Arcola Theatre in Dalston, London, has become synonymous with sustainability in the UK’s theatre sector. Since the current Executive Director Ben Todd came on board in 2005, environmental performance has had a high profile within Arcola, and the venue has a dedicated mission to become the world’s first carbon neutral theatre though Arcola Energy, a programme of activity spanning everything from recycling bottles and building facilities from old sets, to the hydrogen fuel cell which has powered the LED lighting in the cafe/bar and the more adventurous Studio One lighting rigs.
Energy efficient LED lighting is used throughout the cafe/bar, and many lighting designers have stepped up to the challenge of lighting shows with the 5kW of power that the cell provides the Studio One rig, encouraging people to think creatively about the alternative to ‘bigger, brighter’ show lighting and how to realise a creative vision with less energy being used.
The move, in January 2011, into a new home on Ashwin Street is the next step in the evolution of Arcola Theatre, building towards the vision of Future Arcola - a new zero-carbon venue for Dalston. Future Arcola unites art, science, community and business to deliver practical and desirable approaches to sustainable living. The communication and engagement that was carried out in the previous venue is continuing in Ashwin Street.
Arcola has an Environmental Policy which has been shared online and posted throughout the building. The Arcola Energy website has a section called Going Green with information about biofuels, low energy lighting and greener living. An energy and sustainability bulletin board outlines Arcola’s sustainability projects and is displayed in the theatre café, while a green newsletter discusses progress and is sent out quarterly. Arcola also organises quarterly Green Sunday events which provide a meeting place for people to explore environmental issues through film, music, theatre, poetry and discussion.
Arcola recently launched Arcola Energy for Schools, a programme delivering workshops, developed by engineers and scientists based at Arcola, to support schools in engaging with sustainability. The workshops have already seen a thousand London students build their own miniature wind turbines and hydrogen powered model cars. Arcola Energy for Schools demonstrates the science behind renewable energy in a fun and tangible way, exploring the workings of a low carbon economy on a miniature scale.
The move into the new space (a converted 18th century watercolour paint factory) means that the team has the opportunity to complete a thorough refurbishment, including many environmental specifications. The first step has been minimising works (if it is only slightly broken, leave it alone) and extensive re-use of materials (yes you can reuse doors, toilets, wood flooring, structural steel, bricks, light fittings, sockets, armoured cable, waste pipes). With a long-lease imminent, more expensive measures such as double glazing, waste-fuelled boiler, DC micro-grid and heat- exchange ventilation are in the pipe-line. There are no plans for air-conditioning, as it is near impossible to implement sustainably.
Arcola Theatre is using SMEasure to record energy consumption on a weekly basis and will be using the IG venue tool on a monthly basis from April 2011. The venue is on an Ecotricity100% renewable energy tariff, and provides a list of the sustainable suppliers for products they use on their website. Finally, since March 2010, a quarterly staff commute survey is being conducted to determine each staff member’s travel carbon footprint.
Compared to the CIBSE energy benchmark for entertainment halls, the old Arcola Theatre on Arcola St used 99.8% less energy than the average and 98.6% less gas than the average. This is incredibly low and is the result of a range of factors, including the building’s minimal servicing, energy efficient lighting choices.
Arcola is the first Industry Green certified theatre venue and is in receipt of a raft of awards for sustainability, including the 2008 REA British Renewable Energy Pioneer Award (highly commended), 2008 CBI Growing Business - Green Award (winner), the prestigious Energy Globe Award (2009 UK winner), and most recently two Sustainable City Awards for Greening the Third Sector and Resource Conservation (February 2011).