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Glyndebourne: why the UK’s leading opera festival backs sustainability



Glyndebourne – the UK’s leading opera festival – celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. While timeless works by Tchaikovsky and Mozart continue to thrill the crowds, the event has taken the novel steps of becoming a leader in sustainability in recent years.

A wind turbine it installed in 2012 is already providing all of its electricity and it has plans to be entirely carbon neutral in its direct operations.

Seth Kirby spoke with executive chairman Gus Christie to find out more about its commitments – and to look ahead to the 2014 event, which is dedicated to Sir George Christie, Gus’s father and Glyndebourne’s president, who died last week aged 79. 

Tell us more about Glyndebourne and its history.

This is our 80th anniversary year. My grandfather built the original opera house in the 30s and we opened in May 1934.

The festival lasts for about three-and-a-half months, from the middle of May to the end of August. We do six opera productions each summer, two or three of which are new and three or four are a revival of operas that we have done in previous years.

We now have a 1,250-seat auditorium, as opposed to the previous one that was about 850, and so we have about 100,000 visitors to the summer festival every year. Eighty-five per cent of audience are members either full society members or associate members, and then the rest of the tickets are available to the general public.

We also have a touring opera that goes around the country during the autumn and a thriving education department that does community operas, working with the local community and kids to educate and inspire them into the magical world of opera.

The festival has aspirations to be carbon neutral and other ambitious plans in terms of renewable energy – why?

We use a lot of power and do about an average of 75-80 performances during the summer and another 20 in October. With that in mind, I was keen to do our bit to reduce our carbon emissions.

A consultant advised us to putting a single wind turbine on the hill would be the most economical way to go forward. We applied to the local district council to erect a turbine up to 67 metres in height, which we were told would be sufficient to cover our annual electricity needs – around £150,000.

As well as an environmental desire to reduce our carbon emissions, it made financial sense thanks to the feed-in tariff subsidy. We ended up with a 900 kilowatt (kW) Enercon E-44 turbine, which to look at is aesthetically the most elegant turbine there is on the market. It is an extraordinary piece of human engineering.

It was erected in October 2011 and started turning once we got in connected to the grid in December 2011. Sir David Attenborough officially cut the ribbon at a well-attended event a month later. We have had it for over two years and in the first year it produced 89% of the power that we used; in the second year, it produced 102%.

Glyndebourne executive chairman Gus Christie (left) with his father and president Sir George Christie, who died last week aged 79. The 2014 festival is dedicated to him. Photo: David Fernandes

What long-term impact do you hope your wind turbine will have?

We are the first opera house to be powered by wind and I think there is a desire for other arts organisations to become as carbon neutral as they can. It will become less of a desire and more of an imperative as times goes on, especially those organisations that are funded by the Arts Council.

Everybody needs to have an environmental strategy to receive support but I think there is a real awareness now that we can’t just carry on burning fossils fuels – so the more renewable energy and clean technology the better. The turbine is a daily reminder to people who come here that there are ways of doing things without actually desecrating the countryside.

How else do you, as an opera festival, promote sustainability and minimise your impact on the environment?

The wind turbine has stimulated the company and all of the employees here to think about recycling waste and which suppliers we use. I think this is something that seems to be happening in a broader context; the companies that have a better environmental policy are getting the business.

We are now looking at putting in more insulation into the main theatre, but also I’m looking at doing a biomass woodchip boiler for the main house which is used by the company and some of the outside buildings as well. That would help again to reduce our carbon emissions and get us towards the goal of carbon neutrality.

There is an environmental group that meets regularly to discuss all these aspects of recycling and waste. We are looking also at all of our food waste from our restaurants and had a visit to the local incinerator recently, which has also got a separate incinerator to do food waste, so we will hopefully get it recycled and made into compost. They are actually generating power from their incineration, which is a fantastic setup and brilliant at making power by burning rubbish.

Glyndebourne’s gardens are being constantly renewed. How do you think this demonstrates environmental awareness?

The gardens are an intrinsic part of the whole Glyndebourne visitor experience. During the intervals, on nice evenings people spill out into the gardens and have a picnic out there.

We have a very good team of gardeners who are using little or no fertiliser. We use peat-free compost so they are very environmentally conscious in the way they do there gardening.

How do you think your sustainability commitments will impact ticket sales?

In this day and age, most companies are seeing the environment as something that we all have to protect. On the whole, I think it is a good thing. I don’t know whether it will make people necessarily come and see the opera, but the whole atmosphere of this place is blessed with beautiful surroundings. That is part of the whole live experience and I think the cleaner and greener we are will be an attraction.

You mentioned Glyndebourne turns 80 this year. What do you have planned?

We haven’t got any big cut gala nights. We’re doing three new and fairly popular productions and we are doing a Mozart opera that we have never done before. But nothing over and above what we normally do.

What has been your greatest achievement while at Glyndebourne and what legacy do you hope to leave?

You can never sit on your laurels in anything and in 80 years we’ve withstood the various recessions. Who knows where opera as an art form is going to be in 20 years’ time, but we must keep it fresh, exciting, stimulating, entertaining and inspiring.

It’s a degree of innovation mixed in with a look to the past and tradition; a healthy balance of that will keep us going. That’s what my legacy will be. We’re still a good place for people to come and work, and a good place for people to come and visit, be entertained and be inspired.

Gus Christie is executive chairman of Glyndebourne Productions Ltd.

Featured image: Bill Hunter

Further reading:

2014 guide to the UK’s top sustainable and green festivals

Honing festival sustainability: from travel to renewable energy

Renewable energy: something to sing loudly about?

The Just So Festival: no ordinary festival

Festivals play a crucial role in switching on our environmental antennas


5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?



sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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