Here you’ll find a not-quite comprehensive collection of my how-to posts on going green, including a look at the overall issues to consider, costumes, organizational policy, and tips for greening the office.
O V E R V I E W
The Critical Elements of Change (in no particular order):
(keep the word REDUCE in mind while scanning the following items)
1) The building —
The buildings that house the performing arts may be the most detrimental to the environment of all. According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), commercial buildings are responsible for 70% of the electricity load in the United States. Furthermore, the USGBC estimates that “if half of new commercial buildings were built to use 50% less energy, it would save over 6 million metric tons of CO2 annually for the life of the buildings—the equivalent of taking more than 1 million cars off the road every year.” Those numbers are staggering.
But remember, rebuilding from the ground up is not where you start. Efficiency and green building experts agree: starting with simple conservation methods are where it’s at. This means first contacting your local utility and asking for an energy audit. They probably won’t know how to think about your performance lighting and power usage, but they can certainly help take a look at other parts of your operation and provide some useful (to use a popular political term, actionable) information.
It may also be important to point out that LEED (or any other green) building certification doesn’t necessarily mean that a building excels in energy efficiency. Since LEED takes so many factors into account, giving the certification system a broad application potential, energy concerns may not be at the top of the list–a likely scenario for performing arts facilities. For true energy efficiency to be rated, organizations must turn to the U.S. government’s Energy Star program, which has devised a system for doing just that–and that’s all they do. They don’t care about where your site is, or the materials you used to construct it, or anything else. They will rate only your building’s active energy performance. I use the word active because they focus on both design and operational use. As of last summer the program had rated nearly 30,000 buildings, with only about 10% earning the Energy Star label.
For more information on how to conserve energy for your shows and rehearsals, see the next entry.
2) The lights —
Chris Coleman of Portland Center Stage (PCS) admits that the necessary lighting equipment for the LEED platinum rated Gerding Theatre made it difficult to meet the USGBC’s highest standards. Other areas of efficiency and “greeness” were ramped up significantly on the project in order to offset the amount of energy required by the desired system. While theatrical lighting companies, such as Electronic Theatre Controls, Inc. (ETC), have made moves toward efficiency (witness ETC’s ever popular line of Source Four equipment), they have a long, long way to go.
So, what can we do in our theaters to cut back? Ian Garrett, a lighting designer and MFA candidate at CalArts in Valencia, CA, is actively involved in promoting the idea of sustainable theater and makes his views clear: “We have to start thinking on a smaller scale.” Once upon a time Garrett ran some numbers to try to wrap his head around creating designs that could be made more sustainable by calculating how much money and materials would be needed to power one of his typically-sized designs strictly with solar power. His conclusion? “Not feasible,” he says. The numbers he came up with were, to put it uncreatively, astronomical and completely unrealistic. This led him to the idea of scaling back production. And why not? Certainly grand scale spectacle has its place from time to time, but is it done too much? Can we simply tone it down, use fewer lighting instruments and act more wisely when we power them up, keeping them on only as long as needed? (I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent sitting behind a light board punching keys, programming shows for LDs that could have been cued much more efficiently. But that’s a story more adequaetly addressed through LD training and education, as the LDs in my book Careers in Technical Theater make clear.)
When I spoke with folks at ETC, the discussion at one point turned to lamp life. They believed that the life of HPL lamps also made the Source Four a greener product, and they stated that most designers don’t run the lamps up to full intensity, which makes them last even longer. When I pointed out that keeping every lamp dimmed may not be so great, considering that when you dim lamps you are in effect making the system even less efficient, the concern was readily dismissed.
Where does this leave us? Waiting on technology? Yes, I think in many ways, that’s true. But Garrett’s idea of reducing scale is one that can be implemented today.
3) The other systems —
Though it would appear that lighting systems are by far the cause of greatest concern for their energy consumption, there are plenty of other hogs in theater production. Chief among them are audio systems. But we should also not ignore projection and video systems since they are becoming increasingly common in theatrical design. For much of this type of equipment, even Energy Star certified professional grade stuff can be found.
This is an area that I need to explore more fully to be sure. If you are a technician, designer, programmer, audio engineer, or someone else who knows…talk to me.
4) The waste —
This is a subject that has come up time and again on ecoTheater. The fact is, theatrical production revolves around a process of creation and subsequent destruction–and time between the two is frequently a matter of weeks. So much effort is devoted to imagining, designing, and building theatrical scenery, and yet very little (or so it would seem) goes into what happens to all of it once the final curtain has fallen on a production. And even those who do consider the demise of scenery, allowing it at times to weigh heavily on their minds, can only do so much. Remember, reuse and recycle come after the all important reduce. This must become the central word in theatrical production.
Part of the problem may be our fear of limiting the artistic process. No artistic director in the world wants to tell his or her creative teams to limit themselves in order that they may reduce the waste generated by their productions. But, is there a time that artists must step forward and play a role in change, rather than merely using what they may to comment on it? Reducing the use of non-recyclable materials alone would go a long way in reducing a theater’s waste. Conceiving of a way to reuse and store (safely–perhaps off site) scenery would be another.
Michael Casselli, production manager for New York Theatre Workshop, does not hesitate to approach the subject with designers. When he is confronted with a design that specifies materials that he has found to be undesirable in terms of their sustainability (he is careful to consider the life-cycle of the products he uses) he will work with the designer and creative team to come up with a better solution if at all possible. A leader or manager who acts according to such a guiding principle can make huge impacts on the future sustainability of theater in America, for Casselli influences not only the decisions of NYTW in this way, but also the future thought processes and decisions of the designers he questions.
5) The toxic stuff —
Just have a look at the ecoTheater entry from April 27, and you may begin to understand the often toxic stuff that we theater artists work with on a regular basis. Actually, that entry doesn’t really go into detail, but suffice it to consider these fields: scenic carpentry (welding, working with foam of all sorts, adhesives, stains, finishes, et cetera), props (ditto), and costumes (including wigs, makeup, millinery, crafts and dye–all using a myriad of toxic chemicals).
Of course, there are laws and regulations in place that dictate the safe use of these materials, as well as their proper disposal, but guess what? According to Monona Rossol of Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety (ACTS), most theaters don’t abide the law. As has been written here before, simply acting in accordance with OSHA and EPA regulations would help reduce harm to both the environment and the theater artists themselves.
It’s also important to consider alternative materials. By reducing the amount of toxic and non-green substances, we’ll have gone a long way too. When thinking about this it might be helpful to consider Rossol’s view on just what green is. She makes an excellent distinction between what is safe for people and what is safe for the planet. They aren’t always the same thing.
P O L I C Y
Creating The Guidelines Needed To Bring About A Green Change, and Fostering The Kind of Teamwork Such Change Demands
My writing on ecoTheater has enabled me to work out my ideas about creating a more sustainable way to produce theater as I go along — and it’s been a rather bumpy path. My bread and butter at the moment happens to be my work for a rather conventionally run, small, but productive and largely fulfilling children’s theater. So, my writing here has also helped me formulate the steps I can take within that organization to help it inch its way toward a greener model.
Along the way, I’ve been spending a small amount of my “company time” drafting an extensive environmental policy to be introduced and fully implemented (best case scenario) at a later date. I’m fortunate enough here to be surrounded by a small, open-minded staff that (to varying degrees) supports the overall notion of sustainability. It ranges from an office manager who takes every small green step with enthusiasm and interest to a development director who has encouraged me to keep her abreast of all my writing on green theater, and would like to have me tag along on meetings with donors who have a great interest in eco-responsible action.
My position with CTM has been a blessing in many ways (even putting aside that the PAD hired me just before I was to begin chemotherapy, and accepted my frequent absence during the first production I was to manage due to the harsh realities of cancer treatment), and one of them has certainly been the way it has exposed me to the idea of breaking new ground with a group of people (in this case the six members of the theater’s year-round staff) with whom you have never worked. It is the kind of theater in which folks of varying backgrounds, interests, and talents are put together in a small room and asked to not only produce high quality theater, but also run a youth-oriented training program, and do it all on a rather small budget. What you get is a lot of ideas, and a lot of baggage (both positive and negative) inadvertently brought to the table.
What this comes down to is the need to craft policy — policy that works for everyone at the table, because forcing things down throats is not only detrimental to the collaborative nature of producing theater, but also leads to resentment. Not a good way to move forward.
So, how do we do it? Well, Larry Fried and Theresa May, in their book Greening Up Our Houses, suggest the formation of something they call a “Habitat Committee,” which can develop the areas that need to be addressed, and how to address them. The benefit of such a committee, regardless of its name, is simple: policy crafted through consensus by those closest to the areas being affected.
But to reap this benefit, the committee must be made up of the people who will most be needed to implement it’s recommendations. Otherwise, (as I’ve said already) resentment will inevitably stew in the areas of the company that most need improvement — since folks will feel forced to change the way they work by people in other departments.
According to Fried and May in Greening Up Our Houses, the Habitat Committee should be authorized to:
1. assess the environmental problems of various departments
2. produce a plan that identifies certain short, mid, and long-range goals for each department
3. provide staff training or briefings to implement and coordinate new policies and practices
4. monitor the ongoing application of new policies and procedures, incorporating feedback from other staff and assessing the success of particular efforts
5. make adjustments to the plan as needed
The trick is having the good fortune to work in an environment where the idea of sustainability in theater production goes beyond the seemingly common head nodding that goes along with most of the necessary steps toward a more eco-responsible model of production. What I mean is that most of us in the theater are met with agreement when we bring up the idea of sustainability — it’s when we start taking the actual steps that we meet resistance (“it’s too expensive,” “it sounds nice, but it’s too esoteric,” “worrying about our environmental footprint is outside our mission,” etc.).
Fried and May also provide the above flow chart (which they call a metabolic chart displaying the “theatre organism) in order to help a Habitat Committee better asses the areas for improvement within a company. By reducing the inflow, and the toxicty of the inflow, theaters are better able to reduce the amount of raw materials and energy used in operations; and by subsequently reducing the outflow, materials are kept out of the waste stream and reduce the theater’s contribution to air and waterborne pollution.
Such a chart can be enormously helpful when sitting down to assess the areas that need to be addressed within an organization.
Policy is essential to initiating any sustainable program — it is essential to accomplish any of the ideas for greening up theater that I’ve discussed in this blog previously (costumes, lighting, the front office, etc.). Of course, individual staff members and department heads can take the bull by the horns and initiate impressive change within their department; but for such action to have a real effect on the overall operation of a company, and comprise significant change, there must be cooperation, and a cohesive plan for moving forward. It seems that in larger organizations, a committee such as Fried and May’s “Habitat Committee” would do the trick nicely. For smaller organizations, it may take just one strong individual that is willing to introduce policy to colleagues and be responsible for helping it to be implemented.
C O S T U M E S
1. Dry Cleaning
So what’s wrong with the typical dry cleaning process? Chemicals. Toxic, nasty, dangerous chemicals.
Dry cleaning chemicals most commonly come in the form of tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene, PCE, or tetrachloroethene. For the sake of brevity (and a conservation of finger energy) we’ll call it PERC, a common abbreviation, and the term used by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR). Say what? Yeah, anything listed with them should probably be considered suspect, and not eco-friendly.
According to the ATSDR, “high concentrations of tetrachloroethylene (particularly in closed, poorly ventilated areas) can cause dizziness, headache, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death.” PERC has also been linked to menstrual problems and spontaneous abortions in women working in the dry cleaning industry. And according to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) “tetrachloroethylene may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen.” And: “Tetrachloroethylene has been shown to cause liver tumors in mice and kidney tumors in male rats.”
This last bit of information is enough to get me up on a soap box for sure. As many of you may remember, I battled cancer last year, and it is a fate I would wish on no living creature. The number of proven carginogens we accept in our daily lives is disturbing. The fact that PERC is a known carginogen is alone enough information to provoke us toward action, for through the simple act of taking our bevy of costumes to a conventional dry cleaner we are contributing to the exposure of underpaid (and obviously undervalued) workers to a toxic substance known to cause cancer in animals, and also believed to cause reproductive problems in women (including the induction of miscarriage).
It’s also probable that exposure to PERC goes beyond the dry cleaners, including residual PERC left on the clothes that continue to off-gas once they’re back in the costume shop (and even being worn onstage), as well as contamination of areas surrounding and connected to dry cleaning establishments.
And PERC is just one problem chemical. Because so much is now known about the detrimental health effects of this common dry cleaning substance, some state governments have moved to ban it. California, for instance, has officially banned PERC as of 2023, with other states expected to follow. Of course, this leaves the dry cleaning industry scrambling to find alternatives. What they’ve come up is in many ways no better than PERC.
What the industry has started to turn to are hydrocarbons and something called siloxane. According to National Geographic’s The Green Guide:
“These solvents are labeled as greener options because they are recognized as less toxic than perc, however, both the EPA and the Coalition for Clean Air have determined that these solvents can’t be labeled safe for health or the environment until considerably more testing is done. Hydrocarbon solvents, such as DF2000 and comexsol, may be toxic or contain VOCs, and the EPA has noted concern over the high flammability of these petroleum-based chemicals. Siloxane solvents such as GreenEarth, while not chlorinated themselves, are currently manufactured using chlorine, and may release dioxin emissions. Again, as with hydrocarbon solvents, siloxane is extremely flammable. Also, the EPA notes that siloxane may be a carcinogen.”
The processes used by costumers to make costumes look the way they want them to often involves chemicals too. This is neither good for the costumer nor the environment.
3. Indoor Air Pollutants
For starters, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers indoor air quality the #1 environmental health concern in the country, considering that indoor air has two to five times more pollutants than outdoor air.
In Greening Up Our Houses, Larry Fried and Theresa May open the costume section of “What Can My Department Do?” with a quote from Dr. Randall Davidson (aka Dr. Doom): “It is more dangerous to work in a theatre costume shop than in a nerve gas factory.” Say what?
Okay, maybe that is a bit, as even Fried and May admit, “alarmist.” But there’s truth there for sure. For starters, Davidson knows whereof he speaks. He was a founding member of USITT’s Health and Safety Commision back in the early 1970’s and author (his latest book appears to be a serious endeavor entitled Practical Health and Safety Guidelines for School Theater Operations).
Even so, as mentioned above, PERC itself can be an indoor air pollutant, and this is not restricted to the dry cleaning facility but the carcinogenic chemical may continue offgas from costumes once back in storage, or in use by performers.
Other problem pollutants in a costume shop (and its related areas including crafts, millinery, wigs, etc.) include various adhesives, dyes, solvents, plastics and foams, and many other toxic materials. If such materials cannot be dispensed with entirely (the safest course of action), extreme safety precautions must be undertaken. See either The Health & Safety Guide for Film, TV, and Theater or Stage Fright: Health and Safety in the Theatre — both by Monona Rossol. Rossol’s non-profit Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety (ACTS) is also a great resource — Rossol fields the phone calls herself and is a wealth of decisive information on health and safety in the arts.
4. Water & Energy Consumption
According to “Mr. Electricity,” by simply cleaning costumes in cold water instead of hot, about 1400 kWh/year in electricity (used to heat the water) can be saved. Even using the warm water setting rather than hot, you can save 700 kWh/year.
If you are in a position to do so, and your wardrobe department is looking for a new washer, consider purchasing a front loading machine. Keep in mind that front loading washing machines use 40-60% less water, and 30-50% less energy than top loaders. Top loaders might be a better pick for costume cleaning anyway, since they reduce wear on clothes by relying on tumbling rather than an agitator to clean the clothes.
1. Safer Alternatives to Traditional PERC Dry Cleaning
Probably the most popular and well-known eco-friendly dry cleaning alternative is something simply called “wet cleaning.” The process, developed by Miele in the early 1990’s, uses more sophisticated technology and customizes cleaning procedures for each individual garment — unlike dry cleaning, which treats each garment the same. The advantage of wet cleaning is that it eliminates the toxic chemicals used in conventional dry cleaning processes, and according to the EPA, the cost to the costumer is level with that of dry cleaning.
Another alternative, perhaps even better than wet cleaning, is CO2 cleaning. According to nodryclean.com, CO2 cleaning is a process which “works by taking the gas form of carbon dioxide and pressurizing it into a clear liquid.” Soap and clothing are then added to this liquid and voila! Clean costumes. Apparently, Consumer Reports performed a comparison in 2003 and CO2 came out on top, besting PERC dry cleaning as well as “wet” cleaning and other alternatives. You can find a good (albeit probably biased) comparison chart on the various methods of cleaning here. One downside apparent on the chart is that there are so few CO2 cleaners around.
nodryclean.com is also a good resource for finding alternative cleaners in your area.
2. Construction Techniques
By purposefully selecting fabrics for costumes that are more easily cleaned, costumers can eliminate complicated (and toxic) cleaning procedures. It’s really that simple.
3. Selective Cleaning
Another solution is simply being more selective in what sort of costumes get dry cleaned, as well as how frequently the dry cleaning is done. If items absolutely must be dry cleaned and cannot be cleaned with an alternative method, try seeking out a cleaner that is ecologically sensitive in other ways.
The idea of selective cleaning should also be applied to normal laundry since we are also concerned with water consumption and waste (see problem no. 4 above). Just how frequently does the laundry need to be done? Are wardrobe personnel doing it too much just to be on the safe side — so that they needn’t worry about upsetting an actor or other performer? Wardrobe and costume crew members may want to reconsider the priorities here, and may be pleasantly surprised at a performer’s reaction when they let them know why they aren’t washing their costumes as frequently.
4. Eco-(and human)-Friendly products
It’s 2008 now. You can go down to the most conventional grocery store (or, heaven forbid, Wal-Mart or Target) and pick up eco-friendly laundry detergents and related products. Of course, as the sage Monona Rossol warned me a while back, we need to be careful about our choice of so-called “green” cleaning products, since they may sometimes be great for the environment but not very good for us. As Rossol advises, be sure to educate yourself on the types of chemicals being used in so-called earth-friendly cleaning products to be sure that they will not be toxic to you and your staff. The trade offs must be weighed carefully.
T H E O F F I C E
1. Make Zero Waste your goal. What, you say, how can that be? Well, strictly speaking, it isn’t wholly possible. But you can make it a goal, and get closer and closer, until, perhaps one day you arrive.
2. The three R’s go along way in the office, as they do elsewhere in the small company: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. And there is a reason that recycle is last on the list: it should be the last resort, and not assumed to be the best you can do to green up. While recycling is better (in most cases) than the landfill, it’s better yet to avoid either. So, the best bet in the front office is to stop using so much paper, stop printing so many forms and unneccessary items. If you find yourself printing unwanted pages, try using GreenPrint, free software that will help you reduce the number of unwanted pages being printed.
3. For those areas where you must use paper and other resources, find greener ways to do it: use 100% post-consumer paper for all your paper needs, including scripts, programs, flyers, post cards, et cetera. Another option is using non-tree based paper, such as hemp, for some or all of these items. Will this increase cost? Not much. And the added cost can be offset by reducing and reusing. An easy step taken by Furious Theatre Company in Pasadena is simply placing a basket by the door where patrons can deposit their used programs so that they can be reused (if people know that they can return programs for future use, most of them will). By encouraging such action, you can reduce the number of programs you need to print for each production. Warehouses could be filled with unused production programs across the globe.
Also, try to print on two sides of paper whenever possible — the math is easy there.
Another consideration in the use of paper is using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-Certified products, so that you know that paper you are using is coming from responsibly managed forests throughout the world.
Better yet, go paperless wherever possible. The Internet age has allowed us to go electronic in so many ways: sharing calendars online, sending memos and other official paperwork via email, and do all kinds of tedious paperwork (from tracking budgets to creating lighting paperwork) on our computers, printing only when absolutely necessary.
4. Reducing and reusing goes beyond paper, too. Where I work, we are gradually taking on green ideas. One that has come up recently is the toner for our copier. I suggested a company called Think! which is centered on remanufacturing used toner and ink jet cartridges — it’s cheaper than buying new, and reduces the number of new petroleum-based thingamajigs that need to be created and thrown away.
Another area of non-paper reduction and reuse is the ubiquitous to-go coffee cup. I am a coffee addict (though it’s pretty mild at one cup a day), and I have an old ceramic mug on my desk. So, when I get to work, the first thing I do is grab my mug and walk down the street to the closest coffee shop and get it filled up — they charge me less too!
5. Turn off the lights. I was really pleased recently when I realized that Pat, our office manager at Children’s Theater of Madison simply does not turn the lights on in the office on sunny days. Of course, our office is small, and blessed with an entire wall of northish-facing windows that face the street on the second floor. This means that our light is not obstructed by any close-by neighbors, and it doesn’t heat up too much in the summer. Because of the number of windows the fact that it faces mostly north doesn’t matter either. It’s still plenty of light to work in.
If this isn’t possible in your work space, then install sensor or timer switches for your lights so that you’ll be sure NO ONE leaves them on inadvertently.
6. (When you DO turn the lights on) Use Compact Flourescent Light bulbs. My mother-in-law is one of the few people I know who simply refuses to get on the CFL bandwagon. Why? People are concerned about the mercury in the bulbs, and the effect it will have on the environment as well as the potential threat to human health when and if the bulbs break, releasing their mercury content.
With all due respect to my mother-in-law (I love her dearly, and she’s been great to me), the fear over mercury is not only nonsense, it’s horribly misguided. Two things to consider: the amount of mercury found in CFLs is tiny — one hundred times less than is found in a single amalgam filling, which most of us have (I know I do, and I’m sure my mother-in-law does!)– which means that the threat to human health is essentially nonexistent; second, we can consider the following statistic if we’re concerned about mercury in the environment: the Earth Policy Institute (EPI) has conducted a study on CFLs and concluded that more than 270 coal-fired power plants could be eliminated worldwide by switching from standard incandescent bulbs to CFLs — how’s that for keeping mercury out of the environment?
So make the switch. And when the bulbs die (when does that happen? my wife and I have CFLs that we’ve been using for over three years in our house) be sure to seek out how to recycle and properly dispose of them — up to 95% of the mercury they contain can be eliminated if disposed of properly.
7. Don’t drive to work. There are so many better ways to get there — both for the environment and for your body! If you don’t live close enough to your primary place of work (be it the office, the theater, or a shop) to bike, walk, or ride public transit to get there, then you should seriously consider relocating. Really, there is nothing better than biking or walking home from work and watching all the schlubs backed up in traffic to get to the suburbs or (gawd forbid) the exurbs.
As a side note, encouraging your staff to carpool if they must drive (winter, for instance), and giving them incentives to ride or walk can go a long way in giving folks the nudge they need to make an important lifestyle change. Driving is stressful, after all, and having stress-free time to walk or ride the bus can add a much needed shot of peacefulness into your life.
Such incentives are also a great idea to pass along to your audience (witness Mo’olelo’s ticket discounts), which will help the overall sustainability of your operations.
8. Switch to laptops for your staff. Even the big ones use less energy than desktops.
9. Dispose Responsibly. When you do have to get rid of something, do everything you can to recycle or otherwise save the item from the landfill. At my office, our copier/fax machine died and we had to get rid of it. We found a local guy who has made a business of picking up such large appliances from homes and businesses and either recycling them bit by bit, or fixing them and donating them to folks in need.
10. Check out The Green Office, or another eco-friendly office supply vendor (Green Earth Office Supply, Green Light Office, Green Office Store, and Dolphin Blue are just a few out there) and start using them as your primary supplier. Better yet, find local office supply vendors that provide the same kind of products and services.