Glyndebourne opera house becomes a UK leader in sustainable theatre productions

26/07/2023 Lawrence Bewes

Glyndebourne installed wind-powered energy and focused on sustainable modes of transport. This helped it to achieve a 77% reduction in energy-related emissions between 2009 and 2021.

Glyndebourne is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Sussex, providing a stunning backdrop for its visitors.

As a result, the organisation feels a strong responsibility to minimise negative impact on the environment. They decided that a long-term goal should be carbon neutrality in their direct operations.

First, Glyndebourne drew up an environmental policy, committing the company to making its operations more sustainable.

The company then analysed its carbon emissions and saw that most direct emissions came from gas and electricity. Transport to and from the opera house was also another big source of emissions.

The next step was to take action.

Installing a wind-turbine

Research findings produced for Glyndebourne showed that the best way to reduce carbon emissions was to install a wind turbine on an area of land just above the opera house.

The company submitted a request for planning permission in 2007. When it installed the turbine in 2012, this immediately halved the company’s direct carbon emissions.

Between 2012 and 2022, the turbine generated the equivalent of 102% of the electricity used by the company in that period. This was higher than the original annual target of 90%.

Reducing energy use

To reduce energy use further, Glyndebourne:

  • modified the air conditioning system
  • replaced lights with low-energy LEDs and installed timers and sensors so that lights are only in use when needed
  • replaced the 27 year-old gas boilers with a more efficient system – delivering a 20% reduction in gas usage

The company also switched to 100% green energy with its supplier.

Promoting sustainable travel

People travelling to Glyndebourne created another big source of emissions.

To reduce transport emissions the company:

  • introduced a coach service to encourage as many visitors as possible to travel to Glyndebourne by train
  • installed free electric car charging facilities for visitors and staff
Glyndebourne opera house will a capacity audience

© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Sam Stephenson

Reducing waste emissions

Glyndebourne and its onsite catering provider operated under a single waste management contract.

This meant the company could develop a full waste and recycling strategy.

As a result, there was an 81% reduction in waste tonnage between 2009 and 2020.

Making shows more sustainable

The company has also identified ways to make its opera performances more sustainable. In 2022, it adopted the – baseline principles of the Theatre Green Book, a sector-wide initiative for sustainable theatre.

Ways in which it is seeking to reduce the environmental impact of its productions include:

  • using recycled timber and steel in productions
  • developing an on-site garden to grow natural fabric dyes

As a result, Glyndebourne has become a role model for sustainable operations in UK theatre and arts.

Training staff to become sustainable

Staff training was a vital part of the Glyndebourne move towards sustainability.

The company created a non-hierarchical volunteer group of employees called Environmental Champions.

These volunteers looked at Glyndebourne ‘s operations to identify opportunities for reducing energy and water use.

Operational investigation by the group resulted in:

  • the development of electric car charging facilities
  • the introduction and promotion of a cycle to work scheme for staff
  • a switch to sustainable cleaning supplies
  • a ban on unrecyclable takeaway coffee cups
A wind turbine.

© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Sam Stephenson

Business benefits of taking climate action

Glyndebourne made large reductions in costs from generating its own energy and reducing gas and electricity use.

The wind turbine needed a large upfront investment. However, those costs were recouped in just five and half years, as the turbine exceeded its production targets.

The company boosted its image with eco-friendly credentials.

Now, Glyndebourne is setting a long-term goal to become carbon neutral.

It is using tools to collect data so that it can monitor emissions and ensure it stays on track to halve them by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

Thanks to measures such as wind-powered energy and sustainable travel, they are well on their way.

Quote from Glyndebourne

“Bring your employees along with you – their insight is crucial in getting a complete picture of your current operations and where improvements can be made.”

Exterior of the opera house with a wind turbine in the distance.

© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Sam Stephenson

Committing to the SME Climate Hub

Glyndebourne has made the climate commitment and joined the global Race to Zero.

“For more than 10 years, we’ve been taking action to minimise our impact on the environment, with the long-term goal of becoming carbon neutral in our direct operations.”

We joined the SME Climate Hub to reaffirm that commitment and to unite with and learn from companies, organisations and individuals around the world who share the same mission and drive to protect the planet.”

Tell us what climate action you’ve taken

Small businesses like Glyndebourne provide invaluable insights about the journey towards climate change. Interested in sharing your own climate journey for potential inclusion as a business spotlight? Get in touch.

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