WHEN IT COMES TO SAVING THE planet, we fret about petrochemical plants, long-haul flights and supermarkets. Few of us think about the arts. Yet the creative industries create more than just a good time. The leaflets, ticket stubs, heated halls, stage lights and interval drinks have their consequences. That's before the miles clocked up by artists, promoters and audiences. Does our cultural well-being make it all worthwhile?
The bad news is that, yes, the arts do leave behind a substantial carbon footprint. The good news is that every one of the promoters and directors I spoke to for this article is doing something about it.
There's a long way to go, of course, but don't cancel your season ticket just yet. After all, there's no certainty your alternative activity will be any more green. "Is it better to go to the theatre or stay at home?" asks Matthew Brander, an analyst at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management. "To make a meaningful comparison you'd have to look at what those people would be doing if they weren't at the theatre. If they were all at home watching telly, you'd have to ask how much electricity each television was consuming, what the life-cycle emissions of making the TV were, how many lights were on at home, and would they be making a cup of tea in the advert break? Then you could compare the scenarios."
So, assuming you're not ready to give up your cultural fix, here are some pointers to the eco-questions facing your favourite artforms.
AT A TIME when even Arnold Schwarzenegger, the gas-guzzling governor of California, is talking seriously about climate change, every Hollywood star has a worthy word to say about the environment. Leonardo DiCaprio has even produced an eco-documentary, The 11th Hour, scheduled for release in the UK on 15 February.
"During this critical period of human history, healing the damage of industrial civilisation is the task of our generation," says DiCaprio.
The actor's own trade, however, hardly has the greenest of records. The only polluter in Los Angeles bigger than the entertainment business is the oil industry. Think of the flights involved in moving an entire crew from one glamorous location to the next. Consider the generators and sets, the energy required for the studio offices – or, indeed, to keep us all comfortable in multiplexes around the world. That's before the packaging of DVDs and the knock-on demand for plasma-screen TVs.
The industry is taking action – and not only to avoid the charge of hypocrisy while releasing films such as Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, which offset its carbon footprint with renewable energy projects in Alaska. At the other end of the entertainment scale, 97 per cent of the material used for the sets on The Matrix series went on to be recycled, while the kitchen cabinets and lighting fixtures used in Ocean's Eleven ended up in the HQ of an environmental campaign body.
Warner Brothers has taken a firm lead, printing its DVD packaging on 30 per cent recycled and chlorine-free paper, using steel scaffolding instead of wood for set construction and light sensors in its wardrobes.
"THE greenest festival is one that doesn't happen," admits Geoff Ellis, festival director at DF Concerts. But rather than give up at the thought of 80,000 music fans heading to Perthshire for T in the Park, Ellis has turned the event into the largest carbon-neutral festival in the world. His new Connect festival in Argyll has gone the same way. As well as offsetting the travel involved for audiences and bands, T in the Park encourages cup recycling, battery exchanges and even tent recycling. "This year we want to make all the food containers biodegradable," says Ellis.
"We're talking to our power suppliers about using more bio-fuels. And we've been using light-sensitive halogen lights that are triggered when it gets dark."
Back in the city, the collective might of Edinburgh's summer festivals are worth a whopping 135 million to the economy. What that means is not simply tickets sold, but hotels booked, meals eaten, taxis driven, shops visited – all things that make the city prosper and all things with an environmental impact. Taking a lead from the Manchester International Festival, which has been testing a new British standard in sustainable events management, the various Edinburgh festivals have set up an environmental group.
"It's our responsibility to make sure we're minimising our carbon footprint," says Faith Liddell, director of Festivals Edinburgh, welcoming the work VisitScotland has been doing for cultural visitors with its Green Tourism Business Scheme. "There's a whole issue about festivals bringing international artists over. Yes, you do need to fly them in, but once they're in the UK we need to examine the greenest possible way of moving them around."
IF YOU want to hear an orchestral concert in all its glory, you've got to be prepared for 85 musicians to show up. If they've flown in from abroad, they might also have booked airline seats for their precious instruments. "What we do is play live music and that's our reason for existing," says Simon Woods, chief executive of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
"It's not as if we can take only 30 people to reduce the environmental impact."
Planning to introduce a formal green policy this year, Woods ensures that as much RSNO travel as possible is by train and bus and otherwise encourages car-pooling. There's no way around the 85 air tickets they'll need for this year's tours to Spain and Germany, but once there, they aim to stick to buses and trains. "We want to look at carbon offsetting for that, which means building it into the budget," he says.
The company is also making inroads in its marketing. "We're moving to communicate with our audience through e-mail," he says. "We printed our annual brochure, which has 100,000 copies, on 55 per cent recycled paper and did a lot of research on the least amount of chlorine used."
WITH Kim Wilde best known as a gardener, Peter Garrett having a higher profile as Australia's environment minister than as lead singer of Midnight Oil, and the legacy of Joe Strummer living on in Rebel's Wood, a carbon offsetting forest on the Isle of Skye, you'd imagine pop music had a pretty good environmental record.
The problem lies in the vast resources required by your average band. One newspaper calculated that for all Radiohead's green commitment, they would have to plant and maintain 50,000 trees for 100 years to offset the carbon emissions produced by their Hail to the Thief album and tour.
The good news is that although questions have been raised about the carbon off-setting business, the experts reckon it really can work. "Our position is that if the carbon offset project is a good one, then there are benefits," says Matthew Brander of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management.
More good news is that the rock'n'roll spirit lives on. Former Eurythmic Dave Stewart is working on a six-album eco-friendly series called Lover Earth, a name he chose because Mother Earth "doesn't sound very sexy".
IT'S EASY to imagine that theatre's biggest environmental impact is in the sets that get put up for three weeks, only to be discarded. Or in the array of powerful stage lights that hang from the rig.
In fact, that's not at all the case. Cost-conscious production teams re-use every scrap of material they can, while a single stage light will be switched on for only a relatively short time.
"We salvage whatever we can that's cost effective," explains one production manager.
Compare that with the bigger challenge of the buildings themselves. Foyer lights tend to be turned on all day, as does the heating system to keep the public spaces warm. "When you do the studies it's your daytime domestic light that costs the money," says Colin Marr, director of the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness.
Marr has had the environment very much on his mind in the run-up to the recent re-opening of his theatre after a 23m refurbishment. Low energy light bulbs are now standard; they've installed modern boilers and, even in Inverness, they've got solar panels to heat the water.
The natural ventilation system will save 30,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year. "That will quickly offset the additional concrete used in the refurbishment," says Marr.
In essence, theatre requires no more than an actor and an empty space, but a big, successful show carries big environmental costs. Consider Black Watch. Gregory Burke's hit play is currently flying the flag for the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) in Australia, having wowed New York and LA. There are trips to New Zealand and Canada to come. That's a lot of air travel and a good few hotel towels.
All the same, Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the NTS, has made a commitment for her staff to share cars and travel by train within the UK, and is planning a green audit of the company's activities as well as an "Open Space" discussion day.
The art world's biggest environmental challenge comes from the galleries. Large airy rooms might display the art to perfection, but they're hellish to heat. If the exhibition is delicate, it will require 24-hour temperature and humidity controls, neither of which come cheap. "Like every home owner we're worried about heating, lighting and rubbish," says Fiona Bradley, director of Edinburgh's Fruitmarket, a spacious two-level gallery with a glass roof. "Our biggest problem is heating and cooling with a very antiquated, inefficient system which would cost maybe 50,000 to replace."
Running a contemporary gallery means Bradley spends a lot of time on the go. She has made a personal commitment to travel by train this year. Meanwhile, the artists themselves are also on the move. "As work has become more responsive to its environment, artists get on the plane a hell of a lot," she says. "If someone is invited to the Sydney Biennale, they will fly to Sydney, look at the space, fly home, come up with an idea and fly back to Sydney to check that the idea is going to work out."
It's not so common for the artwork itself to eat up resources, although anything using film projectors or high-voltage lights will set the electricity meter spinning. The greatest single consumer of water in Edinburgh's National Galleries is Charles Jencks' Landform, with its curvaceous pond in front of the National Gallery of Modern Art. Now the galleries' estates team is looking into the cost-effectiveness of filling it with rain water or lowering the surface level.
That's part of a campaign by the National Galleries to reduce energy use by 10 per cent by April next year. It has already installed energy-efficient condensing boilers, replaced inefficient fluorescent lights and installed automatic light switches in staff areas. Sometimes the improvements have been as simple as providing bicycle racks and closing the front doors in winter. There's a real art to that.
• For more on The Scotsman's Let's Go Green Together campaign, visit www.scotsman.com/gogreen