Arts Council England’s environmental funding requirements gave Opera North the initial impetus to start their environmental journey in 2018. Since then they have come a long way, not only in terms of what they are doing operationally and creatively but also in supporting understanding and action with their audiences, their peers and their city. Senior management buy-in and support, the dedication of key people within the Company and Leeds’ growing climate change ambitions as a city have all contributed to the speed and success of Opera North’s environmental actions.
Energy reduction across site
On the energy front, Opera North has been getting to grips with energy monitoring and installing more efficient lighting. Over the last year it reduced electricity use in its main building by 23% through behaviour change campaigns alone. It has also switched to a 100% renewable electricity contract. Music Works, its £18 million capital project, involves a range of energy efficiency, low and zero carbon measures – from improving insulation to installing lighting control systems and solar photovoltaic panels on the roof to generate zero carbon electricity. With support through the Spotlight programme – a new strand of the Arts Council’s Environmental Programme focused on building energy and carbon reduction – Opera North is looking at its longer-term energy strategy.
“We are very proud of our 2018/19 environmental achievements. But this is only the start of our journey and with the help of Spotlight, our Music Works capital project and our company-wide engagement programme we are confident we will meet our pledge of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.”Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North
Zero waste and reuse
Opera North has undertaken a range of actions focused on materials and waste. As part of their Zero Waste Week 2019, they did a team session on creating beeswax food wraps using off-cuts from old costume material, reducing plastic waste across the company. They also successfully trialled a fully recycled set for the production of Not Such Quiet Girls. Waste management is now handled by a local company which uses lower emission trucks which provides a zero waste to landfill service. The company provides waste reports to Opera North’s Green Team which they use to track progress and develop further waste prevention measures. All main stage sets are recycled at the end of their life by a specialist contractor.
Communicating during a climate emergency
Opera North has collaborated with the Leeds Climate Commission to deliver sustainable arts venue training for cultural venues in the city in 2019. The commission brings together key organisations and actors from across the city and from the public, private and third sectors to provide advice on steps towards a low carbon, climate resilient future. Leeds City Council has declared a climate emergency and the city and Leeds Climate Commission have identified the role of the cultural sector in both contributing to the city’s carbon climate change strategy and supporting environmental awareness-raising and action. Opera North is now a member of the commission’s engagement and communications group.
The Company has been instrumental in establishing Sustainable Arts in Leeds (SAIL), in collaboration with ITV and the Leeds Climate Commission and building on exchange with the Manchester Arts Sustainability Team. Other members include East Street Arts, Leeds Museums and Galleries and Leeds City Council.
Gaining Creative Green: awards and certificate
Opera North was Creative Green certified for the first time in 2019 and went on to win the Creative Green 2019 Award for Best Newcomer. In Oct 2019, they joined Music Declares Emergency and declared a climate and ecological emergency, announcing their aim to be carbon neutral by 2030, in line with Leeds’ ambition as a city. It will be exciting to see what comes next for Opera North.
Banner image: Opera North: Music Works capital project cutaway