How to make theatres more sustainable

Although coronavirus has somewhat stolen the limelight these last two years, the importance of making theatres more sustainable remains a key focus for many theatres’ short and long term goals. As the theatre sector (we hope) starts its slow recovery to pre-2019 attendance in 2022, we take a look at why sustainability should be back on theatres’ agenda, what benefits it can bring, and how these sustainability goals can be achieved in partnership with UK-wide initiatives and third-party support.
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Why pursue sustainability?

Environmental impact and long-term cost savings

New research by leading consultancies AECOM, Avison Young, Bristow Consulting and Buro Happold for Theatres Trust has revealed that if one hundred typical 600-seat theatres were to be made fully sustainable and accessible it would save 6,500 tonnes of CO2 per year and could provide a revenue saving of £33,000 per theatre per year.1

Audience sentiment

Although we have no clear data to determine what audiences think about theatres going green, the national consciousness around the recent COP26 and surveys amongst wider hospitality suggests that a theatre’s sustainability record would feature highly in audiences’ decision-making when it comes to visiting.

For example, a survey carried out on behalf of the Sustainable Restaurant Association revealed that over 80% of respondents said that sustainability had been a deciding factor when choosing where to go eat. 

[We are currently working with cultural organisations and the Insights Alliance to fill this gap in audience sentiment knowledge and you can find out more about this here]

Securing funding

Sustainability is now one of the funding criteria for the Arts Council England and as such theatres need to pay more than just lip service to sustainability measures when applying for vital funding.

What are the major barriers?


This is a major obstacle to theatres improving their building’s carbon footprint. In a separate survey, 86% of theatres who responded said it was a major challenge, with this figure rising to 92% in historic theatres. As a result, 24% of theatres have not made any green improvements to their buildings in the past 15 years and, of the 70% who had, only 20% had energy savings as the primary reason for refurbishment. 2

Priorities and expertise

The impact of the coronavirus on theatre revenue and subsequent redundancies or people leaving the industry for more secure areas of work has been significant and has understandably put sustainability on the back-burner for many theatres battling to survive.

Customer buy-in

When it comes to the FOH sustainability practices such as e-tickets, using reusable plastic glasses in the auditorium, and no longer stocking paper towels in the toilets, customer buy-in is key. This is where the importance of effective comms and sentiment surveys play a vital role because customers will not respond well to change forced on them with no reasoning, particularly those patrons who may not have sustainability issues very high on their priority list.

How can theatres improve their sustainability?

Thankfully, there are initiatives from charitable and government-funded organisations like the Arts Council England and the Theatres Trust designed to help theatres achieve these sustainability goals.

Arts Council England

The Arts Council made “Environmental Responsibility” one of their four Investment Principles in their 10-year strategy. Thirty of the largest organisations that they fund are also part of their 4-year Spotlight programme which has been running since 2019 in association with Julie’s Bicycle and has the following priorities:

  • Improvements to environmental literacy, strategy and expertise.
  • Supporting energy management strategies and operational systems to embed new technology and behaviours with a focus on driving down impacts and costs.
  • Creating opportunities for organisations to share best practice, knowledge and experience, which will enable organisations individually – and the sector as a whole – to achieve further environmental reductions.

These chosen Spotlight organisations include many pointOne customers such as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Sheffield Theatres Trust, The Lyric, Hammersmith, and the Theatre Royal Plymouth who all share robust sustainability policies. 

You can learn more about how success will be measured throughout the programme and in relation to wider UK government climate commitments here.

Theatres wishing to start their own sustainability journey will be able to see how initiatives are being put into practice by these participating organisations saving them time on the research stage and moving them quickly to practical application.

Theatres Trust

The Trust has made five commitments to reshape their work and help influence and improve the sector’s sustainability. The Green Book initiative forms part of these commitments and aims to bring practical advice on the first steps theatres should be taking to make productions, theatre buildings and front-of-house operations sustainable. It will also map out paths ahead, indicating what further steps might be needed to reach a sustainable future quickly.

All three volumes have now been published in Beta form – Sustainable Productions, Sustainable Buildings and Sustainable Operations. Each volume contains a free toolkit of resources that theatres can use as a starting point and include a plethora of practical information.

What do theatres say?

“We have to seize this moment, and the Theatre Green Book is a brilliant resource for the whole sector. The National Theatre is continuing to make its work as sustainable as possible by committing to adopting the baseline principles of the Theatre Green Book for all productions over the next 12 months.” Lisa Burger, Joint Chief Executive of the National Theatre

 “We are keen to begin using the Theatre Green Book as a common standard for more sustainable working. We will be using our 2021/22 season to collate data, and take positive action where we can, which will inform our plans to meet baseline Green Book standard for our 2022/23 season.” Kate Varah, Executive Director, Old Vic Theatre

“We strongly support the Theatre Green Book as a common standard for more sustainable working across the industry. We will implement it progressively over coming Seasons, starting with data gathering and trialling its principles in forthcoming new productions.” Alex Beard, Chief Executive, Royal Opera House


If you are interested in trialling a production with the Theatre Green Book, you can sign up here. This is an ongoing and collaborative initiative and so participation and feedback are key to its success. Many theatres are already benefitting from these resources as is evidenced by the Mercury Theatre.

Operator case study: The Mercury Theatre

The Mercury Theatre in Colchester followed many of the guiding principles laid out in the Green Book as part of their recent £11.3 million redevelopment project. The resulting work saw them achieve BREEAM Status placing them in the top 25% of sustainable public buildings in the UK.

Measures included:

  • Converting 70% of their building lighting to LED and using a timer system to ensure efficient use.
  • using natural/sustainable/recycled materials, energy-efficient glazing, solar panels and a brand new building management system.
  • Operating ‘paperless’ systems and a zero-waste to landfill policy.
  • Sourcing all fresh produce from local suppliers to lower food miles, and composting all food waste in the theatre gardens.
  • Using reusable plastic glasses to take into the theatre and glass outside of performances.
  • Introducing an electric fleet of vehicles and encouraging audiences to attend the theatre via public transport.


Of course, theatres do not work in isolation and are reliant on a number of third-party suppliers in their daily operations. The Sustainable Operations volume outlines how sustainable practices can be introduced across FOH, BOH, buildings, waste, travel and transportation, which includes what to look for when selecting and working with third-party suppliers.

Supplier case study: pointOne

pointOne, as a leading EPoS supplier for the theatre sector, were invited to input on the Sustainable Operations volume in advance of its publication and this prompted us to review our own sustainability practices in relation to their guiding principles.

These have been outlined below and should act as a useful guide to theatre operators for elements to look for when selecting their POS/tech partners:

Front of house

Customer receipts:

As an alternative to supplying the customer with a paper receipt, pointOne offer the receipt to be emailed instead.

  • The paperless receipts are sent to the customer via email as opposed to printing out a physical copy.
  • This in turn saves on having to purchase many printers and saves money by reducing the amount of receipt paper required and electricity consumption.
  • It also offers the business owner a way of capturing the customer’s email address, which enables customer outreach to be digital rather than traditional paper marketing.
Ticketing integrations

pointOne integrates with all leading ticketing software which enables customers to order & pay for theatre tickets, interval drinks, merchandise and concessions online, therefore, generating no paper receipts or tickets.

Back of house


Customers need to send orders from the pointOne EPoS terminal to the kitchen, which means printing a paper ticket.

  • As an alternative to using paper, we offer kitchen screens (KDS) which display the orders on a screen so reducing the need for paper.
  • This in turn saves on the cost and the amount of paper required.
  • Saves on the cost of printer ribbons.

pointOne’s stock system allows for invoicing and purchase orders to be raised and sent electronically by e-mail to suppliers.

  • This saves on the need to print out the documents and post them to suppliers.
  • It, in turn, saves on the amount of paper required, labour time and costs.
Remote reporting:

pointOne offers a web-based portal (pointOne Head Office) that allows business owns the ability to manage their business online rather than needing on-site visits.

  • This saves both time and fuel costs and lowers the environmental impact when travelling to different locations especially if they have more than one site.
  • It also saves on the different business printing of reports and sending them to head office.


pointOne’s Sustainability Procedures


Installations that once required a physical server to be installed on-site, an alternative option is to install a remote database off-site.

  • This saves on the requirement to purchase a physical server,
  • Reducing the power consumption on-site.
Remote training

Some training can be offered over the phone or via video-conferencing rather than on-site thereby reducing travel emissions.


Recycling and reusing customers’ existing equipment if possible, so reducing more electronic equipment that just goes to waste.

As a business, pointOne recycle as much as possible.

  • Cardboard boxes once used to supply the equipment to the customer are either used to send out other parts or equipment or are collected by a recycling company.
  • Old electronic equipment once no longer required is collected by a recycling company.
Energy efficiencies

EPoS hardware now uses Solid State drives (SSD) rather than the old spinning hard drives and are made more power-efficient.

pointOne’s software can be programmed to set the hardware display terminal to switch off if not used for a set period, saving power consumption and prolonging the life of the display.


pointOne no longer send invoices or Purchaser Orders to customers by paper, but instead are all emailed.

  • Where a customer’s signature is required, it is produced electronically.

10 quick tips for running a more sustainable theatre

  • Commit to a renewable energy provider.
  • Maintain your equipment and infrastructure (clean filters increase efficiency, reduce costs and use of fossil fuels).
  • Engage an energy consultant who can measure all your equipment and make energy saving recommendations.
  • Appoint an in-house ambassador to help drive the green agenda.
  • Ensure tap water is accessible and ensure any plastic water bottles are recycled.
  • Reusable containers for stock/deliveries (prioritise suppliers that do, or use your buying power to convince suppliers to adapt).
  • Eradicate single-use plastic wherever possible by using reusable, compostable or recyclable alternatives (incentivise customer refill options).
  • Separate waste types for sorting and recycling.
  • Use local suppliers and distributors.
  • Engage and inspire your customers with environmental themed performances, promotions and marketing campaigns.


It’s clear that there is a need and a desire from theatre operators to do more when it comes to their sustainability practices. Finance represents the biggest hurdle to this, particularly for historic theatres, but initiatives are growing in number thanks to the momentum for change in the wider hospitality sector and beyond.

For those operators who wish to take a step towards better sustainability, there is funding support and practical toolkits out there such as those offered by the Green Book that can provide a fantastic starting point. Equally, many of your third-party suppliers may also be on their own sustainability journey and can offer support and guidance in taking a greener approach to operations. One thing is certain – the environment, your patrons and your future audiences will all thank you starting the journey.

1 Average sustainability improvement costs are derived from a benchmark of actual costs across recent theatre capital projects price adjusted for 2021 prices. Fully sustainable represents a typical 50% maximum overall reduction in energy use achievable through buildings and systems improvements. The path to net zero will come from decarbonisation of the grid, alongside improvements to productions, operations and supply chain. The 100 representative theatres is based on Theatres Trust data on the overall distribution of UK theatres by age and size and a bell curve assumption of current condition.

2 112 theatres responded to the survey conducted by Buro Happold in May 2021. The distribution of responses by age and scale of theatre broadly corresponds to the overall UK picture. The other reported major barriers to implementing carbon reduction in theatres were: Listed Building Consent (41%); Impact on Operations (41%, rising to 57% for theatres over 800 seats); Lack of Knowledge of What to Prioritise (25%, rising to 50% for theatres under 200 seats).

You may also be interested in our blog “How and why to make your restaurant more sustainable“.

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