Theatre Green Book One Toolkit – Producing
11. Digital, Hybrid and Filmed Work
Written by Josie Dale-Jones for Complicité and Eleanor Warr for the RSC
With thanks to Paul Handley, Jessica LE Richardson, Amber Massie Blomfield, Paul Skelton, Katy Downtown, Melly Still, Reuben Cohan, Gemma Swallow, Emma Wilson, Liz Minshall, Eleanor Field, Julie Brown, Nicolás Conde, Dom Robinson and Theatre Green Book Committee.
There are many opportunities in hybrid working, theatre making and distribution. However, the impact of mass digital usage on the environment is huge and often unseen. Digital dominance is not necessarily the answer to reducing our carbon impact.
It takes energy to run your computer. It takes power to use the internet. It takes an enormous amount of energy to store data.1 And it’s not just about electrical energy either, there’s the energy used to extract materials (and the materials themselves)to create the devices we’re using too.
This toolkit aims to bring consciousness to decision-making processes, provide sustainable alternative practices. We hope to be part of greening your hybrid working, theatre making and distribution.
Hybrid work often intersects with many other disciplines and industries. We have included links to other information throughout this guide and in the resources list at the end. For instance, for more advice about sustainably maintaining technical equipment, see the Technical Equipment Toolkit.
What is hybrid?
For the purpose of this toolkit, we are defining ‘hybrid’ as an artistic project created using analogue and digital processes and/or when the output and distribution of an artistic project takes analogue and digital forms.
For example, a hybrid process might feature in-person rehearsals as well as production meetings held via video conferencing. Examples of hybrid outputs and distribution include an ‘in-person’ live performance which is also streamed to an online audience, using video mapping or projection as part of set design for a live performance, a podcast accompanying a touring theatre production.
Before you begin
- Embed sustainability and collaboration from the start. A sustainability meeting at concept stage, defining your sustainable aims with team members and appointing a Sustainability Champion.
- Set guiding principles. For example, if more than half the team are meeting in person, consider if everyone can gather in the same space rather than using technology to join remotely.
- Think about language. E.g. try referring to ‘waste’ as ‘resource’. This might help to encourage reduction of materials and recycling.
- Ask ‘Why hybrid?’ How does hybrid making enhance your project aims? Is it more or less accessible to your team members and audiences? Digital poverty and exclusion are increasing in the U.K.2 and restricted access to digital technology, including internet access and reliable electricity, can compound existing inequities around race, gender, age, ability and income.
- Switch to a renewable energy supplier. This might be in your organisation’s building, in a venue you are working at, or your own home. Running on green electricity is one of the most significant things we can do to green any digital aspect of our work.
- Consider if there is a need (and budget accordingly) for a digital production manager. Working on hybrid projects means being an expert on multiple forms and liaising between disciplines and industries.
- Prioritise second-hand or refurbished devices.
- Decide how you are going to measure your carbon footprint. See resource below for tools we recommend.
Remember that being sustainable requires greater planning, increased creativity, and maybe sometimes also a sense of humour.
Email and Web Management:
- Every email has a carbon footprint of 4g of CO2 release. Prioritise quick phone calls over long emails.
- Find an alternative to short ‘thank you’ emails by including a ‘thanks in advance’3 in your email signature.
- Send links in emails rather than attaching large files.
- Switch to eco-friendly search engines like Ecosia.
Make your use of technology intentional. Can online meetings be the back-up option, not the default?
There is no direct calculation that compares the carbon footprint of an in-person meeting vs. an online or hybrid meeting. The pros and cons of using video conferencing blur over social, wellbeing and environmental impacts. Online meetings are more accessible for some, they enable long distance collaboration and can reduce the need for carbon-intensive travel. However, video conferencing relies on technical equipment and power per person on the call.
When online or hybrid meetings are necessary focus on accessibility, investing in equipment from sustainable suppliers such as a 360° camera, mic and speaker and screen to make participants in room and online more visible and audible to each other.
- Avoid. Don’t use anything you don’t need. Use Theatre Green Book 1 to set a production goal and keep an inventory of all materials.
- Reduce. Video mapping of theatres and auditoriums is a useful tool for remote site visits, reducing travel. Using digital editing technologies like SketchUp to create prototypes before sourcing and using physical materials can reduce unnecessary purchases and waste.
- Reuse. Use more reused components and recycled materials. When you source materials, plan how you will repurpose/store/share them when you don’t need them anymore.
- Recycle. If you need to use virgin materials for set, costumes and props, follow the circular economy approach.
- Lend and loan equipment rather than buying new. Or hire a freelancer who comes with their own kit.
- Before replacing or purchasing, use Ethical Consumer to find out if the company has a circular economy strategy. The Enough Project researches connections between mineral extraction and armed conflict. Their 2017 report ranks 20 of the largest electronics companies on their use and policies relating to conflict minerals.
- Budget for energy-efficient higher-end equipment with warranties and repairability or for staff training to repair and refurbish equipment.
- Ensure that any disposal is via a compliant waste management company. Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE or e-waste) is one of the fastest growing waste streams. The EU WEEE Directive requires countries to maximise separate collection and environmentally friendly processing of these items.
- For more information, see Theatre Green Book 2 Toolkit – Maintaining and Replacing Technical Equipment.
Case Study: Complicité has over 100 headphones from touring The Encounter. These are now shared with other companies on request. Similarly, Complicité and Fehinti Balogun’s film, Can I Live?, has been using bike powered projectors and speakers as part of their Doc Society funded community screenings. Not only is this a good way to source electricity, it also makes audiences conscious of the work needed to generate it. Rather than commission new kit, Complicité chose to collaborate more closely with Electric Pedals, who will supply the equipment directly and can continue to use them for future projects.
Complicité has pulled together some advice for best practice in rehearsal spaces.
- Hire kit locally from a small number of hire houses and transport it using green couriers
- Work with local teams, especially when filming on location. Local creatives will also have unique knowledge of the area and communities.
- Reduce Travel. You can find and use existing film footage and stock images. Creative Commons has lots of rights-free materials.
- When travel is necessary, prioritise public transport and car-sharing.
Case Study: Artist Ruth Maclennan collated material for her ‘collective’ film Treeline through an open call for footage of forests all over the world. This approach avoids international travel and presents a creative opportunity, by encompassing multiple subjectivities.
- Use mains power over batteries where possible. Lithium batteries are cheaper to mine than recycle and so are not sustainable. Equipment can work faster for longer on mains power.
- Lighting. Use LED rather than tungsten.
- Quality. Record in HD1080p rather than 4K (unless you are definitely going to distribute your footage in 4K). Shooting in 4K quadruples the amount of data.
- Impact. Ensure that the site is left in at least the same condition as it was before you arrived, or better still, is there an opportunity to leave a positive impact such as volunteering with a local litter collection group, or planting seeds that add to biodiversity (in consultation with site stakeholders)?
Case Study: ThisEgg’s motherEarth international was filmed around the world. Many places experience extreme weather conditions due to the climate emergency. Be aware that your shoot may be affected by your environment. You might need to remain flexible on locations and schedules. For motherEarth international, for example, filming in Indonesia was disrupted by landslides and in Taiwan, power and internet cut out due to a typhoon. You can read more in the full motherEarth international Sustainability Report.
- Use cold storage for older content that you don’t need to access everyday. If using cloud storage, choose a company that uses green data centres.
- Create a data policy. This should include a procedure for when you clear files down e.g. delete rushes or rehearsal footage when no longer needed. This could also include information on how many places you might want something saved.
- Consider editing choices that use less energy. For example, reducing the level of brightness, or lower grading options. These will all need to be part of wider creative choices but are worth bearing in mind. A lot of these choices will also intersect (often positively) with audience access, for example slower cuts from frame to frame make films accessible for people with photo sensitivities.
- Sign off. Figure out how you are sharing edits with the wider team e.g. sharing a vimeo link with notes enabled is better than sending a file multiple times. Limiting downloads where possible.
In a theatre or venue:
Hosting Digital Content:
- Switch to a green website host. Building a ‘green’ website reduces loading time, improves user experience and reduces carbon footprint. Reduce video content and size of images (saving an image file as a WebPformat reduces size by 65%), remove duplicate content and use pre-installed or standard fonts (as opposed to fonts that might be stored on servers in different places around the world).
- Share pre-recorded footage ‘as live’ rather than repeating live streams. This limits the resources required for a shoot to one or two performances, rather than multiple, reducing total travel and energy use.
- Encourage streaming via Wi-Fi rather than roaming. 4G consumes around four times as much electricity as Wi-Fi.
- Suggest that audiences watch or listen with others.
- Size of device matters. Generally speaking, the bigger a device, the more energy it consumes. For example, when consuming alone mobile devices are better.
- Download rather than stream.
- Advise audiences to watch in SD instead of HD and lower their screen brightness.
- Did you meet your sustainable aims?
- Did you follow your guiding principles?
- Did hybrid enhance your project’s aims?
- What sustainable goals will you take into your next project?
Now, share your learning with others!
Collaborate with those in other fields who have specific knowledge that can help your work be as impactful as possible. Some useful places to go for more:
- Carbon Calculators: –The Networked Condition carbon calculator estimates the carbon footprint of creation and delivery of artworks using digital technology.
–The Theatre Green Book Material Inventories allows you to record where the materials in a show come from and what will happen to them when the project is over. This includes Technical Equipment, Set, Props and Costumes.
–Julie’s Bicycle Creative Climate Tools are carbon calculators where you can calculate the carbon footprint of travel, utilities used, performance spaces and audience sizes.
- Email and Web Management: see Digital Management Toolkit for more tips.
- Video Conferencing: carbon emissions of making a Zoom call can be estimated for domestic calls based on the electricity emissions factor (the amount of CO2 linked to the production of electricity in a country or region), but this calculation doesn’t work for international Zoom calls. Read more about this in our motherEarth international report. You can also read about the environmental impact of large Zoom calls in this Reset article. If an in-person meeting isn’t possible, build accessible practices into your online and hybrid meetings. This article from North Western University has good advice. Best practice for accessible video conferencing.
- Technical Theatre Production: 10 Quick Wins for Audio and Video from the Sustainability in Production Alliance (SiPA).
- Film production: albert supports the global Film and TV industry to reduce the environmental impacts of production. Their website features articles, toolkits and case studies of sustainable productions.
- Streaming: Greening of Streaming is a membership association, bringing together companies involved in streaming (or Content Delivery Network) supply chains, including Microsoft, Intel and Akamai. The members are committed to exploring solutions for increased energy efficiency and to the founding commitment: No Greenwashing!
- VR: North East-based XR Stories provide funding for R&D for immersive and interactive technologies for digital storytelling. Read more about making sustainable VR projects on the XR Stories website.
- Websites: Whole Grain Digital shares their experience of building a ‘green’ website in this video with linked slides. Ecometer share best practice, including coding guidance, on their website. The Green Web Foundation app checks the credentials of host providers.