Taking the lead role

9th December 2013


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  • Arts, entertainment and recreation ,
  • Employee engagement ,
  • Stakeholder engagement ,
  • EMS ,
  • Management


Tamaryn Armstrong

Sarah-Jayne Russell learns how ATG's environmental ambassadors play a key role in the management of its impacts, and how the whole group participated in Earth Hour

With more than 3,500 employees spread across the country, keeping environment issues at the forefront of people’s minds is an important concern for Juliet Hayes, the Ambassador Theatre Group’s (ATG) safety and environmental adviser (pictured). “We launched our ‘always think green’ initiative at our annual awards day in May 2012, which really raised everyone’s awareness of environmental issues and how serious ATG was about tackling them, but I knew that we needed to keep doing things to maintain interest,” she recalls.

Hayes considered how ATG could participate in Climate Week or Earth Day, but realised both would take a lot of resources, so she focused on Earth Hour – where organisations across the world switch their lights off for an hour. “In London, there’s a tradition that when a famous actor passes away, the theatres dim their external lights for two or three minutes as a mark of respect. I thought that we could do that for an hour,” she explains.

The idea was approved first by ATG’s property director David Blyth, and then won the backing of the group’s co-founder and joint CEO Rosemary Squire. “Once you get that level of endorsement, an initiative works,” she says. “I sent instructions to the venues telling them that we’d signed up to participate and that there was a press release going out – I didn’t really give them a choice!”

In 2013, Earth Hour fell at 8.30pm on Saturday 23 March, and the first challenge Hayes faced was reassuring venues that she wasn’t asking them to interrupt shows or turn off all their lights onstage. “I knew that all the box offices would be closed, so they wouldn’t be relying on the illuminated signage to attract walk up trade, and the audience would be in the auditorium. Most theatres have an interval at that time, but I only asked venues to dim non-essential external lighting, so I knew we wouldn’t be creating any safety issues. It was a challenge, but every venue participated,” she reports.

Earth Hour and WWF sent t-shirts and posters, so each venue had at least two members of staff raising awareness with customers about the event. A number of the venues did a lot more than Hayes was expecting. “The Liverpool Empire was a great example,” she says. “The show at the time was The Blues Brothers and it started at 8.30pm. Catherine Duffy, the venue’s environment ambassador, decided to start the show with a minute’s darkness. She got the buy-in of the show’s producers – and that’s really hard – and had the staff hand out 400 LED tea-lights to the audience, which illuminated the auditorium for the minute.

“The event became this all-encompassing engagement exercise with everyone at the theatre that night. To engage people you’ve got to inspire them, and that’s what we were able to do.”

A green army

Each of the 39 venues in the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) appoints an environment ambassador, a safety ambassador and an access ambassador. They act as champions on their issue, helping to raise awareness, engage staff and manage initiatives.

Juliet Hayes, safety and environmental adviser at ATG, had been an environment ambassador in her previous role as a theatre manager and knew that re-establishing the roles across the group would help each venue improve its environmental performance. “When I took over responsibility for environment management, I realised I couldn’t do it on my own,” she says “Our environment ambassadors are my green army.”

Ambassadors are volunteers and have to fit in their extra responsibilities, such as promoting environment initiatives, around their day jobs. After re-energising the initiative, Hayes sent all of the green ambassadors on a one-day environment management course. “I needed them to understand how our activities impact the air, land and water on a basic level,” she explains. “Now they have a skillset they didn’t have before and they know we are willing to invest in them.”

Becky Charles (pictured) is a theatre and ticketing administrator at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham. She became the venue’s green ambassador two years ago and was named ambassador of the year at ATG’s annual safety, environment and technical awards in May. “While it’s not always easy, being an ambassador is really interesting and immensely rewarding,” she says.

Tackling waste in the theatre’s offices was the first initiative Charles got involved in. “We didn’t have anything in place for recycling, so I started introducing bins and putting up posters to remind people to be greener,” she says. “It’s amazing what you can achieve with small changes.” She has since started a partnership with a local charity, Birmingham Trees for Life, and has arranged events at the theatre to raise money and awareness with staff and customers.

Since January, when all ATG venues began receiving weekly reports on their electricity consumption, Charles has been monitoring the theatre’s electricity use and works with the technical team to investigate any anomalies. “I look to see what the issue might be and if something’s happened that shouldn’t have, like a light being left on. Then we make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

This hands-on approach enabled Charles to spot when one of the theatre’s meters was faulty and report it to the supplier, potentially preventing months of incorrect bills. She is also working with her technical team to trial LED stage lights at the Birmingham venue. “The technical team has the expertise to suggest ways of cutting our energy use and then when we trial them I monitor the impact on our consumption. It’s a real team effort,” she says.

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