Lucy Noble, chair of the National Arenas Association and Royal Albert Hall artistic director, gives an insight into how the venue’s team is working to make the 150-year-old building as sustainable as possible within the confines of its grade 1 listed status.
Sustainability will be at the top of the agenda for the Royal Albert Hall in the coming years and it’s of course always a challenge when you’re working within the constraints of a 150-year-old, grade I listed building. That hasn’t, however, stopped us taking positive strides in this area.
First and foremost, all staff members at the Hall are invested and engaged in making us a greener building. We have an employee-led sustainability committee which meets regularly and represents all areas across the workforce.
The team has pushed forward a lot of new initiatives at the Hall to include a Green Rider for visiting companies and promoters, and the banning of plastic straws, cutlery and takeaway containers. We are shortly moving towards an eco-friendly plastic looking cup – I know it doesn’t sound possible but this one is biodegradable. All staff have special Royal Albert Hall coffee keep cups and you can’t get a takeaway coffee in the café without one. They also have water bottles. Nothing is printed unless it’s absolutely crucial. All contracts have now become digital. All these measures make a huge difference.
“Sustainability is a standing point on the agendas of the National Arenas Association.”
For the actual physical building, we are currently pulling together our carbon management plan which will see a move towards becoming carbon neutral. With a grade I listed building we are unable to change some of the key features; for example, we will never be able to put modern insulation into the walls or add double glazing. However, we have undertaken a lot of positive work on the building to include a new filter system which is far more efficient. Alongside this, we have nearly completed rolling out LED lights throughout the building and we have already seen electrical consumption reduce as a result.
Through various efficiency measures, we have managed to keep emissions at 2019 levels, month-on-month, despite undertaking major projects such as new chillers to cool the auditorium. Our new ventilation system uses EC rather than belt-driven fans because they are more environmentally friendly. The variable air volume units automatically slow down when someone is not in a room by responding to the levels of CO2 in the air.
For the performances, key to bringing the carbon footprint down for shows has been the installation of our award-winning d&b audio system. A large reason for doing this was to improve the democracy and quality of the sound, but an added bonus is that promoters no longer have to truck in large amounts of equipment in order to present a performance.
This goes for lighting, too, – we have a fantastic array of lighting available within the Hall – half of which is now LED – which means again that numbers of trucks on the roads are reduced, and artists can perform knowing the physical lights are sustainability too. We are now making it obligatory for all promoters to use our audio system.
There’s still much to be done and our fellow arenas are also doing a huge amount in this area.
As one example, the Brighton Centre has moved to ‘Meat-Free Mondays’ as well as removing beef from the menus and going 50% vegan for all customers. Sustainability is a standing point on the agendas of the National Arenas Association and we’re looking forward to reporting back as we develop new initiatives.