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Easier Being Green: Arts Organizations Taking Steps to More Ecofriendly Practices

It’s a sign of the changing times: a commitment to a greener lifestyle is no longer just evidenced by a full recycling bin. All over the country, arts organizations are implementing more rigorous energy practices and decreasing their carbon footprint. Increased environmental awareness is everyone’s responsibility, and arts organizations large and small are taking steps to be more sustainable. Some of these changes—and the investments to make them happen—are big, but so is the effect these measures have on the environment and the potential effect they have on the bottom line.

Five years ago, the Shotgun Players’ paid $140,000 to cover the roof of their Ashby Stage in solar panels. For an organization that had a $400,000 annual budget at the time and only qualified for $40,000 rebate from the state of California, this was no small price to pay, but this initial expense was part of a longer-term vision. By drastically reducing the theater’s natural gas consumption, the solar panels provide $10,000 savings in energy costs annually, and over time, these savings really add up. Funds formerly monopolized by facilities overhead can now be allocated towards actor compensation. Better yet, when it comes to contributing to healthier world, the Shotgun Players know that are playing their part.

Theater ligths at nightBig changes can lead to big environmental gains, but going green doesn’t require a drastic investment like the Shotgun Players'. Over the last five years, the Broadway Green Alliance (BGA) has been turning the Great White Way green by encouraging simple, low-cost energy efficient practices for nearly all Broadway productions. With insight from the BGA, Broadway theaters have identified small, low tech changes that add up to a huge sustainable benefit.

For example, simply replacing Broadway theater marquees with 10,000 energy efficient light bulbs has saved 700 tons of carbon emissions. Even the tiny decision to use rechargeable batteries in productions prevents thousands of toxic waste-filled batteries from ending up in landfills.The Broadway musical Wicked used to consume 38 batteries for each performance. Now it only uses 96 rechargeable batteries a year!

This year, the BGA has partnered with the National Resources Defense Council to launch its online Theatre Greening Advisor, the most comprehensive database of greening practices for theater available. With this resource, theaters all over the country, from college campuses to regional production houses can learn about environmentally preferable options in scenic design, lighting, recycling, and water conservation.

Ballet dancers feetIt’s not only the theater industry that is taking responsibility for implementing green practices. The dance world is making progress in leaps and bounds to reduce its consumption. (Perhaps we could say their carbon footprint is shrinking to a pointe shoe print?) Dance Exchange of Maryland has charted the way with this work by making sustainable choices in its studios, education programs, and offices.The organization wrote an article encouraging its fellow dance companies to “take flexibility beyond the studio and stage, and find your role in the dance ecosystem.” Citing trailblazers like The Center for Performance Research (CPR) in Brooklyn, N.Y. for big contributions in the form of their a LEED-certified building, the article also underscores how smaller adjustments can make a big impact. The Music Center at Strathmore in Maryland, for example, has moved to cloud-based technology, drastically reducing paper waste. Misnomer Dance’s decision to livestream performances cuts down on emissions from audience travel.

These kinds of actions are gradually making arts organizations a megaphone for more responsible consumption. Working from within, there are myriad ways we can reorient our work to be more environmentally conscious. Beyond our own practices, we can encourage our audiences to be greener too by recycling paper programs and using public transportation, or walking or biking to the show. It’s actually pretty easy being green.

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