Broadway goes to the White House

August 2010:  This month I feature a blog by Allen Hershkowitz, NRDC Senior Scientist, NYC and throughout the world writing about the Broadway Green Alliance, Allen presents some amazing facts worth consideration.

By Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist, NYC and throughout the world

President Obama and the First Lady celebrated Broadway last night in the East Room of the White House and two co-founders of the Broadway Green Alliance, Susan Sampliner, Company Manager of Wicked, and I, were invited. ( Our attendance, as environmentalists working with Broadway's theater owners and influential decision makers to help reduce the environmental impacts of The Great White Way, was a gentle but meaningful recognition by the White House that every sector in our society, even entertainment, has to do something about climate change and other ecological crises.

Every day, more than ninety million tons of greenhouses gases are emitted into the atmosphere, and each day more are emitted than the day preceding. At the same time, we are losing an acre of tropical forest every second, and have been for twenty years. We lose an acre of wetlands every minute, and forests are being converted into toilet paper. Our oceans are at risk, saturated with oil, acidification, and plastic debris, and biodiversity loss is occurring at a rate and scale that is unprecedented in human history.

Obviously, these pressures are not the result of only one single bad actor. They are the result of billions of ecologically ignorant production and consumption decisions. All of us, all industries, and all consumers contribute.

Hence, while some members of the Senate are willing to regulate carbon emissions only from power plants, and many other Senators are not even willing to regulate carbon at all, we must find innovative approaches to mobilize our economy and our culture to respond to the planetary emergency we face. Indeed, the fact is that even if a law is enacted that regulates carbon at power plants, we still need to move all other sectors in our society away from fossil fuels and towards other ecologically intelligent practices.

Broadway theaters are small contributors to the climate crisis. But the willingness of theater operators, and touring productions, to collaborate with NRDC and adjust their practices to reduce their carbon footprint and impacts on biodiversity sends an environmentally informative message to some of the more than forty million people who visit Broadway shows in New York City and around the country each year.

Broadway’s visibility is global. People from all over the world come to see Broadway shows, and if they walk away learning that Broadway has gone green due to the outreach efforts of the Broadway Green Alliance, they might be reminded that addressing the global ecological crisis is everyone’s responsibility. And with so many people around the world disappointed by the lack of carbon regulations in the United States, their tourist visit to Broadway, or one of Broadway's 200 touring productions, helps them learn that there are meaningful non-governmental initiatives taking place in the United States to address climate change and other ecological pressures.

Broadway’s cultural influence is also social and political, which is why Broadway’s embrace of environmentalism is important. As the President said last night, Broadway shows are more than entertainment, they have been “shaping our opinions about race and religion, death and disease, power and politics.” And now Broadway, through its work with the Broadway Green Alliance and NRDC, is helping to shape opinions about environmentalism too.

Besides public education and the education of the many supply chain vendors servicing Broadway’s theaters, some of the accomplishments that the Broadway Green Alliance has instigated in the past two years are tangibly meaningful, and include the following:

  • All 40 Broadway theaters have converted marquee and roof signs to LEDs, CFLs, or cold cathodes (as of April 2010). These bulbs typically use 20% the energy of traditional marquee bulbs. Upper theater signs have also been replaced, using bulbs that consume only 25% of energy used previously. Incandescent lights are also being replaced with CFLs in dressing rooms.
  • Energy efficient lighting upgrades have been installed at 90% of touring venues.
  • 31 of 39 theatres have instituted comprehensive recycling programs both front of house and backstage, and many productions are incorporating significant paper use reductions backstage.
  •  84% of all scenery from shows that have closed since January 2009 was recycled or reused.
  • Through a sponsorship with LG, all forty Broadway theaters are replacing older washer/dryers with energy and water efficient (Energy Star rated) machines. The energy savings achieved by making this switch is enough to power all Broadway theatre marquees for more than 3 months.
  • Productions are switching to rechargeable batteries and greener cleaning products.
  • Many productions are replacing the use of bottled water with water filtration systems and reusable bottles.
  • Roundabout Theatre Company’s Henry Miller’s Theatre and Disney’s New Amsterdam Theatre both have installed waterless urinals, and signs above their waterless and low-flow devices educate patrons about this water conserving technology that they may want to use in their own homes or businesses.
  • As part of the BGA’s “Touring Green” program, touring shows have offset over 4,000 tons of carbon emissions associated with the transport of their equipment by investing in wind power and other renewable energy projects offered through program partner Native Energy.
  • Almost all productions now running on Broadway have selected a “Green Captain”, on site to educate performers, crew, and management alike about the constant need to reduce ecological impacts and help implement more sustainable practices during productions.

Besides the political, economic and technical barriers to sustainability, there are also cultural barriers to sustainability. By engaging our nation’s cultural elite in behalf of ecological progress, meaningful steps are advanced which make addressing our climate crisis and other ecological problems more culturally accepted. We must end the cultural assumption that it is OK to destabilize the chemical stability of our atmosphere, or blow up forested mountains in Appalachia to acquire coal for energy. Collaborating with cultural elites helps us get that message out.

Last night, the movers and shakers of Broadway were in attendance, and they noticed the White House’s embrace of the Broadway Green Alliance. Robert Wankel of the Shubert Organization was in attendance, as were Nick Scandalios of the Nederlander Organization and Paul Libin of Jujamcyn. Collectively, these people manage about eighty percent of all Broadway theaters. Millions of people see their shows each year, and all of their organizations work with the Broadway Green Alliance, as does Broadway League Executive Director Charlotte St. Martin, who was also in attendance last night. Nor did it hurt to have Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, learn of Broadway’s interest in greening, and last night provided that opportunity as well.

Hopefully, our government will soon adopt a comprehensive law limiting climate changing pollutants. Science certainly dictates that that should be done. But the slow pace of legislative reform and the urgent ecological needs of the planet don’t work in tandem. Consequently, market based initiatives are called for, whether or not government properly accepts its responsibilities. By using the visibility of Broadway and other culture influencing sectors to leverage our message to the industrial supply chain, NRDC is working hard to move our economy and public sentiment towards ecological sanity, whether government acts or not.

posted July 20, 2010

Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist, NYC and throughout the world

I am a Senior Scientist at NRDC, specializing in issues related to sustainable development, supply chain management, industrial ecology, the paper industry, health risks, solid waste management, recycling, medical wastes, and sludge. I coordinate some of the world’s most prominent institutional greening initiatives, including the Academy Awards telecast, the GRAMMY Awards, the “Broadway Goes Green” initiative, and the greening of Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the USTA. I’ve served on the DuPont Corporation’s Bio-Based Fuels Life Cycle Assessment Advisory Board, the National Research Council Committee on the Health Effects of Waste Incineration and the EPA's Science Advisory Board Subcommittee on Sludge Incineration, as well as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's Peer Review Panel for it's Report to Congress on the Health Implications of Medical Waste. There’s more, but too much to list here.


Allen Hershkowitz’s Blog