Taking the drama out of saving energy

How Julie’s Bicycle and Good Energy help Opera North take the drama out of saving energy with Creative Green

Once you’ve made one change to be more sustainable, others often follow. This was the case for Opera North in Leeds. The national opera company has been working with Julie’s Bicycle and Good Energy since 2017.

In 2018, Julie’s Bicycle supported Opera North to build on their understanding of environmental impacts, by developing their environmental strategy and enhancing internal engagement. Opera North initially got in touch with Julie’s Bicycle to gain support with developing an environmental policy. This was when they learnt that they were to become an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation for the first time, since monitoring environmental sustainability became an expectation of funding requirements. Opera North quickly started using Julie’s Bicycle’s Creative Green tools to gain an understanding of their carbon footprint and broader environmental impact. Yet since undertaking dedicated sustainability initiatives such as switching to renewable electricity, company culture has transformed into one that’s far more energy conscious.

Building first, behaviour change follows

The facilities team at Opera North saw the introduction of renewable electricity as an opportunity to also save energy at the organisation’s headquarters, Premier House. The first step was encouraging staff to think about how they could cut their own electricity use. This included a broad consultation across all departments, from dedicated green champions to the senior management team. This strengthened the environmental element of their major £18m capital project currently underway – Music Works.

Julie’s Bicycle has helped Opera North to better understand how much energy they were using across their different sites, identifying energy-saving actions and improving energy-use monitoring. For example, Opera North switched to a 100% renewable electricity contract with Good Energy, installed more efficient lighting and, in just one year, reduced electricity use in its main building by 23% through behaviour change campaigns alone. The change in behaviour was dramatic. Before long, not only were people switching off lights as they left a room, but they had stopped just automatically switching them on when they went in. In some areas, bulbs were removed from places where they weren’t needed; desk lamps disappeared; and computers were never left on overnight.

Energy monitoring, source and efficiency was a key issue from the start. And it seems this energy awareness and expertise soon caught on.

Knowledge is power

Back in 2017, Jamie Saye, a Senior Technician at Opera North, was impressed that every kW could be tracked through Good Energy’s reporting:  “That’s what really stood out. Good Energy knew more about the source of their electricity than the other suppliers.”

Opera North uses Good Energy’s half-hourly comprehensive data visualisation portal. It allows access to more than 75 online reports to find out how and when your business is consuming electricity. In addition it can compare data from the past two years to show year on year trends and average consumption ranges.

What’s more, says Jamie, it can help you identify where electricity is being wasted.

“After a bank holiday, I logged into the portal and realised that all of the heating system had been on during a day when no one was in the building. So I reprogrammed all the heating! I wouldn’t have spotted it without the access to the half-hour data.”

Jamie Saye, Senior Technician at Opera North

Fully informed customers

Jamie says the data from Good Energy has been a game changer, making them fully informed consumers. This is particularly important to him as he wasn’t an energy expert before the partnership. “Good Energy are always helpful and honest and at the end of the phone. They don’t take your money and run.”

Thanks to the half-hourly data Good Energy provided, Jamie was able to produce appealing graphs showing how their actions were making a difference. He even started putting them on the back of toilet doors to share this impact with audiences.

For an example of the extra support Good Energy provide, he cites the advice he received when Opera North was investigating on-site renewable energy as part of its multi-million pound refurbishment programme. “We were putting solar panels on the roof and wondered if battery storage was right for us. Good Energy checked and came back to us and said it wasn’t. I like the fact they don’t treat me like an idiot.”

Good Energy support this approach and say that: “By taking care of Opera North’s energy requirements we hope we leave them free to concentrate on their job, creating extraordinary experiences every day.”

Energy-saving supplier decisions

At the start of 2019, Opera North hosted a Creative Green sustainable procurement workshop bringing cultural organisations and suppliers together to exchange good practice and explore future opportunities, sponsored by Good Energy. In March 2019, Julie’s Bicycle conducted an ESOS audit (Energy Saving and Opportunities Scheme) to further inform Opera North’s energy management approach. About the same time, they signed up to the Spotlight Programme, a new strand of Arts Council England’s Environmental Programme delivered by Julie’s Bicycle, focused on building energy management and carbon reduction. Through Spotlight, Opera North is able to both exchange good practice and challenges on their buildings energy and carbon with their peers, and access new energy management and monitoring tools, with dedicated support from JB.

What next for Opera North?

Once Music Works is completed, Opera North’s extended and refurbished building will feature a range of energy-efficiency, low and zero carbon measures – from improved insulation and lighting control systems to rooftop solar panels.

Opera North has gone from strength to strength, not only in terms of what they are doing operationally, but also creatively and in supporting understanding and action with their audiences, peers and city – now working with the Leeds Climate Commission, Leeds City Council and becoming one of the founding members of Sustainable Arts in Leeds (SAIL). In October 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. 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.

Throughout this journey, Julie’s Bicycle has been a trusted adviser and honest broker to Opera North, bringing in its contacts and connections, for example with Manchester Arts Sustainability Team (MAST) and supportive suppliers such as Good Energy to help Opera North along the way.

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