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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


Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis




Energy Investments
Shutterstock / By Sergey Nivens |

Retiring baby-boomers are facing a retirement cliff, at the same time as mother nature unleashes her fury with devastating storms tied to the impact of global warming. There could be a unique solution to the challenges associated with climate change – investments in clean energy from retirement funds.

Financial savings play a very important role in everyone’s life and one must start planning for it as soon as possible. It’s shocking how quickly seniors can burn through their nest egg – leaving many wondering, “How long will my retirement savings last?”

Let’s take a closer look at how seniors can take baby steps on the path to retiring with dignity, while helping to clean up our environment.

Tip #1: Focus & Determination

Like in other work, it is very important to focus and be determined. If retirement is around the corner, then make sure to start putting some money away for retirement. No one can ever achieve anything without dedication and focus – whether it’s saving the planet, or saving for retirement.

Tip #2: Minimize Spending

One of the most important things that you need to do is to minimize your expenditures. Reducing consumption is good for the planet too!

Tip #3: Visualize Your Goal

You can achieve more if you have a clearly defined goal in life. This about how your money can be used to better the planet – imagine cleaner air, water and a healthier environment to leave to your grandchildren.

Investing in Clean Energy

One of the hottest and most popular industries for investment today is the energy market – the trading of energy commodities. Clean energy commodities are traded alongside dirty energy supplies. You might be surprised to learn that clean energy is becoming much more competitive.

With green biz becoming more popular, it is quickly becoming a powerful tool for diversified retirement investing.

The Future of Green Biz

As far as the future is concerned, energy businesses are going to continue getting bigger and better. There are many leading energy companies in the market that already have very high stock prices, yet people are continuing to investing in them.

Green initiatives are impacting every industry. Go Green campaigns are a PR staple of every modern brand. For the energy-sector in the US, solar energy investments are considered to be the most accessible form of clean energy investment. Though investing in any energy business comes with some risks, the demand for energy isn’t going anywhere.

In conclusion, if you want to start saving for your retirement, then clean energy stocks and commodity trading are some of the best options for wallets and the planet. Investing in clean energy products, like solar power, is a more long-term investment. It’s quite stable and comes with a significant profit margin. And it’s amazing for the planet!

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What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?



Clean Growth Strategy for green energy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By sdecoret |

It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?

The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.

A Strategy, Instead of a Plan

But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.

The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.

A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth

But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.

Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push

While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.

The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.

But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.

This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.

Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.

In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.

It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.

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