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Green Support

Mike Lawler • Feature • October 2, 2008

Gideon Banner and the Green Theatre Initiative

When talking to Gideon Banner, its easy to see how this New York actor has entered the so-called green theatre movement through sheer conviction. It’s also easy to hear just how serious he is about his latest project, a labor of love called the Green Theatre Initiative (GTI). While getting the organization and its informative Web site off the ground is a new kind of challenge for Banner, it is one that he embraces with passion and clarity. In many ways, he is perfectly suited for his newest role as the founder of GTI, an organization that aims to make it easier for performing arts companies to run their operations in a more sustainable manner.

From Blue to Green
The idea for GTI came to Banner while acting in the New York production of the Blue Man Group — a gig he’s had on and off for the past nine years. About two years ago, Banner sat down with the stage manager and created an environmental committee that enacted simple changes like switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs, increasing recycling efforts and using green cleaning products. It seemed like such a simple — and important — idea that they brought it to the founders of Blue Man, proposing the adoption of a similar plan companywide. To Banner’s delight, the founders had similar leanings and were already in the process of formulating an environmental policy for the company.

But what if the idea of implementing green policies hadn’t occurred to the thousands of performing companies across the country — or worse — what if they simply didn’t know how to green their operations? As Banner moved about his acting life, working for various companies, he began to think about how to expand the idea of sustainable theatre production, and realized that the problem was large.

Gideon Banner

“I saw the waste that was being generated, the energy that was being wasted, and felt that something could — and should — be done,” he says. His growing concern led him to the initial conclusion that nothing short of immediate and sweeping action would do. But he soon discovered a common obstacle:  “Generally, theatres don’t have money to throw at this,” he says.

His belief in the move toward greener production held firm, though, and he soon came to the conclusion that the solutions required could also be a boon to the organizations enacting them. “This is something that I not only believe that theatres should do, but I think it’s something that will benefit them,” he says. “Making a commitment to reducing a theatre’s impact on the environment can only benefit its relationship to the community, create new sources of funding, and — this I think is very important — invigorate the theatre’s staff.”

Getting Connected
GTI is currently focused on helping to bring together people and organizations that are already moving in a green direction through the recently introduced GTI e-newsletter. Banner admits that he is routinely amazed by the sheer number of people across the country taking steps toward an eco-friendly theatre. “All of these people are working independently,” Banner told me recently from New York, “and the Green Theatre Initiative aims to connect them. To say ‘here is what your colleagues are doing, if you want encouragement or advice on an issue, we will connect you.’”

From a practical point of view, Banner sees the work of GTI as twofold: First, GTI aims to convince theatres that they should do all they can to promote sustainability within their organizations. It does this by highlighting the work of theatres and theatre professionals that are already taking green action. Second, GTI acts as a bridge between the desire to go green and the resources necessary to do so, whether practical information via its Web site or cultivating the technical and funding sources necessary.

It’s easy for people, and perhaps organizations, of all kinds to disassociate themselves from the environment or the long-term health and well-being of future generations. Things like global climate change, biodiversity and even pollution are big picture ideas that are often difficult to connect to the here and now. But, according to Banner, there are two direct, pragmatic benefits for theatres going green. The first is money.

“This is going to be the next big funding source of the next 20 years, if not more, as the level of urgency grows,” Banner says of the sustainability movement in the arts. Just as theatres found that developing educational programs increased their ability to attract funding and improve community relations, so too will green innovation and outreach. Funding based on the adoption of environmentally minded policies is already on the rise, Banner notes, and GTI hopes to help keep that trend moving in an upward direction.

Also, Banner asserts that many of the decisions theatres make on this front will not only appeal to donors, but may save them outgoing dollars as well. “Often times,” he says, “we’ll end up saving theatres money” through energy and water conservation and efficiency. Of course, not all green initiatives will have this effect, and Banner admits that can be a hard pill to swallow for many organizations already struggling to run in the black.

Greening the Next Generation
Cultivating the next generation of theatergoers is also a key incentive for theatres to embrace the idea of reducing their footprint on the planet. “As younger audiences become more concerned about this, and theatres want to remain connected and vital, they need to take action on this front,” Banner says. While younger generations are not the only ones deeply concerned about ecological issues, it seems clear that they tend to be more in tune with the cause and accepting of the core issues, including global climate change. They are also, as Banner indicates, the audience of the future.

This doesn’t mean that theatres need to begin aggressively integrating environmental issues into their work. “Nobody wants shows that are a rallying cry for the environment,” Banner says. “Nobody wants to hit audiences over the head with it.” But, it is the inner workings of a theatre’s operations where real change can be made — creating opportunities for themselves and their communities in the process. “Theatres should be making a commitment in their operations and their planning to reducing their impact on the environment, and therefore, leading by example,” he says.

And for those of you who may think it’s too little too late, Banner has this to say: “I’m a firm believer in optimism when it comes to this. If you present it as a creative challenge, as an opportunity to rethink, as an artistic challenge, then I think people will happily step up and come up with solutions.”

Manufacturing the Green

By Jacob Coakley

These companies have dedicated themselves to the green philosophy, and are committed to making the theatre world as environmentally friendly as possible. More are out there, and we’ll continue to spotlight green companies and initiatives in the coming months.

It should be no surprise to you by now that LEDs offer massive energy savings, and Chauvet’s mission statement, “exploring, finding and delivering eco-friendlier alternatives to traditional lighting sources,” declares their dedication to the technology and its benefits. But they don’t merely get the nod of being “green” simply because they sell one of the largest range of LED products — they are also committed to incorporating green thinking into every aspect of their business. Chauvet is implementing paperless systems for internal accounting and record-keeping, and has recently broken ground on a new headquarters and manufacturing facility that will included such green touches as the use of sustainable building materials and an extensive skylight system that will allow for minimal electric light during daytime hours.

Another company dedicated to being green, both in product and philosophy, is ETC. Everyone is familiar with the Source Four luminaire, and its popularity also stems from the fact that it’s a green fixture. Designers and techs originally liked the fixture because of its output, but that highly efficient output also means that it takes less watts to produce the lumens you need. Their corporate culture also encourages green thinking, with strong recycling guidelines and initiatives for themselves and their business partners, with decisions made to harvest sunlight for their factory headquarters, using returnable shipping containers and reusable containers, as well as following the EU’s Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive, which regulates the processes for safe disposal of electrical equipment.

Clark Transfer Green Touring Program
Bus and truck tours produce thousands of tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Clark Transfer, a “theatrical transportation and logistics service,” started TouringGreen, a two-pronged program to combat this problem. Part of that plan is an internal project to introduce new technologies and incentives to curb their carbon emissions. The incentives help their drivers — a fleet of independent contractors who actually own the trucks — make incremental changes to reduce the amount of diesel they use for each haul. The second half of their plan is a partnership with NativeEnergy, a provider of high-quality carbon offsets. Through NativeEnergy, participants in the TouringGreen program fund renewable energy projects that prevent at least the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by shipping a show.

Showman Fabricators
Showman Fabricators, incorporated sustainability into their business practices by introducing “cradle-to-cradle” service — they will reclaim the set they built for you to recycle and reuse as much of the materials as possible, reducing landfills — and have created partnerships with local schools and organizations to let them utilize pre-worked materials. They are also committed to making sure those materials are gathered in the most environmentally sensitive manner in the first place, getting wood that has been Forest Stewardship Council-certified and other goods that meet Green Seal standards. They’ll even meet with clients before a project has started and offer their consulting services to find a way to make it as green a show as possible.

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