from the East’ came close to stopping one of Metta Theatre's tours from getting started, as the truck carrying our Circus Little Mermaid pushed through heavy snow to Theatre By The Lake. And hotter summers? We all know audience numbers drop when the sun shines and BBQs come out...

This Crisis demands major changes to the way our society lives, works & plays. And what better way to shape, question & support that culture-change than through the arts? Our influence and ability to bring about culture change is enormous.

Not every show needs to be about climate breakdown. But perhaps we do need to model on stage what our future world might look like, what we might like it to look like. As the climate crisis becomes ever more present in audience’s lives the expectation of dealing with it in their arts will only grow.

We keep being told that we can’t continue with ‘business as usual’, so how do make our business unusual? What must our business models look like for this new world?

Metta has formed several exciting new partnerships recently, directly because we started conversations about sustainability. Society tends to put the arts on a moral pedestal; people will soon notice if we're dragging our feet, and there is already huge public demand for radical action.  70% of those polled by the Independent back a much more ambitious net zero target of 2030.

"The ACE report shows £16.5 million saved over the last 7 years by NPO's deploying energy saving measures"


The Business Case for Emissions Reductions

There's a moral case for emissions reductions which I hope is obvious when you see fires tear across Australia; when hurricanes strike Mozambique, or North America, or the Bahamas.

But there’s a simple business case for reducing our emissions too - we need to be resilient to prosper in a more extreme climate.

  • Regular ACE funding is already dependant on environmental reporting and policy, and their annual environmental reports tell us of environmental engagement playing a strong part in helping to access other funding.
  • Many emissions reductions come from simple efficiencies, and using resources more efficiently generally saves money. The same ACE report shows £16.5 million saved over the last 7 years by NPO's deploying energy saving measures which have brought 35% emissions reductions.

Staying ahead of the curve

  • Legislation - We need to look at our operations now, so that we don't get left behind when government policy ramps up and big changes to our economy happen.
  • Technology - Renewables are already outpricing fossil fuels. Landfill will become more difficult, and therefore expensive, as we move towards a more circular economy. It never pays to be playing catch up with technology.
  • Organisational improvement - ACE reports that ‘environmental practice and carbon literacy are being linked to improvements in other organisational priorities, including team morale and strategic decision-making’.

Science based targets

All ACE funded NPO's must have an Environmental Action Plan. I would go further, and say that we must all put a plan in place, and that those plans must include Science Based Targets to reduce our emissions in line with the IPCC's special 1.5ºC report, i.e. at least 50% reductions by 2030, reaching zero by 2050.

What can be done apart from work on stage raising the issue?  

  • Visible actions, like removing plastic cups from the bar, planting gardens, beehives on the roof, are often not really that hard, can be artistic acts themselves, and are great conversation starters.
  • Publishing your carbon footprint, and how you're reducing it, engages your audience with your core values.
  • Share and collaborate with partners and encourage other artists to engage.
  • Highlight local initiatives and support local groups with space for meetings and events.

Join A Movement                                                                          

To finish off, I want to make a plea - a plea to take action, to make your organisation more resilient, to set science-based targets, to talk about the crisis and your efforts against it.

Culture Declares Emergency logo.jpg

And a plea to do it together: Cultures Declares Emergency has given us an easy way to work together, to share the burden, and to be bold. Check them out, join the declaration, and start taking action!

You can read an extended version of this article here on Metta Theatre's website. 

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