It is clear that our world is changing, and fast, due to human activity and the release of carbon into our atmosphere. Simon Curtis (Head of Production at the Royal Exchange and Chair of Manchester Arts Sustainability Team) talks about how we're trying to change our practice to reduce our carbon contribution.

In 2018, Manchester was the first district in Greater Manchester to adopt new science-based targets in relation to mitigating climate change. Those targets brought forward a deadline to become zero carbon by 12 years from 2050 to 2038.

So, what is the Royal Exchange Theatre doing and how are we changing our practice to make sure we play our full part in achieving this target, and behaving responsibly in our natural world? I wanted to share with you some of our ongoing work and how it will feature in LIGHT FALLS.

As you walk into our building you will see that much of our lighting in our public spaces are now LED rather than tungsten. This, combined with some work we have done in our Studio theatre and rehearsal spaces, as well as a unit called a voltage optimiser, has helped us reduce our electricity use in the building by nearly half since 2006. This has saved us hundreds and thousands of pounds since we began work on it in 2008.

You will see that there are places you can recycle in the Hall and we send all food waste to compost - recently we changed our waste contractor to ensure that none goes to landfill. We continue to replace our equipment with low energy versions.

You can see this on stage, or rather you can’t, as we mix tungsten and LED and the advancement in technology means you often don’t see the difference. We are controlling our buildings more closely to save the energy used on heat and light.

We regularly reuse items we previously made and recycle materials, props and costumes from one production to another. We are fortunate to have a large store of things we have bought and made in the last 40 years.

SeagullHouseNewsItem1 800x400px

Some of the timber (which we always ensure comes from sustainable sources known as FSC approved) was last on stage in July for THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT. We construct the sets in such a way that they can be taken apart easily, helping us to reuse items and maximise the opportunity for recycling. For the materials we won’t reuse we work with a local scenery recycling company called Stockyard North. We also consider the impact of materials that are inherently unable to be recycled or reused and going forward you will see much less of them on our stages.

For LIGHT FALLS we have been exploring how we source our costumes more ethically and don’t support the parts of the fashion industry that are causing significant environmental and social damage. This means that we choose more carefully where we buy things, consider the material and its ability to be recycled, as well as how and where it is produced. We are also looking at how we can better maintain the costumes, using less chemicals and our methods of drying.

We also think about how we travel and mostly use public transport - did you know that the Metrolink runs on renewable energy? We also regularly use video conferencing rather than travelling to meetings. We choose to cater some events with vegetarian and vegan food as meat production contributes huge amounts of carbon. Our cafe and restaurant have great tasting meat free meals.

We have successfully been reducing our carbon contribution for 12 years, but we have, like our City, much further to go. We intend to move away from single use and reduce plastic. We are planning to replace our vehicles with hybrid or entirely electric versions as soon as we can. We are also taking part in a city project that will help us understand what we need to do to our buildings so we can move away from using gas to heat them, reduce energy consumption further, and move to genuinely renewable energy. In the meantime, we are working with Arts Council England on their Spotlight Project to reduce energy consumption across the next two years.

We will be working with our staff and volunteers to ensure that we are all making the best choices going forward and fully interrogating our practice to ensure it is appropriate going forward.

However, we haven’t done this alone. We belong to a network of 35 cultural organisations in Greater Manchester who have been working on this since 2011. We have also chaired this group since 2015. The network is called MAST and you can read about it at www.manchesterclimate.com.

We are a part of a pioneer sector working with our city to produce the culture sector’s first action plan to take us towards zero carbon and this will be published in 2020. We are also helping to lead the C-Change project, which sees Manchester share the cultural sector’s unique good practice with five other European cities. We’ve had a huge amount of support from an agency called Julie’s Bicycle, and you can find out about them at www.juliesbicycle.com.

What can we all do to make a difference?

- Choose public transport as much as we can
- Eat more vegetables
- Decline single use items
- Use less water
- Turn electrical things off and change our supply to renewable energy
- Insist our politicians do more to act quickly
- And if you see something you think we could change in our building or that need to think about then please get in touch.


Image 1: Annual average temperatures for GLOBE from 1850 - 2018 using data from UK Met Office. Graphics and Lead Scientist Ed Hawkins.

Image 2: Royal Exchange Props & Costume Store