The STC Goes Green – And So Should We

The Sydney Theatre Company at Pier 4/5. The pipes in this picture have become part of the Rainwater Harvesting System which stores water in a huge pipe suspended beneath the pier’s structure.We are constantly told to count cost of carbon, save water, recycle…

Companies are ‘going green’ and utilising new technologies to become more sustainable – not least of all the Sydney Theatre Company, who are doing their bit to save the planet.

Personally, I hadn’t stopped to think about the carbon footprint of the Performing Arts, but after learning how significant changes are taking place at the STC, how passionate the company are about setting an example to other theatre companies in Australia and around the world, and how little I actually know about becoming ‘Green’, I actually felt ashamed.

In November 2010, Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton (STC’s Artistic Directors) began the Sydney Theatre Company’s campaign for a greener future when they activated a new 1900 panel solar power system on the roof of the STC, making them the first theatre company in the world to take such a step towards sustainability. The system is the second largest in Australia, and it has allowed the company to acquire the majority of its energy needs from renewable sources.

Since then, the STC have been working on a Federally and privately supported project in order to “make significant changes to The Wharf as well as our habits and behaviour in order to reduce our impact on our environment.” – (STC Website)

The ‘Greening The Wharf’ project, as it has been dubbed, announced this week that the second phase in creating a more sustainable precinct for the arts has begun. A new rainwater harvesting and reticulation system will provide 100% of non-potable (non-drinking) water for STC and, through collaboration with Arts NSW, for all other organisations resident at The Wharf – Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney Dance Company, Australian Theatre for Young People, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Regional Arts NSW, Accessible Arts, The Song Company, Gondwana Choirs and Sydney Children’s Choir.

Previously, it was announced that the STC have reduced water consumption in bathrooms by over 20% by implementing water-saving technologies in toilets and urinals, and now with this new rain harvesting system, they are becoming even more sustainable. It has been estimated that over 11.3 million litres of water will be saved per year using this new system – the equivalent of nearly two Olympic swimming pools But the work doesn’t stop here.

After a massive overhaul, the STC (which has inhabited the once derelict Wharf since 1984) have made changes in almost every department. After months of research exploring the latest alternative light sources, the company have purchased a range of low-energy fluorescent and LED theatrical fixtures which they are encouraging lighting designers to use. These new lights are enabling the company to stay within their new wattage caps for each production, and decreasing the usage by 40%.

Anyone who has been to the theatre knows how lighting effects create atmosphere in shows. It’s an integral aspect of the modern theatrical world. Those who work in the theatre are aware of the massive lighting rigs found in performance spaces.

The company’s Green Design Policy is also challenging designers working on STC productions to consider the impact on the environment when creating sets for the show. This year the of ZEBRA! was made chiefly from recycled timber sourced from local salvage yards and STC workshops.

Personally, I am thrilled that an Arts organisation is setting an example and encouraging us to act intelligently with regards to climate change. It’s very exciting to know that the STC are passionate about making not only their offices, but their productions more sustainable.

Now, all that remains is education and growth. The necessity to educate the public (myself included) about both the effects of, and the need to combat climate change, and the necessity to encourage other companies in the arts (and other sectors) to follow the lead of the STC.

Will the MTC follow suit? What are your thoughts on this issue? Post your comments below.

Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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