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UK-based opera house Glyndebourne targets net zero, prioritizes climate action throughout business

For over 10 years, the English opera house Glyndebourne has been taking action to minimize their impact on the environment. Their long-term goal is to become carbon neutral in their direct operations — and through integrations like wind-powered energy and sustainable travel, they are well on their way. 

Glyndebourne joined the SME Climate Hub to reaffirm and strengthen their commitment to climate action, and use the resources and community of the Hub to take the next steps towards net zero. The SME Climate Hub recently spoke with the company’s Managing Director Sarah Hopwood about how they’re prioritizing climate action and the learnings that can be applied to small businesses across every industry.

Prioritizing emissions reduction across every phase of business

What propelled you to take climate action? 

Glyndebourne is situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty in Sussex, England, which provides an inspirational backdrop for artists and audiences alike. For company members, the beauty of our work environment instils a sense of responsibility to do whatever we can to minimize our negative impact on the environment. 

As an entertainment company, what are your main sources of emissions? How have you begun to reduce those emissions?  

Our main source of direct emissions comes from the gas and electricity consumption required to power our productions and related activity. We’ve been working hard to tackle this and have achieved an 83% reduction in energy-related emissions between 2009 and 2020. 

Our electricity use has dropped substantially thanks to measures such as modifying the air conditioning system, replacing the auditorium working lights with low-energy LEDs and installing timers and sensors to ensure that lights are only in use when required. We have recently replaced our 27 year-old gas boilers with a significantly more efficient system that we forecast could deliver up to a 20% reduction in gas usage.  

Given our rural location, the emissions that result from audience travel to Glyndebourne is another key factor. It’s been a difficult challenge to crack, but we have introduced an audience coach service to encourage as many people as possible to travel to Glyndebourne by train. We also offer free electric car charging to visitors and staff. 

© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Sam Stephenson

Reducing emissions – concrete steps small businesses can take in the near term

What were the first steps Glyndebourne took to reduce emissions? 

Our first step was to draw up an environmental policy detailing the company’s commitment to making its operations more sustainable, closely followed by an analysis of our carbon emissions to inform what action we would take.  

That research revealed that a wind turbine located on an area of land just above the opera house was the single largest financially-viable initiative that could then be undertaken to reduce Glyndebourne’s own-generated carbon emissions. Planning permission for the wind turbine was submitted in 2007 and it was commissioned in 2012. Its implementation immediately halved our direct carbon emissions. Between 2012 and 2020, the turbine has generated the equivalent of 105% of the electricity used by the company in that period, far exceeding the 90% annual target. 

© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Sam Stephenson

How has Glyndebourne stepped up its climate action in the last few years? 

In 2018, Glyndebourne became zero-waste to landfill resulting in more major carbon emissions savings. For the first time, Glyndebourne and its onsite catering provider are operating under a single waste management contract which has enabled our waste management company to develop a full waste and recycling strategy that streamlines processes to achieve greater impact. With their help we have continued to improve our recycling rates and reduce waste and have achieved an 81% reduction in absolute waste tonnage between 2009 and 2020.  

The next big step is to find ways to make the productions on our stage more sustainable. More production materials will be recycled from our stores, with plans for the disposal or reuse of every component agreed in advance with production teams. It is a major step towards making theatre in a truly sustainable, environmentally friendly way that will make a big difference as we work towards our long-term goal of becoming carbon neutral in our direct operations. 

What business benefits have you seen as a result of taking climate action? 

We have seen significant reductions in costs, both as a result of generating our own electricity through the wind turbine and from reducing our gas and electricity use. The wind turbine required sizable upfront investment, funded from reserves, but those costs were recouped in just five and half years due to the turbine exceeding its production targets.  

© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Sam Stephenson

Are your employees invested in this process? 

The support of staff has been vital to Glyndebourne’s success to date. We aim to ensure that environmentally responsible management and operational procedures are fundamental to all that we do and that we encourage a culture where all staff feel a personal responsibility to help us to minimize the carbon impact of Glyndebourne on the planet.  

Our efforts have been driven by a non-hierarchical volunteer group of employees, our Environmental Champions. Drawn from across the company they have been looking at every aspect of our operations to identify opportunities to reduce our consumption of energy, water and consumables. Topics raised and acted on by the group include the development of our electric car charging facilities, the introduction and promotion of a cycle to work scheme for staff, a switch to sustainable cleaning supplies and a ban on unrecyclable takeaway coffee cups. 

Scaling Glyndebourne’s Impact 

Do you have advice for small businesses looking to take the first step? 

One of the most important things to do at the start is to get the most accurate picture possible of your environmental footprint to help you see where you can improve and to identify small, easy wins that can start you on your journey towards a more sustainable future.  

Bring your employees along with you – their insight is crucial in getting a complete picture of your current operations and where improvements can be made. 

© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Sam Stephenson

Committing to the SME Climate Hub 

Why did Glyndebourne choose to make a commitment with the SME Climate Hub? What are the main benefits you’re seeing so far, and how are you utilizing its tools and resources? 

For more than 10 years, we’ve been taking action to minimize our impact on the environment, with the long-term goal of becoming carbon neutral in our direct operations. We joined the SME Climate Hub to reaffirm that commitment and to unite with and learn from companies, organizations and individuals around the world who share the same mission and drive to protect the planet. 

We are currently adopting the recommendations in the 1.5°C Business Playbook to better present our status and communicate our targets and progress. 

Small businesses like Glyndebourne provide invaluable insights around the journey towards climate change. Interested in sharing your own climate journey for potential inclusion as a business spotlight? Tell us how you’re working towards reducing emissions in this short form

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