Working Smarter Guide: Environmental Sustainability

Sustainability is a broadly-used term and can sometimes seem overwhelming for individual designers to take on board, but it’s crucial for us all to play a part. There are three pillars of sustainability: Environmental, Social and Economic. Ideally these can be addressed in all production activities.

The full cycle of environmental sustainability means understanding where our products are sourced from, what their often complex impact on the environment is, and where they can safely return to after use. APDG creatives are rising to the challenges with extraordinary ingenuity, innovating in material, social, cultural and economic ways.

Sometimes it simply means changing how you/we do things:

  • Where do you source or buy items for a production? Research and choose suppliers with reputable sustainability policies. Websites like Good On You can be a handy place to start.
  • Choose to not use products that are made using practices that aren’t environmental sustainability
  • Rethink – Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – Recover
  • Incorporate zero waste practices wherever possible.
  • Working with your production team, encourage environmentally conscious practices in the design, execution and bump-out process. Often these suggestions can save the company money and time.
  • Design and build for efficient de-construction and effective recycling.
  • Prove that sustainability and imagination can intersect to promote new technologies, new materials, traditional techniques and great design.
  • Design using stock and make your designs useful as future stock – so they can be reused for multiple productions.
  • Develop partnerships with film studios, TV production companies, local universities, high schools, and theatre organisations to share resources, and recycle stock items and materials whenever possible.
  • Encourage venue managers to replace old dimmer systems with contemporary systems and replace conventional lighting instruments with comparable LED instruments, resulting in fewer kilowatt hours used per production/event.
  • Explore how introducing sustainability into your production designs can save you and the company time and money.

These suggestions are not new, but unless we as designers actively champion and prioritise them, tight budgets and timeframes will always push environmental concerns down the list of importance.

What about COVID19’s impact on sustainability?

The impact of COVID19 on our industry goes beyond the obvious health and financial implications. The ongoing need to regularly wash hands, wipe and disinfect surfaces, keep safe distances between people on set and in theatres and stop production teams from sharing tools will substantially increase our industry’s reliance on single-use disposable products on sets, in the art department, in wardrobes and backstage. We need to be proactive in finding ways to remain sustainable, hygienic and safe in our design practises too. This is a sustainability challenge that is ongoing and evolving.

Key Links

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Tips and Tricks:

  • ‘Ask your production company about sustainability early on so you can find solutions as a team and sustainability is on everyone’s minds when issues or better methods present themselves.’
  • ‘Most production companies will have a sustainability / green plan. Ask to see it if it has not been shared with you yet.’
  • ‘Consider what impact your designs are having ecologically as well as artistically’

Further resources on sustainable theatre practises:

  • Readings in Performance and Ecology – Arons, Wendy and Theresa J. May. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
  • Greening Up Our Houses: A Guide to a More Ecologically Sound Theatre – Fried, Larry K. and May, Theresa J. Drama Pub, 1994.
  • A Practical Guide to Greener Theatre: Introduce Sustainability Into Your Productions – Jones, Ellen. Taylor & Francis, 2013.
  • Performance and Ecology: What Can Theatre Do? – Lavery, Carl. Focal Press, 2018.


The APDG makes its best efforts to make sure all information we post is correct, however Members use this information at their own risk. It is up to each individual to research the validity of resources they use. The APDG accepts no responsibility for information given in external links. Tips and services listed in this resource have been recommended by APDG designers, however their listing in this resource should not be construed as an endorsement by the APDG.