How Green is Broadway?

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 Guest Blogger

When lovers of the performing arts and the urban pulse of New York’s theater district think of Broadway, it’s hard not to imagine the bright lights of the marquees emblazoned across the playhouses. It’s also the first image that comes to mind when asking the question: How green is Broadway?

The short answer is: greener than it once was, although there is much to be done. Happily, all those marquee lights draining power from the overtaxed grid have been replaced with energy-efficient LED light bulbs, thanks to the efforts of the Broadway Green Alliance (BGA). This group began in 2008 as an offshoot of the Broadway League, the famed avenue’s established association.

Today, BGA continues the hard work of bringing sustainable practices to New York’s theatrical elite. One recent event was a successful eco-waste drive to collect usable and recyclable electronics from playhouses. The group also runs an ongoing Binder Project to ensure these oft-used script materials are either recycled or donated.

What about Broadway’s buildings? While you won’t witness carbon-neutrality any time soon, there are signs the Great White Way is interested in better energy efficiency. During renovations of The Henry Miller Theater, now The Stephen Sondheim Theater, operators earned a LEED green building certification by mandating locally sourced materials and recycling most demolition debris. They replaced half the foundation with low-emission blast furnace slag and installed a drainage system for groundwater recycling. The ongoing efficiency effort has provided an excellent role model for self-transforming Broadway.

What happens when Broadway goes on tour? Moving sets, transporting casts and maintaining hotel rooms for touring troupes incurs extraordinary energy costs. Can it be helped? Broadway is hoping to make up for the harm done through the purchase of compensatory carbon offsets.

These are beneficial first steps that have laid an important foundation for cooperation between the diverse private interests that dominate Broadway. BGA’s work shows it can be done. Nevertheless, there is much more to be accomplished.

Each year, from Minnesota to Oregon, regional educational conferences and local initiatives are pushing forward, part of a long-awaited response to the perils of climate change. Broadway has made piecemeal efforts to model positive changes for this budding movement, but there remains a divide between grassroots “Eco theater” and Broadway’s outlook. That is, there are a lot of theaters out there with lesser budgets and resources that are breaking new ground, with or without Broadway’s support.

Meanwhile, London’s theater scene is more seriously engaged in green initiatives that measure progress with science-based energy tracking. One of the next steps for Broadway will be to begin measuring total energy consumption like their UK counterparts. It will be an increasingly important tactic in the long-term effort to make the performing arts carbon-free. Truly sustainable theater is still a dream, for now. For now, residents can learn more about saving energy at http://www.shopnaturalgasratesnewyork.com.

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